Finches are small, active, fairly quiet birds that do not require nor enjoy much human interaction. They need to be kept in pairs or groups. Finches are extremely easy to care for, are undemanding and affordable. They make great pets for children and beginners. Just remember, they do not like to be handled by humans.
There is such a wide variety of finches: they vary in size from under 3″ up to 8″ in length and their plumage can be very colorful, depending on the species. Finches are mostly quiet birds, there are some that have a song. The average lifespan of most finches is between 4 to 7 years.
Care and feeding
Fresh food and water must be provided daily. Finch seed is their everyday food and seed mixes are readily available at a pet store. A single finch will eat about one teaspoon of seed a day and will rarely overeat, though they may need to eat a bit more when the weather is cold or during molt.
Seed alone is a highly deficient, imbalanced foodstuff. Seed-only diets commonly lead to deficiencies that compromise the health of adult birds, and may pose serious problems for young, growing birds. All-seed diets, therefore, should be avoided. Although formulated diets are a preferred substitute for seed in the diet, seed does not have to be removed completely from the diet, just restricted. Be sure you select a pellet that is formulated specifically for finches, and is preferably dye-free. Although formulated diets do not need to be supplemented the way seed does, birds should ideally be fed 70% pellets and 30% fresh foods.
Supplemental foods are very important and can be put in an extra dish and rotated for variety. Sprouted seed and spray millet are especially good. Other supplements to offer sparingly include greens such as spinach, chickweed, carrot tops, watercress, dandelions, and leaf lettuce, as well as an occasional bit of apple, pear and grated carrot. Be sure any supplemented food is small enough for your bird to eat-ideally the size of a very small blueberry. Finch treats of seed with honey, fruits and vegetables are a great supplement and it will make your finch very happy.
Grit is not recommended for finches because they do not ingest seeds whole. They hull their seeds and therefore do not need grit to help with digestion. Provide a cuttlebone or a mineral block, which will provide calcium and required nutrients for a strong beak and bones. The lime in the cuttlebone also aids in digestion.
Their nails will occasionally need to be trimmed, but be careful never to clip into the vein as the bird can quickly bleed to death. Bird nail trimmers and styptic powder to stop the bleeding are available at pet shops. Please consult your avian vet before trimming your bird’s nail for the first time.
Finches get their exercise by flying so it is recommended that they have a cage that is at least 16″ tall and 30” long. Remember, finches like to fly back and forth, not necessarily up and down so it is important that their cage be longer than it is tall. Round cages should never be used for any flying birds since they inhibit the bird’s natural flight pattern. Place the cage on a stand or hang it from a wall bracket at eye level or at about 6 feet off the floor. Be sure the spot you pick has good light and is well ventilated, though free from drafts. It should be away from doors and windows where direct exposure to sunlight can make it overly warm, but placed close to at least one wall to enhance a feeling of security. Average daytime temperatures can range from between 60oF to 70oF with nighttime temperatures down to 40oF. As a rule of thumb, ambient temperatures comfortable for you should be adequate for your bird. Whether your bird is sick or healthy, be sure to watch for tell-tale signs of temperature-related discomfort: cold birds will often remain fluffed up for extended periods of time, and overheated birds will hold their wings away from their bodies and pant. The cage should be covered at night to prevent drafts and disturbances.
Provide two or three good softwood perches about 3/8″ to 3/4″ in diameter. Tree branches of a similar size also make good perches and will help to wear the claws down naturally. Do not use sandpaper covers on perches, as they can cause serious foot irritation and infection. Be sure to provide dishes for food, water and treats as well as an area for a bath. Finches will appreciate a nest box to sleep in. Wicker-type nests are great and can be placed in the upper corner of the cage. Be sure to check for eggs and remove them at once to prevent overpopulation. Remember, there are already so many homeless animals out there!
Although finches require very little time, a clean environment as well as fresh food and water daily is a must to prevent disease and illness. The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Plain newspaper is fine on the cage bottom. NEVER USE CAT LITTER! Finches can eat it and die! Weekly, wash and dry the entire cage, including the perches using warm soapy water or a birdcage disinfectant. If you choose to use bleach, dilute one part bleach with 32 parts water; rinse well.
Most finches are very social with good personalities. Although they do not enjoy handling, they will not harm children, visitors, or other pets. Finches are quite friendly and can easily be housed in a spacious cage with other finches, however larger species may be aggressive to smaller species. All mixed groups should be watched for bullying and fighting. Don’t overcrowd as this may cause fighting and feather picking. Never house finches with parakeets, lovebirds or other hook bills. These birds tend to be more aggressive birds by nature and could seriously hurt your finches.
Finches are simply enjoyed for their busy antics, plumage, and some for their song. Most finches will not take kindly to handling, though there are a few finch species that with time and patience can be finger tamed.
When you need to handle your finch for such things as trimming its nails, place your palm on it’s back and wrap your fingers around the bird with your thumb and forefinger on either side of its head. Finches rarely bite, and even if they do, they do not have a harmful or dangerous bite.
Finches must be able to move around freely and it is important to their health and well being that they be able to fly from perch to perch. Keep the cage accessories to a minimum to allow free movement. A single toy, mirror, or branch will be plenty and you can change them around periodically to provide variety. Finches do enjoy bird swings, so be sure to include one in the cage. Toys that are safe for parakeets are safe for finches, such as plastics and lead-free metals.
In the wild, some finches love to roll in dew-dampened grasses for a bath. You can give your pet a treat by occasionally putting in damp dandelion leaves or grasses in the bottom of the cage for a few hours. A shallow bath is a great joy for a finch. This should be in addition to any water dishes in the cage. Plastic planter dishes work great- fill it with lukewarm water and place on the cage floor away from any perches. Clean it daily as you would the bird’s other dishes.
Finches are very hardy birds and almost all illnesses can be traced to improper diet, dirty cages, and drafts. A balanced diet and plenty of exercise will prevent most finch illnesses. Know your bird and watch for drastic changes as indications of illness.
Some signs of illness to be aware of are if you bird is sitting with its eyes closed, feathers that are ruffled, lack of appetite, irregular breathing, keeping its head tucked under its wing, and acting feeble or run down.
Some of the common illnesses and injuries your finch could contract are broken wings or legs, cuts and open wounds, overgrown beaks and nails, ingrown feathers, feather picking, confinement cramps in the legs from a cage that is too small, weight loss, heat stroke, shock, concussion, egg binding, diarrhea, mites, colds, baldness, scaly legs, sore eyes, tumors, loss of song, constipation, and diarrhea. If you suspect any injury of illness, contact you avian vet immediately.
Jack Hanna’s Ultimate Guide to Pets, 1996