A Finch For All Seasons!!

Do you have a space problem? Tired of all those single aviaries with just a pair of parrots in them or maybe just looking to make a planted showcase aviary?

Well then, have I got the birds for you!

Finches - long frowned upon by many "hookbill" (parrot!!!) keepers these little guys are the answer to all your problems!!
From a single cage decoratively hung in your home to a huge planted outdoor aviary the finch 'group' offers something for everyone!

So you are ready for your first 'experiment' with the finch family, then I guess "which ones are the best for me" should be our starting point for an introduction to the 'wonders of finch keeping'!

The Zebra finch, Poephila guttata, is perhaps the most well-known finch in bird keeping throughout the world. Not quite as stunning in colour as the Lady Gouldian finch but second to none as an ambassador for the world of finches.

The Zebra finch or Zebbie as it is affectionately know to us Aussies, is the perfect starting point for any journey into aviculture and has been just this for some of the top bird keepers that I have encountered. Many fondly remember the first pair of these guys that graced their aviary and how their confiding nature and easy going behaviors enabled them to become fully 'hooked' on bird keeping as a hobby or even more!

Apart from their lively nature and pleasant colours - especially the bright orange cheek patches in the male - they are constantly active and chatter away to each other non-stop. Mind you this ‘chatter’ is not to be confused with the ear piercing 'chatter' that many hookbills are capable of but more your docile 'cheeping' and low level pair-bonding calls!

The Zebbie will nest in any given situation and aviary/cage set-up possible. Their propensity for breeding is legendary!

I was once living in a flat and really missed not having birds around so I purchased a small 'Budgie-type' wire cage and a pair of normal grey Zebra finches for our flat. Feeling sorry for them I placed a waxed cardboard fruit juice container on the outside of their cage as a little secluded hidey-hole for them - no nesting material mind you. Imagine my surprise some weeks later when it became obvious there were baby Zebbies in that container! They duly flew 6 youngsters and the "nest" consisted of mashed pieces of green food and very little else!!! By the end of the season they had numerous youngsters and more cages were a required!

This behavior also demonstrates what a fantastic 'tool' these finches are for getting people into bird keeping as this pairs nest was duly detached every time youngsters dropped in so that they could see the baby Zebbies. The look of delight on the faces of people both young and old when holding a handful of baby Zebbies is a sight to behold! As soon as the "box" was replaced both parents would immediately check that all was well and recommence feeding their brood - not many birds are that tolerant of us cumbersome humans!

In the aviary they are free-breeders and will soon pay their way by supplying you with many progeny to trade for seed and other avian species for your collection!
Don't worry too much about your youngsters when they leave the nest as the parents will call them back every night for warmth and security.
The wild-type Zebbie is a uniform grey in colour with the male having beautiful chestnut flanks and orange cheek-patches. However, if that is too drab for your likings there are numerous mutations of the Zebra finch in every shade of the rainbow these days - from Whites, Pieds, Slates, Fawns, Isabels, Charcoals, Penguins through to the Aluminas, Opals and Silvers. Seems every month there is a new mutation of the Zebra finch.

So whether a rank novice or an experienced bird keeper the humble and oft maligned Zebra finch is of interest to all!
Easy to feed in only requiring a basic finch-type seed mix and regular calcium supply - supplemented with green food when they are breeding of course - and they will thrive. They can also be kept as a small colony of their own kind but can take over an aviary if mixed with softer, timid finch species. These finches are also very well suited to mixing with the Neophema group of small parrots.

Perhaps after you've bred your 200th Zebbie you might be starting to get the finch keeping bug and be ready to make the move into another denizen of Australia in the Star finch.

The Star finch, Neochmia ruficauda that is commonly seen in our aviaries hails from the Kimberley region of Western Australia - with a small critically endangered sub-population in Queensland.
The wild-type form is the Red-headed star where the male is distinguishable by the red feathers which extend up over the head and under the chin while the female has little more than a mask of red around her eyes and numerous white dots under her chin.
Both birds have a yellowish chest - depending upon the area the Stars ancestors originated from this yellow can range from very faint to almost bright lemon - which is dotted with white spots.

Certainly a striking looking bird and one which contrasts nicely with our somber normal grey Zebra finch. A diet similar to that outlined for the Zebra finch will see these guys do well in your cage or aviary. When young are in the nest these finches will take large quantities of green food or grasses.

However, nest inspection is very much akin to Russian roulette as some will desert if the nest is touched. This is especially true for those that are breeding in the aviary situation.

The nest is usually constructed from green grass which is woven into a ball and can be lined with finer filamentous grass. The actual nesting chamber is lined with copious amount of white feathers.
These guys also love soaked/sprouted seed mixes and will raise many youngsters if this is included during the rearing phase.

The Star also does well in the colony situation and mixes well with most other finches.

For those spoilt by all the available parrot mutations you can also find the Star finch in a number of colour mutations. The commonest of these is the Yellow-headed star which is as popular as the Red-headed form these days. Add to these Fawns, Isabels, Cinnamons and various Pastel shades and you have another finch that has appeal for all tiers of the bird keeping game!

Well, we're doing well with our Zebbies and the Stars are breeding to expectation and the 'finch bug' is beginning to bite then where to from here you enquire!?

What better choice could we make than to opt for the stunning Painted firetail finch or Emblema, Emblema picta?
A member of the Australian Firetail finch family the Painted is perhaps the most extroverted of the group when contrasted with their flightier 'cousins' in the Beautiful firetail, Stagonopleura bella
, and the Diamond firetail, Stagonopleura guttata.
This finch is one of the most confiding finches that we could include into our collection and has a really inquisitive nature and will be the first to drop down and see what goodies you have supplied for them during your feeding rounds. The male has a brown back and wing covers with a striking upper red tail cover, the head in the male has a beautiful red colour which extends down the chest. Each side of the chest is covered with white spots which creates a stunning overall picture. The female is a more demure version of the male with far more white spots and a much reduced red flash on her chest.
Unlike the other two finch species the Painteds spend much of their day on the ground fossicking about so more care must be taken to ensure that they do not succumb to the ill-effects of spoilt ground during the winter period if kept in the aviary situation. Apart from their obvious long pointy beak they also have unique skills when it comes to nest building. In their native Kimberley region of Australia they frequently nest on the top of Spinifex grass tussocks which have barbs like very sharp steel knitting needles!! In order to offset this 'obvious disadvantage' the Painted builds a nest platform on top of the tussock and then proceeds to build a 'normal' finch-type nest on top of this platform.
Unfortunately this translates to a very complicated nest indeed in the aviary situation as most Painteds still insist in building this platform out of any small pieces of rubbish available in the aviary - yes, even in nest boxes!
Nesting is readily undertaken and youngsters are reared with minimal fuss and simply require the same feeding as outlined for the other species. The young never return to the nest and spend most of their early life outside the nest on the aviary floor which can create some problems during cooler nights.

One must take care that you check for babies clinging to your clothing when leaving aviaries with Painteds in them!
An ease of feeding and breeding together with a nature that is bound to impress make this finch one that must impress even the hardest core hookbiller! Throw in a couple of available mutations and what more could you ask for!

Our fourth candidate for inclusion into our finch aviary is the unforgettable Red-faced parrotfinch, Erythura psittacea, which hails from the Pacific Island of New Caledonia. This finch has a vivid green body with a bright red head and upper tail coverts and is never still.

In contrast to the other species this finch is constantly on the move as it searches the aviary floor for tit-bits. With this in mind it is essential that this species has somewhere to hide - whether in cage or aviary - and this should be factored into any planned enclosure. In many aviaries the Red-face is seen as a shadow moving through the thicker areas of cover but when it finally flits out into the sunlight the wait is well worth it!
For such an active species it requires little more than our other finches to maintain it in general well-being and good health. Some state that you must have live food for this species yet my own birds are breeding well on freshly cut green grass, seed heads and soaked/sprouted seeds.
For nesting this species will construct its own nest in the brush of the aviary but is equally at home in nest boxes and the wicker baskets so freely available at all good pet outlets. They favour course grasses for the outer shell and will line this with as large amount of finer, delicate grasses. The actual nesting chamber is a profusion of white feathers and, if obtainable, a mass of the body feathers from the flightless Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
The nest is a far bulkier structure than produced by our other finches so remember to supply them with plenty of raw materials!

Their young are very noisy and you will not have to guess when they have hatched and ensure that you up their rations of green seeding grasses at this time! The youngsters have the luminous "traffic light" nodules on the sides of their beaks much akin to the related Lady Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae.

Unlike the other three finches the Red-face is more difficult to sex but as a rule of thumb the male has a far larger extension of the red face patch often well back behind the eyes. If you know a good Canary sexer then they might be of help as, during the breeding season, the Red-face can be sexed in a similar manner to Canaries - by their vents!
Again if the normal colouration does appeal then this species is available in several mutations with the Sea-green and Pied forms being the most popular.

Now we have four diverse coloured finches that contrast each other well both in colour and nature but all are members of the Estrildidae or weaver finch family and as such all build the characteristic woven grass nest in which to breed. For our fifth inclusion might I be so bold as to suggest a member of another Family in the Fringillidae, or true finches, namely the Green Singing finch, Serinus mozambicus.
The Green singer, as it is commonly known, is a small yellowish seed eater which hails from Africa and is closely related to the wild Canary. The Green singer is one of the smallest members of the genus Serinus and as such is ideally 'sized' to mix in with our other Estrildid finches.

Much has been written about the aggression of these finches but I find that they are tolerant of the finch species mentioned to date and that defence of their nest site and its contents was the only time I witnessed them 'seeing off' other finches. Most finches took the hint when the adult bird squatted down and approached them along the perch with wings lowered - for all finches this was good enough and they never actually came to blows! However, if you keep Cuban Melodious finches, Tiaris canora, it may be a different story!!

In keeping with all Fringillid finches the nest is an open cup located in a convenient bush, a Canary-type nesting basket or even in a small tin placed on the aviary wall!

From experience one of their favourite nesting materials is cotton wool and coconut fibre. Some may frown at the use of cotton wool but there are numerous brands on the market now which are almost pure cotton with very little synthetic material in them - ideal for finches! Still it pays to be ultra-observant and check that birds do not become entangled in strands of cotton wool.

You will know when your Green-singers are nesting as the aviary or cage will look like a snow storm has hit with bits of cotton wool spread everywhere with a tell-tale trail leading towards the nest proper!!
Two to four chicks are usually reared by their devoted parents. At this time ensure that they have access to plenty of green food and even a canary-type softfood mix will help the rearing process. Live food is readily taken but many raise them with green seed heads and soaked/sprouted seeds alone.
Although not as good a vocalist as their cousin the Grey singing finch, S. leucopygius, they are still have a pleasant song which contrast well with our other choices and Singers are an active and different inclusion to our finch collection.

Hopefully this small collection of finches will be enough to pique your interest in those small birds that many bird keepers are coming to view with much more interest these days!

So your cage with a single pair of parrots that spend much of their day just sitting there could become a semi-planted jungle abounding with small flashes of colour. Perhaps this is a major reason why people continue to join the 'brotherhood of the finch' these days!

If you're still not convinced then maybe I should point out another of the large group of finches that I couldn't quite fit into my list of five finches - the stunning Lady Gouldian finch, arguably the most beautiful bird in the world!! Add to this the tiny Orange-breasted waxbill and the amazing antics of the Weaver finches and you have a diverse group that has much to offer all bird keepers from the novice through to the most experienced breeder!!