Requirements and Setups

Before deciding to breed your finches, you need to make sure you have allotted the space, time, and money it may take to set your birds up for breeding and to accommodate the young which they might produce. You will need a separate cage in which to house the young once they are weaned, and you will need to decide if you are ultimately going to keep the babies or find other homes for them. Either of these decisions will require some planning. Once you have figured out what you wish to do with the young, you may want to use the following guidelines to aid you in breeding your finches:

Beak tumor
Birds with defects such as this growth on the beak should not be bred.


First, select a male and a female that are:
  • Sexually mature (and at least 6-9 months of age)13
  • Of the same species
  • Unrelated to each other (do not inbreed)
  • Physically healthy (not too thin and not too obese, normal appearing feathers and droppings, appear bright and alert)
  • Free of (potentially genetic) physical defects
  • Bonded to each other
Tip: If this is your first attempt at breeding finches, you may wish to start off with a species which tends to be easy to breed, so that you may gain successful experiences before attempting to breed a pickier species. Examples of good starter species are zebra finches and bengalese (society) finches.

Next, bring the pair into breeding condition:
Note: Some species tend to only breed during a certain season (example: lady gouldian finches which breed during the fall and winter), while other species will breed year-round (example: zebra finches and society/bengalese finches). Although it may be possible to "trick" a seasonal species into coming into breeding condition early bystimulating them, you may need to wait until the appropriate season to breed your birds. To learn which species tend to be seasonal breeders, and which tend to breed year-round, please refer to the Specific Species section.
  • Begin feeding a flush diet that is high in protein. Hens will also require additional calcium, in the correct 1:2 ratio with phosphorus. One of the best ways to meet these increased dietary requirements is to feed an egg-mix (boiled egg chopped shell and all blended with finely chopped vegetables). (You will need to provide this diet daily until the babies finish their first molt.) Refer to Feeding for Breeding for details.

Then, set up an appropriate breeding enclosure: Cuban hens
Note: Breeding setups will vary according to differences in species' requirements as well as according to breeder preferences. For instance, some species (such as the orange weaver) will only breed successfully if a single cock is housed with a "harem" of hens in a planted aviary. Still other species (such as whydahs) have even more elaborate breeding requirements due to their parasitic nature. These birds require a large, planted aviary that already contains an established breeding colony of a certain species of waxbill. The whydahs breed and lay their eggs in the unsuspecting waxbills' nest, and the waxbills are tricked into raising the whydahs' young. Luckily, most of the commonly kept finch species do not require nearly that much work in order to breed successfully. In fact, most of the commonly kept species prefer to pair off with only one mate to breed.
Two of the most common set ups for breeding birds are the one-pair-per-cage set up and the colony breeding set up. Depending on your preferences and those of your birds, one of these two set ups will probably suit your needs:


One Pair Per Cage
Advantages: No fighting with or disturbances from other pairs, easier to observe the birds and perform nest checks, more control over breeding outcome since you control who each bird mates with.10
Disadvantages: May not stimulate those pairs which seem to breed best in the colony situation.
Use with: Gregarious species such as bengalese/society finches, most of the other commonly kept species (see Specific Species for more information).
  • The breeding cage should measure at least 30" (76 cm) long × 18" (46 cm) wide × 18" (46 cm) tall. Box-style breeding cages are preferred, since all of the walls are solid except for the front, which provides more security to the birds.
  • If direct access to natural sunlight is unavailable, provide a full spectrum light on a timer (see Stimulating a Pair to Breed).
  • Consider using tube feeders if you notice your birds trying to nest in their seed cup.
  • Keep the enclosure in a low traffic area where the ambient temperature is at least 65 ° F.
  • Provide a cuttle bone or another safe source of calcium at all times.
  • Provide an appropriate nest and nesting material.
  • If possible, place the nest on the outside front of the cage (this makes nest checks much easier). If this is not an option, the nest may be placed inside the cage (towards one of the upper corners); try to place it so that you can peer into it from outside of the cage.
  • Place some nesting material inside of the nest and the rest on the floor of the enclosure, but not directly under any perches so that it does not become soiled.
  • Provide two perches, one at each end of the cage.
  • When the birds are ready to be added to the enclosure, add the male first and let him investigate the cage for a few days before adding the hen.


-OR-

Colony Breeding
Advantages: May help to encourage breeding in those species which are stimulated by group interaction.
Disadvantages: Less control over breeding outcomes, may lead to increased aggression among the inhabitants, may not stimulate those birds which seem to need seclusion from other pairs to breed.
Use with: Species of your choosing* if they are capable of breeding under these conditions (see Specific Species for more information).
  • *Colony breeding is best when limited to one species (as opposed to mixed species).8
  • *However, if you wish to breed mixed species in a communal aviary, select birds that are compatible yet have very different plumages as well as different nesting habits to reduce the sources of potential fighting10 (see Specific Species for details).
  • This set-up requires that at least 3-5 pairs of birds be housed together, so the enclosure must be large enough to accommodate them.
  • Keep the enclosure in a low traffic area where the ambient temperature is at least 65 ° F.
  • Provide a cuttle bone or another safe source of calcium at all times.
  • If direct access to natural sunlight is unavailable, provide a full spectrum light on a timer (see Stimulating a Pair to Breed).
  • Take steps to reduce aggression:
  • Provide at least two nests per pair of finches (all nests should be placed at similar heights in the enclosure).
  • Provide adequate cover (live and/or silk plants) especially around the nesting sites. This allows the birds to be somewhat hidden from one another which is important because some birds become very defensive of their nest and need their area to be visually isolated from other birds.2
  • Provide plenty of perches but do not crowd the enclosure and encroach on flying space.
  • Provide at least two feed and water stations.
  • Watch for hostility and remove any birds which seem to be terrorizing the rest.
  • Place some nesting material inside each nest and the rest on the floor of the enclosure, but not directly under any perches so that it does not become soiled.
  • When the birds (at least 3-5 pairs) are ready to be added to the enclosure, add them all at the same time.



Next, prepare the birds, add them to the enclosure, and observe them:

Clip the birds' toenails prior to introducing the finches into the breeding enclosure. This will help prevent the birds from accidentally puncturing any eggs they may lay. Add the birds as described above, and observe them. Separate any bird which does not seem to be tolerating the other(s). Some birds may need to be paired with a different mate or placed in a different breeding set up. Check the cage(s) once a day to refill the food and water dishes. Once a pair has begun building its nest, keep a watch (from a distance) for eggs. You may wish to remove any extra nesting material from the cage once the pair has begun laying eggs, since some individuals may attempt to burry their eggs. Record the date that each egg is laid. Most species will begin incubation after the 3rd or last egg is laid--incubation begins when at least one bird is occupying the nest during the day as well as at night. Most species do not tolerate nest checks, Bird nail clippersbut if your pair(s) will, you may wish to candle the eggs (to check for fertility) on or after the 5th day of incubation. This is not necessary, however, and it may be better not to disturb the pair by checking their nest since unnecessary disturbances could frighten the pair into abandoning their eggs/young.


Finally, provide for the pair and their young:

Cuttlebone Many people wonder what they need to do to help their birds raise their babies once they have hatched. The answer is to provide a rich, varied diet which includes giving the birds an egg-mix (and possibly live food) 2-3 times daily, to resist disturbing the birds, and to keep a distant watch in case anything goes wrong (such as tossing or abandoning the chicks). Only if something goes wrong should you step in and take action (see Complications & Troubleshooting). Remember to keep detailed records on the breeding progress of all birds. Lastly, when the chicks are weaned, they will need to be removed to their own cage if you wish to allow the parents to breed again.
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