Basics about Finches

What are finches, and are they the right pet for you?

Finches are categorized as passerines, with average, captive life expectancy or life spans ranging from about 4 to 7 or more years5 (the maximum longevity is around 20 years of age and is rarely attained). They are small, fairly-quiet, active birds that do not require nor enjoy human interaction (hand raised young are sometimes an exception). Therefore they are not typically pets that should be taken out of the cage and played with, since this tends to cause them a great deal of stress. If you desire a bird which enjoys being handled, consider investing in a parrot instead. Finches are best for visual enjoyment, and some varieties are also great singers. Most finches are fairly easy to keep, and a wide variety is available for purchase. Like all birds, they are messy and share several basic, somewhat time-consuming needs: Java and Zebra Finches and a Society
  • Fresh food and water daily
  • A safe source of calcium daily (preferably boiled eggshell instead of cuttlebone)
  • Fresh boiled egg with chopped vegetables at least a few times per week (especially if a formulated diet is not provided)
  • Ample natural or full-spectrum lighting (unopened windows are not sufficient) daily
  • A large enough cage to comfortably accommodate them (at least 30" in length)
  • A clean cage (usually needs to be cleaned about once per week and disinfected once per month)
  • Clean perches and dishes
  • Periodic nail trimming
  • Bathing opportunities several times per week
  • A mild, predator-free environment to be kept in
  • Access to health-care services when ill (know an avian veterinarian)

A finch should not be housed alone, nor should it be housed with a parrot who might be able to injure it. Instead finches should be housed in pairs or more (space allowing) of the same or mixed, compatible species of finches; same-sex pairing in most cases is acceptable (they do not usually have to be male-female pairs). If you want to keep more than 2 birds in a cage, be aware that the dominant birds of many species (such as zebras) will often bicker and attack submissive cagemates. This is especially true of the more aggressive/territorial species, and birds which have entered a breeding cycle, season, or mentality. (In some cases, housing 6 or more birds together [in a cage that is large enough to do so] seems to lessen this aggression, perhaps because the birds tend to lose track of each other more easily and as a result lose their ability to single out any one bird as a victim.) The enclosure you place these birds into must be large enough to comfortably house the number of birds you ultimately purchase (you can calculate the number of birds your cage can fit), so use these factors in determining how many birds you can acquire.

Orange Cheeked Waxbill If you are able to meet these basic requirements, you will only have one thing left to do before making your purchase: research the different species to select the one(s) that is(are) right for you! Here are some questions to keep in mind:
  • How much are you willing to spend to acquire the finches?
  • Will you ever want to breed your birds, or do you prefer to never have birds breeding?
  • How much extra space and time can you devote to your birds (some birds have more nutritional and environmental needs)?
  • Are you new to keeping finches? (If so you might want to start off with a more domesticated and hardy species such as the zebra or society finch.)

If you have not already, visit the Species section of this website or look in some finch books at pictures and descriptions of finches (most books describe the species' typical behavior--if they are aggressive and whatnot--and additional requirements--such as lots of space to fly or special feeding arrangements). Find at least two or three different species you might be interested in, to make finding a pair easier. Talk to other owners about their experiences with these types of birds, and once you have made a decision to buy a certain type, you can begin looking for them. Please refer to the Selection section for possible places to find birds and how to pick out the healthy ones.
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