Selecting New Finches

Beak Growth
This society finch was found "for sale" at a PetsMart pet store in south Florida. Note the abnormal growth on its beak.

Beak Growth
The large growth on its beak should have dis- qualified this bird as a potential sale. Never purchase a finch from a source that does not care for its live animals properly.

Places at which you can find finches include: many local pet stores*, bird fairs/shows*, newspaper classified ads, local bird club classified ads, ads in the back of bird magazines, online classifieds, or perhaps by word of mouth or from a finch breeder you may already know about.
* These are typically not the best venues through which to acquire healthy birds. Unfortunately, many (but not all) pet stores have little knowledge about the finches they keep or the history of the birds, and as a result often (usually unknowingly) abuse their birds by overcrowding them and depriving them of needed dietary supplements. The added stress often results in sick & injured birds, as well as birds which have been maimed by cagemates. You should never buy a bird out of pity, because this will only encourage the pet stores to "keep up the bad work." Also more often than not these pet store "rescues" will die a few days after purchase because they are already weakened and sick. The best thing you can do for birds stuck in a bad store environment is directly confront the store owner and inform them of their mishandling and request that they take better care of the birds, or call the authorities and complain about the store. Bird fairs & shows are problematic because they tend to expose many if not all of the birds present to pathogens brought in by sick birds.5
The best source for purchasing finches is a knowledgeable and caring breeder.

Once you have selected a source, you should visit the facilities if possible and inspect several things about the cages and set-up:
  • Are the cages and perches clean?
  • Are the birds given large enough cages (and therefore are not overcrowded)?
  • Are the food and water dishes full and clean?
  • Are the cages receiving enough light?

If visiting a breeder, request to see the rest of his/her stock, should there be more to it than what is in the "for sale" cage, so you can observe the way in which they are kept. Do not always expect the breeder to be compliant--some breeders are fearful that introducing new people into the "bird room" may cause breeding birds to abandon their nests, upset the other inhabitants, or introduce pathogens.

If the cages pass your inspection, begin observing the birds after they have been given a few minutes to calm down and continue with their normal behaviors (at first, startled birds will fly around and look active but may actually be sick and after a few minutes return to being fluffed up and lethargic on a perch).

Try to obtain young birds (preferably parent raised if you think you might breed them in the future) with the following characteristics:
Healthy Finch Feet
These are healthy finch feet: smooth & slender.

Sick vs. Healthy
The finch on the left is fluffed & sick. The one on the right is tight-feathered, alert, & healthier.

Overgrown Beak
An overgrown beak that needs trimming.
  • Normal appearing feathers & droppings
  • Hopping and flying from perch to perch actively
  • Bright, clear, wide-open eyes
  • Feathers held close to the body
  • Chirping and possibly singing
  • Acting alert & responsive to the environment
  • Four smooth, slender, intact toes (with toenails) on each foot: three in the front and one in the back
  • No difficulty flying, landing, or balancing on perches

Avoid purchasing birds with the following characteristics (signs of illness and/or neglect)5:
  • Asymmetrical beak
  • Excessively scaly legs, or thick, heavy-looking feet
  • Malformed or missing toes/toenails
  • Blocked nostrils
  • Eye swelling
  • Stained or wet-looking feathers above the nostrils
  • Stained/soiled vent (where the feces are excreted)
  • Tail bobbing/pumping
  • Prolonged fluffed appearance
  • Sleepiness and/or sitting fluffed on the bottom of the cage
  • Overgrown nails or beak
  • Poor feather quality
  • Diarrhea and/or yellow urates
  • Pectoral muscle atrophy (gaps on either side of the keel/"breast bone"--you must touch the bird to observe this)
  • Obesity (evident from excessive plumpness in the chest area when you touch it)
  • Head twirling, "star gazing," or any other obvious trouble balancing
  • Masses or lumps on the body
  • Open-mouth or otherwise labored breathing
  • Favoring one leg as if it is hurt
  • Constant beak wiping on perches

Observing some of these characteristics (such as checking for emaciation or obesity) requires handling the bird. The keeper will catch the bird you are interested in for you and should hold the bird for you while letting you examine its head, breast, legs and abdomen up-close. Palpate around the breast bone to check for healthy muscle tone (a healthy bird feels "full" but the bone can still be felt; an emaciated bird will have indentations on either side of the breast bone, and an obese bird may be so plump you cannot feel the bone at all). Some birds, such as shaft-tails are prone to becoming overweight easily if not housed in a large flight or aviary. Overweight birds can die of a heart attack during the short car ride home (and emaciated birds are often too sick to save), so do not forget to check.

Once you have examined and selected birds to purchase, clarify the following with the keeper:
  • That the bird has not had recent exposure to birds from other sources
  • That the bird is not a wild-trapped, smuggled, or recently imported bird
  • That the bird has had its first moult but is less than 3 years of age
  • The sex of the bird, its history, and any genealogy (if known)
  • Any other questions you might have about the birds

You want to pick out a young, healthy bird because finches are relatively short-lived and sick finches are very difficult to save. Additionally, you would not want to introduce any new diseases into your bird room if you are already keeping birds.

Once you are satisfied, the keeper will put the bird(s) in a special box or small carrying cage for you (unless you provide your own) and you can secure the box in your vehicle for the ride home. Make sure the box/cage is clean and adequately ventilated. If you are going to utilize a previously-used container, you must clean and sterilize it before reuse; carrying containers made of wood should only be used once as they are impossible to disinfect!5 Try to keep the ride home as short as possible, with a temperature of 70-80° F (21-27° C) in the vehicle, and do not leave the bird(s) unattended.5
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