Keeping Finches as Pets

Kelly Roper
Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Zebra Finches

Finches as pets are colorful, active, and entertaining to watch. Their soft vocalizations and singing add pleasant sounds to the atmosphere, unlike the louder and more abrasive calls of other pet birds such as Amazon parrots and conures. According to the Petco Care Sheet, pet finches generally live five to ten years, and while they don't really like being handled by people, they do make nice companions for anyone who can appreciate the simple pleasures they offer.

Feeding Pet Finches

There are many types of finches kept as pets, including zebra finches, society/Bengalese finches, Lady Gouldians, and Cordon Bleu finches, to name just a few. While there are finer points to each species' dietary needs, they do have a basic diet in common.

Pellets and Seed Mix

According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, seed-only diets lack many essential nutrients. They recommend offering fresh foods every day to balance your bird's seed diet.

Supplemental Foods for Pet Finches

Offer about one tablespoon of a combination of supplemental foods per pet finch every morning. All fresh foods should ideally be organic to avoid pesticides. A list of safe choices includes:

  • Leafy greens like kale and dandelion leaves
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Apples
  • Mango
  • Cooked egg and/or commercial egg food

All fruits and vegetables should be washed, and all foods other than pellets and seeds should be finely chopped. Use an extra dish for these foods to keep them separate from pellets and seeds and discard any leftovers later in the afternoon before they spoil.

Live Foods

Some finches will accept live foods like small mealworms and fruit flies, which can usually be found at pet supply stores that cater to birds and reptiles. You can try feeding these extra sources of protein to your finch occasionally if he'll accept them.

Housing Finches

Lady Gouldian finch
Lady Gouldian finch

Finches are relatively small, but their high activity level means they need large cages. The cage you select should be long instead of tall since these birds prefer to fly back and forth rather than up and down.

Cage Size

The cage should be no less than 24" L x 18" W x 18" H for one or two finches, but you can select an even bigger cage if you have room for it. Bar spacing should be no wider than one-half inch. You should estimate about three to four square feet of cage space for each finch pair that you have.

The cage will come with dishes for food and water, but make sure it also has a removable bottom pan for easy cleaning. Plan to place the cage in a draft-free area that receives bright, indirect light but never full sun.

Finch Perches

Perch size for finches ranges from three-eighths to three-quarter of an inch in diameter. Soft wood perches are fine since these birds aren't strong chewers like parrots. Plan on placing a perch at each end of the cage. You can also add a small cement conditioning perch to help keep your pet's nails trimmed.

Finch Accessories

Male zebra finch perched on a nest
Male zebra finch

Accessories can turn a bare cage into a stimulating environment. Consider adding items like:

  • A small dish or tub for bathing
  • Toys made from sisal for preening activity or palm leaves for shredding
  • A swing
  • A cuttlebone for extra calcium
  • A nest for sleeping
  • Silk vines to weave through the cage bars for a more natural and relaxing environment
  • A cage cover to make sure your pet gets 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night

Mixed Aviary

If you have room for a large aviary, you can combine a variety of finches together. Just be sure to choose among the more passive types to ensure compatibility. For example, you could keep society finches with owl finches, parrot finches, spice finches, and star finches. However, you wouldn't want to mix in green singers, zebras, or whydahs because they may harass their more docile cage mates.

Cleaning Your Pet Finch's Cage

A thorough cleaning includes removing soiled papers on the bottom of the cage, washing the pan in the bottom, wiping down the bars, as well as wiping off toys, perches, and other cage accessories if they are soiled. Additionally, you should wash all food and water dishes daily.

How often you clean the cage depends a lot on how many finches you have.

  • For a single finch, you can do a thorough cleaning about once a week and replace the paper in the bottom of the cage at that time.
  • For two to three finches change the paper two to three times a week and do a thorough cleaning once a week
  • For four or more finches change the paper daily and clean the cage thoroughly once a week.

Handling Finches

Unlike other types of pet birds, finches do not enjoy being handled and find it very stressful. If you raise them from babies, you may have an easier time getting them used to your hands in the cage and even sitting on your hands. Handling finches should be kept to a minimum such as to provide them with health care as these birds are delicate and the stress of being handled can lead to additional medical problems. Finches should be held gently but firmly although you may find it much easier to catch them in a net.

It's important to get them used to your hands being in the cage so that you can do regular tasks such as feeding them, changing their accessories and cleaning the cage. You can slowly acclimate them to your hands by talking to them gently or making bird-like noises. As long as they seem calm, move your hands slowly against the outside of the cage and stop if they become upset. Once they're calm you can work on moving your hands inside but always work at the pace your birds are comfortable with and allow for a timeframe of several days at least to get to a point where they are calm.

Finch Pet Health Care

You can help ensure your finch lives a healthier life by providing him with routine veterinary care. Lafeber Vet recommends new finches should be quarantined for 30 days if you have other birds in your home. Schedule an exam with an avian veterinarian as soon as you bring your new pet home, and plan on a yearly exam after that.

Healthy owl finch
Healthy owl finch

According to the Lafeber Vets, you should see a vet right away if your finch shows any signs of illness such as:

  • Change in demeanor
  • Sleeping too much
  • Discharge from the nares on his beak
  • Discharge or bubbles coming from his beak
  • Clicking sound when your bird breathes
  • Tail bobbing
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of upkeep
  • Being picked on by cage mates

Common Finch Health Conditions

Finches suffer from several common illnesses. You should learn about the signs and symptoms of these in order to work with your avian veterinary right away if you recognize a health problem:

  • Air sac mites are a parasite that affects the finch respiratory tract.
  • Coccidiosis is an intestinal parasite that is contagious to other birds.
  • Colds are brought on by the temperature in the bird's environment being too low.
  • Egg Binding occurs when an egg becomes stuck in the bird's reproductive tract and is at risk of breaking which is potentially fatal.
  • Feather loss and bald patches can be seen most often on the head and neck and are caused by lack of vitamin D and sunlight as well as stress.
  • Fractures to wings and legs are common due to the fragile skeleton of a finch.
  • Overgrown nails can be a problem for the finch if you do not regularly clip and care for them.
  • Scaly face is a condition caused by mites that usually appears around the beak and eyes.
  • Worms can be a problem for finches, including caecal worms, gapeworms, gizzard worms, roundworms, tapeworms, and threadworms.

Finch Personality

Finches, in general, are not pet birds that will sit on your shoulder and learn tricks though some hand-raised babies might be willing to perch on you. They are easily stressed and tend to be very social within their own species. Some finch species can live well with each other while others will become aggressive. For example, Java Sparrow, Cutthroat, Diamond Firetail, Gray Singing, Saffron and Melba finches can be very aggressive, particularly with other birds and in cages that are too small. More mellow finches include the Lady Gouldian, Qwl, Quail, Red-headed, and Star finches. Zebra finches, one of the most popular pet finches, can do well with other species but may bully other birds under certain cage conditions.

Finch Sounds

Finches are prized for the beautiful sounds that they make. The males of the finch species are the singers although females can make sounds. They make sounds that have been described as "peeping" and "beeping." Zebra and society finches are known for singing more than other types of finches. Unlike parrots, you cannot teach a finch "to talk."

The More Pet Finches, the Merrier

Once you get a finch, it's difficult to stop at just one. These social little birds enjoy the company of other finches, and you'll probably want to collect a variety of beauties for your aviary. Just make sure you can provide ample space, as well as a high-quality diet and routine veterinary care to ensure your finches have everything they need for a healthy, enriching lifestyle.

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Keeping Finches as Pets