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Finches are passerine birds belonging to the family Fringillidae. A lot of birds belonging to other families have the word finch in their common name, but they are not true finches – they just look similar. The famous Darwin finches from Galapagos are for instance not true finches; they belong to the family Emberizidae. The name Fringillidae is derived from fringilla, the Latin word for a common European finch known by the English name Chaffinch.
True finches are small to medium large birds with strong, stubby beaks, 12 tail feathers and 9 primaries.
Most species feed chiefly on seeds
Finches are chiefly found in the southern hemisphere and in Africa, with only one subfamily being endemic to the Neotropics (tropical and subtropical parts of the Americas).
Several species of finch are kept as pets, but the by far most commonly found one in pet shops is the Zebra finch (Poephila guttata). The Society finch (Lonchura domestica), also known as Bengalese finch, is also very popular. Both species are hardy and not very demanding and can be recommended to first time bird owners. Within the finch family you will also find finches that are much trickier to cater for and that should kept by experienced bird enthusiasts only, such as the flamboyant the Lady Gouldian finch (Chloebia gouldiae). Before getting a finch, it is therefore very important that you research its specific requirements. It is impossible to provide finch care guidelines that will be true for all sorts of finches.
Always research your finch species to find out its requirements, since different species need somewhat different things. The finch feeding information provided below pertains to the Zebra finch, but is true for several other species of finch as well. As you can tell from the shape and size of the finch beak, these are seed-loving animals.
In the wild, the Zebra finch feeds mainly on seeds but supplements its diet with sprouts and insects as well. It is therefore important not to give your Zebra finch seeds only to eat, since this will lead to nutritional deficiencies sooner or later. You can for instance combine seeds and finch pellets with fresh fruits, vegetables and sprouts. To make sure that your bird gets enough protein you don’t have to feed it insects; hard boiled egg whites will do the trick. Ideally include the shells as well since they are filled with calcium.
It is important to introduce many new foods to young Zebra finches to prevent them from growing up to be pernickety adults.
Zebra finches prefer to eat in the morning and in the evening, since this is when they forage in the wild.
Finches build basket-shaped nests in trees during the breeding season. For more detailed information about wild habits and captive finch breeding you need to research your particular species.
The information below pertains to the popular Zebra finch. If you keep any other finch, research that particular species to find out more about how you can increase its chances of staying happy and healthy.
Zebra finches are normally very difficult to nurse back to health once they have become ill and many birds die from seemingly trivial health problems. You can boost the immune system of your bird by keeping it on a varied diet and housing it in a large enough cage. Unlike parrots that climb around a lot, the Zebra finch gets virtually all of its exercise from flying and birds kept in small cages can easily become obese.
The finch should also be subjected to full spectrum sunlight, e.g. by having its cage near a window that can be opened or by having its cage placed on the balcony whenever the weather is mild enough. Prolonged direct sunlight can be harmful; the finch should always have a shady spot to seek shelter in. If you cannot provide your finch with natural sunlight you can purchase special full spectrum bird cage light.
Keep the cage and everything that’s in it clean and remember that it is very difficult to sterilize wooden items, e.g. wooden perches and toys. If wood items fall to the cage floor and become covered in droppings they should ideally be replaced to prevent illness.
When purchasing new finches it is a good idea to keep them quarantined for 6-8 weeks to safeguard your other birds. Even a healthy looking finch can carry disease.
Finch fact # 1
The House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) is today one of the most common garden birds across the United States, but until the 1940s it was actually only present in the western parts of the country. In 1940, House finches were illegally shipped to New York to become pets. Later released in Long Island, the species managed to establish breeding colonies and eventually spread throughout Eastern and Midwest U.S.
Finch fact # 2
The largest true finch can reach a size of almost 23 cm (9 inches) and weigh 79 grams. Its name is Mycerobas affinis, Collared Grosbeak, and it lives in South-East Asia. The smallest true finch is the Andean Siskin (Carduelis spinescens), who does not grow larger than 9.5 cm and weighs up to 8.4 grams. As the name suggests, the Andean Siskin is found in the South American Andes.
Finch fact # 3
The members of the waxbill family (Estrildidae) look so similar to true finches that these species often have the word finch in their common name.
Finch fact # 4
The Zebra finch is easily sexed since the male bird sports black and white bars on his throat and breast, orange cheek patches, and brown on the sides of his body. Both sexes have red-orange beaks but the tinge of the female is much less bright. However, a wide range of color varieties have been selectively bred for the pet trade so you may encounter Zebra finch specimens that look quite differently from the ones described here.
Finches have an expected lifespan of anywhere form 5 to 20 years, depending on species.