Finches On the Homestead

            Lately we have downsized the numbers of animals we have here on our place but that hasn’t meant that my love for animals has diminished or that my getting animals has stopped completely especially if I see an animal that I think is in need. That is just what happened while visiting our local flea market one Saturday. On one table was a tall cage with a pair of thin zebra finches in it. It just so happens that I have raised zebra finches before so I knew how to care for them. This pair as I mentioned were thin but other than that they looked fairly healthy, however then were in a tall cage and finches are better suited to a long cage where they can fly back and forth. They had seed and water but no cuttlebone, only one perch and a nest. For $25 we got the pair of birds and the useless cage.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with these new acquisitions. Finches, though not a tame bird, can be wonderfully fun to watch providing they have the right environment. For the first few days my new little, zebra finches weren’t in the right environment, which meant we had to come up with a better place for them to live as quickly as possible. We decided our old quail cage might just be able to be converted into a nice home for the finches but first it had to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, then a solid bottom and legs had to be added. Luckily we had the wood to do these things without buying any more. The cage is 4 ft long and almost 2 ft high making it a nice roomy cage, able to hold several finches.

 My thoughts were to have the birds to have as natural a home as possible. A lot of bird owners line the bottom of their cages with newspaper alone for ease of cleaning but newspaper isn’t very natural to me so mine was lined with newspaper and then a layer of Timothy hay. For lighting I got a very inexpensive fluorescent light and then bought a better bulb for it from the fish section of the store. Two cuttle bones for calcium were added, two water dishes; big enough to bath in, four perches in differing sizes and shapes, several nests; including one I made myself from pine needles, some plastic plants and later a few real ones and a large rock, all were added to the cage before the zebras were moved in.

The pair definitely enjoyed the cage. It was such a wonder to watch them grow stronger and sleeker with the better food and room for flying. I added to their variety of food slowly, starting with millet sprigs and later adding greens, egg food, songbird treat, soaked and sprouted seed and wild seeds.

            Unfortunately it soon became apparent that while our zebra finches were definitely male and female, they weren’t exactly a couple. Our little female did not seem to like the male. She did not like to sit with him, she did not preen him and she flew away when he wanted to mate. He in turn chased and pecked at her. So started our visits to the pet stores in search of a second pair of zebra finches to put in with them in the hopes that they each would find a better mate.

The pet store is of course a wondrous place for any kind of animal lover and ours had all sorts of birds to “ooo” and “aaah” over. What they didn’t have was any more zebra finches. They were sold out. However they did have society finches and one lonely pair of spice finches. I had never seen spice finches and thought they were incredibly beautiful. And of course, we brought them home with us. The new pair joined the zebras in the cage and seemed quite happy. However, this hadn’t fixed out zebra finch problem, so back to the pet store we went the next week. That was the week the pair of society finches came home with us. They hadn’t gotten in any zebra finches yet. Since it is hard to tell society finch males and females apart, I sat and watched the birds until I was sure I had seen a male sing then mate with a female and I got that pair.

The societies joined the other finches in the large cage and immediately started building in one of the nests. Soon after they laid four eggs but only managed to hatch one baby. Meanwhile, neither the zebras or the spice finches were nesting, or if they did nest they didn’t set on the eggs they laid. Still they all seem quite happy and the zebras have stopped pecking at each other.

Since then the societies have hatched out 8 more babies. All of the babies have lived and grown to adulthood. The zebra finches have finally made a nest they seem interested in but are still not quite sitting on the three eggs in the nest. However some of the societies have taken and interest in that nest and may take over and foster the eggs themselves.

I have hopes for another cage to set above the current one. My hopes stem from the fact that the pet store has just received some orange weaver finches and I just received a nice gift card to the pet store. Hopefully sometime in the near future I will have stories for you about how to successfully breed orange weaver finches in a four foot cage though I am sure this is not where my finch obsession will end.


                     Rebecca Whitford