What is it about Finches ?
A friend recently 'took the punt' and ran an advertisement to sell his surplus finches in the national marketplace. After three weeks of non-stop phone calls he is contemplating upping his breeding by 110% based on the demand for finches he received - either that or tearing the phone from the wall!!!. Why?? Finches have a reputation for being 'fussy', temperamental, requiring of far more extra time, and difficult to obtain and breed. Let's face it , after Zebra finches and Bengalese mannikins, the efforts required to reproduce most finches is fairly involved. Given their short life and breeding span compared to most hookbills, why is it that there is such a determined bunch of masochists out there prepared to devote considerable time, effort and cash to the keeping of these birds?


For many people the attraction is that several species can be kept together to provide a show of colour. Try putting several pairs of rosellas in the average parrot flight and watch the feathers fly!! We all know of people that delight in their aviary for no other reason than the soothing effect of watching their charges pelting around the cage. For these people breeding is an added bonus but not their sole aim in keeping birds. As long as the 'troublesome' finches are avoided there is usually harmony in such a collection. Also many of the finches prefer the company of their own kind and small colonies of like finches can be maintained which allows their owner an insight into the flock behavior of these birds in the wild. Double bars, masks and chestnuts are good examples of these types of birds.


Here in Australia many keep finches that 'remind them of home'. The Chaffinch's song can turn many a hardened Yorkshire man all misty eyed as he recalls his youth spent in the English countryside. The South African will spend long periods watching the Red Bishop then tell you of flocks numbering in the hundreds from 'back home'. I guess us Aussies can reflect on what a spectacle this must be as we watch our male Bishops as they puff themselves up and display to the hens. For a while we could be on that veldt in Africa watching wild Bishops, that is until the Pictorellas land nearby and remind us where we really are!! Upon seeing the Red parrotfinch people will relate their holiday tales on Vanuatu where they watched this gem flitting through the tropical undergrowth. The Blue-caps, Red-cheeked Cordon blues, Rufous-backs, Nuns, Oriental and Himalayan greenfinches are all inhabitants of distant lands that we can keep in our own suburban back yards.
    As we strive to learn more about these birds we also discover facts about their natural environments which often stimulate us to visit these areas - one-day maybe! To see this aspect of finch keeping one has only to look at the universal popularity of the Gouldian finch. If you have ever taken a 'surf' through the internet you will be aware that every second web site is devoted to, or full of pictures of, this finch. Even here in Tasmania people have always kept and bred the Gouldian (or tried too at least!!) despite the birds lack of down feathers - a prerequisite, I would have thought, given our 'variable' weather.


Many other bird keepers are drawn to finches by their difficulty in keeping and breeding. There is always a species 'out there' that requires specialist treatment in order to reproduce. A parrot breeder friend once stated that "If you can get a fertile egg from a parrot species there is no excuse not to successfully rear it". He should know he's reared hundreds in this manner. The same cannot, always, be said for finches. Where the parrot breeder can hand rear with some degree of certainty the finch is a tad more difficult if hatched from day 1!! To establish the 'rarer' finches takes a degree of dedication and observation that most of us that have full-time jobs would find near impossible to match. This, coupled with a large slice of luck, is essential to breed some finches. I seem to remember a long forgotten quote I read in someone's honors project which went a little like this: " Given the strictest regimes of experimental design and the best environment possible the animal will do what it damn well pleases!"
    That about sums up trying to breed most finches - from Stars to Violet-ears! However, this flippant summation of finch breeding should not mask the fact that Australian aviculturists have achieved worldwide recognition for their work with several foreign species. The Cuban, Jacarini and Red-hooded siskin are possibly our three greatest triumphs. These species are eagerly sought out by overseas breeders keen to emulate our successes in their own aviaries. The breeding of the red hooded siskin, an endangered species in its homeland of Venezuela, has received international recognition and Australian aviculturists still produce it in large numbers. Perhaps this aspect of aviculture - the preservation of species - is something that deserves our attention.

 By now I sense people are beginning to say "Oh, no. He's not on THAT hobbyhorse again!!" Well, let's be really honest about it and look at things in their true perspective. With the cessation of the legalised wild trapping the notion of a 'cheap finch' went out the window. Pictorellas, Masks and Bloods all became hard to find and their price reflected this. But is that such a bad thing? These birds were never in the 'easy to breed basket' and when the supply of such species dried up we were forced to concentrate on them and to improve our husbandry. Sure, the price that these birds now command has a lot to do with supply and demand, but the expertise that we have now acquired for them surely acts as an insurance policy for the future. I am not stupid enough to maintain that all aviculturists are conservationists whose only thought is for the species. By necessity, most are well aware of market trends and prices of our birds. Give a species a higher monetary value and you can be sure that people will try to breed it. However, in doing so they also contribute to the overall knowledge for that species. This is, I guess, the basis of the 'ecological sustainability' that we hear so much about in regards wildlife 'farming ' both here and in Africa. Maybe you feel it sad that we should need to assign this monetary value to entice people to breed species, but any information that prevents a further lessening of the already depleted gene-pool cannot be a bad thing.
    Further testament to this is the increased demand for African species in European and American aviaries when the huge shipments of finches began to dry up. Breeders in these countries are looking to Australia and asking how we have managed to maintain such a diversity of non-Australian finches given that the last legal imports ceased around 1945. Imagine what we could achieve if the authorities ever allow us to import finches into the quarantine station - but I guess that is another contentious issue in its own right!!! It is to be hoped, in the future, that there can be further cooperation between bird breeders and the various wildlife agencies as the demand for land and expansion brings more species into conflict with man. Let's not wait until a species is down to its last 20 members before this cooperation is officially sanctioned, as is the prevalent attitude here as regards the swift parrot.
    Hopefully you have been able to wade through this article and not sworn at me too much! Still, there is nothing that compares to sitting in your finch aviary and having its occupants flitting around you going about their daily business. The sight of those newly fledged chicks sitting on the perch sort of helps to negate the memory of those 'eggs that never made it' , those 'chicks that never hit the perch or that finch that DID hit the perch'!! To the 'parrot person' whose charges sit in the same spot for hours on end, "do yourself a favour" and get some finches to see what all the fuss is really about!! Don't forget to 'surf the net' and talk to other experienced breeders about the finches you are interested in and donít forget that there are many terrific new products out there to keep your finches worm free and healthy. Do yourself a favour and get into finches they're not called winged gems for nothing.

Written by Marcus Pollard