So, You Want To Get Into Finches Then Do You??

OK then, some bright spark has just sent you a copy of Just Finches and you've read all those articles on finches and you have decided to 'get stuck into' finch breeding - but now where do you go to start? Let's have a look at a few of your options and some advice on the selection of your stock.

The Library:
This can be a great first stop to study up on the way to go about creating the best environment for your ‘proposed new charges’. You can see pictures of the species available to you and read how these authors keep and feed their birds. If you concentrate on this aspect you will be able to create an easily updateable regime for future use. Hate to be a pain, BUT, just check that the author of the tome you are immersed in lives in a region that is climatically similar to your own otherwise you could be courting disaster!
An example: a new breeder proudly told me which species he was obtaining for his new aviary. When I expressed some concern about his species selection he assured me that he had read all about them in Russell Kingston’s book and had followed his advice on their housing needs. As he had an open aviary that I would be loathe to be keeping Zebra finches in over winter I asked did he know where Russell lived? "Somewhere up North " was his reply!! As Russell lives in Queensland and we live in ‘sunny’ Hobart I tactfully suggested he might like to rethink his plans with this salient point in mind!! Horses for courses – I dare say Russell would have imparted the same warning!!!

The Bird Club:
Perhaps after our list is streamlined our next port of call should be to a local Avicultural Society where it should be possible to chat with breeders that have the birds that you are interested in. Here you should ask about the finches that you have seen in your library search and don't be too disheartened by the talk of Tanimbars, Sea greens, Orange-cheeks and Twinspots from the 'old hands' because I will guarantee that someone will say "Zebras? Haven't kept them in 20 years but see old 'Trev' over there, he has dozens of them." And from such beginnings your network starts to evolve. Go and pester 'Trev' for some information and ask him as many questions as you dare for it is better to ask seemingly dumb questions than to lose birds through NOT asking those self-same ‘dumb’ questions!  Who knows, ‘Trev’ might invite you over and you can see in person how he goes about his trade.
Most bird breeders remember when they started out in birds and are only too happy to talk birds and help the novice. Attend as many aviary visits as possible with your Club and see first hand how other more experienced breeders are keeping and breeding their birds.
A word of warning though is prudent here for some Avicultural Societies tend to be dominated by ‘parrot people’, which can be a tad off-putting if you are not into hookbills. I remember getting into all sorts of ‘trouble’ from a ‘learned gentleman’ from Melbourne over such a statement but I suspect even his resolve might have been weakened by three monthly meetings in a row devoted to hand-rearing parrots!!!!!!!!
    If you live in just such an area where there is not a local specialist finch club then do not despair because you can at least join Australasian clubs such as The Australian Finch Society Inc., the Queensland Finch Society or the New Zealand Finch Breeders Society. These clubs send you their magazines, in which you will be able to read articles written by people sharing the same affliction/addiction as yourself! Publications such as NZ Birdz, Just Finches & Softbills, Finch News, Finch Breeders Review and Australian Birdkeeper, will also supply you with a source of articles on finch species and their maintenance plus a listing of finches for sale. Even if you cannot attend meetings you can certainly do your bit to help out telephone company profits by contacting the committee members from these Societies in your relentless search for finch information and that elusive ‘missing hen bird’.
    Also many Finch Societies and breeders have web pages that you can log onto and you can ask your 1000 questions via e-mail. The World Wide Web is also a very powerful tool in gathering information for your list. Hey, you could even drop an e-mail to me at or visit Clifton Finch Aviaries while you are web surfing!

The Wish List:
So you've decided to specialize in finches AND you’ve consulted a few (hundred!) good bird publications to access just what is out there that appeals. We’ve suggested that you try to ensure that your book is an Australian/New Zealand publication otherwise your 'wish list' might be VERY hard to fill! You would be surprised the number of beginners that have contacted me looking for Lavenders, Quail finches, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills to 'START' their collection with!
In compiling your wish list look for things like compatibility – best to find out before hand whether your chosen bird will co-exist peacefully with other finches or try to tear them apart!
Here are a few pearls from wiser breeders than I as a rule of thumb for some species. Cubans and Green Singers never put together lest yellow feathers be a flying. Never put the blue Cordon family with Cubans lest you wish your Cubans to decorate their nest with pretty blue feathers! Blood finches are not lightly named and can decimate most species should the mood take them – house only with Bird of Prey!!   If you intend to have one aviary (hey, we all started out ONLY having one aviary, didn't we??!!) then you need to have species that will interact together with some degree of harmony.
Any chance of possible hybridization is another key factor in deciding what birds to mix together. Here goes with another ‘rule’ - members of the Nun family should not be housed together (the 3 Asian Nuns and the Chestnut or Yellow rump for example) neither should Nuns and Mannikins be placed together.
Parrotfinches should be kept separate as they will all crossbreed and, in my experience, the resultant young are sterile – many of the early Tri-coloured parrotfinches offered for sale were hybrids between Tanimbars and Blue-face. Cordons and Blue caps together are another no, no, as are Red Strawberries and Orange Breasts. Masks, Longtails and Parsons are all prone to crossbreeding if housed together but here many of the resultant hybrids are fertile – extra need for caution!! Even try to keep the sub species of the Longtails away from each other – namely the Hecks (red billed) and the ‘Normal’ Longtail (yellow bibbed).
The list is longer but this covers a few of the more obvious and commoner species not to put together. Despite our best plans occasionally non-related species will cross and I have seen Red Star X African Fire finch and Plumhead X Double Bar!

As another thought you might like to consider really hard whether you are prepared to dive ankle deep into maggot and mealworm culture!! Better to check that the finches you have selected are not live feed dependent and will rear young on the basics that you are comfortable supplying them with – better to factor this in than suffer the frustration of finding dead babies on the floor.
    Your work schedule and commitments will also play a major part in what birds you include on your list. As most of us have found out at one time or another the more delicate/difficult species require a degree of attention that is difficult to supply when you work full time. Plus not all of us are lucky enough to have an understanding, or at least bemused, partner/spouse!

The Breeder:
You've spoken to 'Trev' and you're off to his place to get some Zebbies for your aviary. What sort of questions should you ask him and what should you take notice of in his aviaries – I mean they are only Zebs after all, aren’t they? The word ‘EVERYTHING’ mean anything to you!!! Only Zebs indeed! There is many an exotic finch breeder that still remembers his first pair of Zebs!

OK, I’m calm again now so let’s try to put together a list of questions for you:

· How old are the birds? – often better to buy half coloured than ‘brightly’
   coloured adult birds as you know how old the babies are?
· Are they related? – might need to consider swapping with another breeder
   if all the available finches are too closely related.
· When were they wormed, what was used and in what dose rate?
· What are the birds feeding on - seed mix, greens, live food, 'specials'? –
  here is where you need to ENSURE that you ask your 1000 questions.
· What other medications are the birds being treated with - in the water or
· Favourite nesting material and where they prefer to nest in the aviary.
· The breeder's tips for getting them into breeding condition. – if he/she
   says "That’s a secret" then walk back out their door.

Asking questions about the diet of new finches is one thing that we should all do -yes, even us 'old hands' can learn from other breeders – whether they keep Zebbies or Violet-ears!!
Hopefully these few questions will help you to provide a similar suitable environment for your new birds in their new environment.
Even before making your purchase ensure that you have taken the opportunity of observing the set-up of his aviaries and comparing them to your own. Not much point in buying finches from a warm, covered in aviary if your own resembles a 'wind tunnel' with very little cover! As you compile your 'bird wish list' it is imperative that you select your birds to suit your aviary design and your climatic extremes. Again not much use putting Violet-ear waxbills in an open flight -even in Queensland!
 The advantage of obtaining your birds from a breeder is that you have access to a source of information that will prove invaluable over the coming years. Oh, and make sure you get their phone number!

Blue-cap waxbills. Pair of Cubans. Double Bar.

The Dealer/Pet Shop:
For many of us this avenue is the main way that we obtain our birds whether through choice or necessity! No doubt we have all listened to breeders over the years and opinion is fairly evenly divided as to whether you love or hate them!
But those of you that live within easy distance of numerous breeders can afford to pick and choose where you get your birds from but try that where breeders are scarce and finches even scarcer! Until recently most of my birds were obtained through a Sydney bird dealership and I was more than happy with the service and quality of birds that he chased down for me. But I have known and dealt with others that were not so genuine. But then I guess not every bird breeder is Florence Nightingale either!
    Here you will find a large range of finches that you can select from but it is still best to have done your homework on the species you want, as many pet shop employees are less than well versed in the ways of finches! For example the lad in Melbourne that told me how peaceful Cubans and Crimsons were in mixed collections and the dealer in Hobart that sold a friend a hen African Fire as a hen Blood! The owner of the business may have little idea where most of his/her finches came from so it is difficult to question them as you would a breeder. Some dealers are free with the information as to where their finches came from but you can understand why many choose not to divulge that information. So, we can't find out if they were wormed or treated with any other medication or what they were fed, what to do?

Finches at Gunnedah Bird Sale. Garswood Bird Shop Sydney.

Here are a few (hopefully) helpful tips that might help in stock selection.

    · When observing the birds stand well back from the cage and observe the appearance of the birds - a sick bird will look fine if you are up close to it and putting the fear of God into it! However, if you step back from the cage it will not feel as threatened and will 'fluff-up' to conserve body heat. Leave that one where it is!!
    · If you have a number of birds to pick from don't choose the brightest coloured birds go for the younger, half-coloured ones. Why? Simple, the brighter ones are usually brighter because they are older and at least you know how old the half-coloured ones are!
    · When you finally make a selection have a close look at the legs, as they will tell you a great deal about the age of the bird - pronounced scaling usually is a sign of age and long nails say the same for the Mannikin family.
    · Check the beak for signs of abnormal growth. Watch for over or under shot beaks. I am led to believe that some of these 'beak traits' are genetically passed on.
    · If you are able to handle the bird check that the chest muscle is well developed and that the keel bone is not too prominent - if the keel is sharp enough to have a shave off gently place the bird back in the cage and select another!
    · A dirty vent in a finch is usually a sign of some intestinal problem but may also simply denote stress in the bird (especially in Diamond Sparrows). A dirty vent coupled with a sharp keel bone is a real problem.
    · Clean cages in the shop also tell you a lot about how the birds have been looked after. If you can, try to get to the dealer when the birds first arrive which will prevent any contamination from the previous occupants of the cages.

Dybowski Twinspot Male Red Strawb. Male Green Strawb.

Well, hopefully I have avoided offending anyone and also given a rough guide to what to look for when visiting the bird shops. However, many of these points could equally be applied to obtaining stock from a breeder as well. As previously stated, I am not a 'dealer basher' and have enjoyed harmonious relations with several over the years. The notion that dealers only contain old and failed breeding birds is nonsense, as many aviculturists would rather take their surplus stock to a dealer than advertise privately and risk 'unsavoury types' visiting their property.
 The other really great thing about your bird dealer is that he will send you birds no matter where you live in Australia and/or new Zealand! How many times have you rung a breeder in response to an advertisement only to be told, "We don't freight." Without Les at Birdsville's efforts to chase around for those rarer finches we would be far worse off for finches down here - let's face it he has access to far more breeders and finches in one suburb than exists in the whole of Tasmania and many parts of New Zealand me thinks!

Now that you have thought about all these points it would be remiss of us not to add one last paragraph for the person that is new to finches and that is about the Zebra Finch!
    This bird, I believe, should be the first stop for anybody intending to start breeding finches. Practically indestructible, these guys are free breeders, will put up with 'heavy' nest inspection and are relatively cheap. The desire to 'see what is happening' is present in most of us and the Zeb allows us to learn about finches and their needs first hand. Many finches are very intolerant of any form of nest inspection but you can get down nests of Zebs to show children in relative safety. I started with Zebs as did a number of finch breeders that I know because of their noisy calls and friendly disposition.
    The desire to breed rare and exotic species will always be lurking beneath the surface of most finch breeders but let's not lose sight of the fact that many of us started out breeding the Zebra finch. It would be far better to find out that keeping zebras is 'too hard' before outlaying money on more 'exotic' and difficult species. Not to mention reducing the available gene pool in areas where finch numbers are low – just because you can afford a finch doesn’t mean that you have the skills to breed them!

Red-face parrotfinch. Diggles Parson. Mask finch.

Well, we've given you a few tips for selecting your finch stock so get out there and join one of the greatest hobbies that you can become involved in. Remember; start off with only a few pairs in your aviary as the fewer birds in your cages then, generally, the better they will breed. When, some years from now, you are cursing the author of this article for getting you into finches rest assured he will plead ignorance!!!
Welcome to the fraternity of finch breeders OR "you haven’t got a spare hen have you mate!!!!"