Maintaining a
Finch Collection


So you've finally got your finches settled into their new aviary. Time to sit back and watch them flit around and produce heaps of youngsters. You've picked the best birds that the dealers and breeders had to offer, right? Your main jobs are over apart from water, seed, greens and a little livefood, right? Wrong !! It's just starting! "Oh, come on. What else is there?" I hear you say. Well, sit back and let me play devils advocate for you and let's see what can go wrong if you become complacent.

     Did all your new birds spend some time in the isolation cage? "Look, I picked the healthiest stock the dealer/breeder had, they don't need to be separated - do they?" Fraid so, and various people recommend different lengths of time, but the period of 40 days appears in the literature most often - maybe a biblical reason !! Why so long? Well, it is to allow for the symptoms of any illness or parasite to manifest itself BEFORE you let it loose among the rest of your flock. It is often easier to treat one bird than 21. Sure you only selected the fittest looking birds but they still might have been in the early stages of some condition.

It is at this stage that a microscope could prove to be your greatest ally. There are a number of 'do-it-yourself' guides to parasite eggs, fungi and some bacteria available on the book shelves and you don't need to be a biologist to identify many commoner types. However, if the idea of wading about in bird poo doesn't appeal then a good bird vet can help you solve many a problem - money well spent.

I guess the hardest thing about a quarantine program is adhering to it for EVERY bird we obtain! But, it's often the bird you get from your mate across town that can carry as much disease as the one from the crowded dealers cages. Let's move on and examine the two main places that your birds might come from and the sorts of things we need to be aware of when making a selection.

The Breeder:
    At least here you can ask a few questions and actually observe the environment your potential purchase is coming from. Has he/she wormed their birds and what did they use? Is the aviary open to the elements? Does the aviary have a compost heap? Is there any evidence of rodents? What types of food are they used to eating? What age are the birds being purchased? These are a selection of some worthwhile questions to ask of the breeder. Some are obvious, but why ask about open aviaries or compost heaps? Patience - we'll get to that!!

The Dealer/Pet Shop:
    Here you have a problem as they may not have a clue where many of their stock came from let alone if they had ever seen a bird wormer! If you are after information about the birds it is often important to work out if the person you are talking to knows the difference between a Zebra finch and a Violet-eared waxbill!!! Can often be the blind leading the blind! Once had a young friend call me to offer me the pair of bloods that he purchased from a local pet shop. I jumped at the chance. When he arrived the cock was indeed a fine blood but the 'hen' was a hen African fire!!!! Needless to say he returned to the pet shop for a refund!!

So at least find out what he/she has treated them with since their arrival in the shop. What - nothing at all!! And you were going to put them straight in with your nice 'clean' birds at home - shame!! Well, I'm probably starting to scare you by now so I may as well up the ante! Perhaps a brief mention of some of the commoner 'nasties' might help us design an effective control program.

Coccidia :
    Causes a disease called coccidiosis and is a small protozoal (single-celled organism) parasite that burrows into the birds intestine causing enteritis or an inflammation of the intestine. It is commonest in younger birds or in any birds kept in crowded and unhygienic conditions. This little fellow loves damp, wet conditions. So if the aviaries your birds came from had dirt floors, compost heaps or open flights then a treatment for coccidia is well warranted. It is fairly common in wild birds, so the more of their poo's you can keep out of your aviaries the better!! If your area is prone to prolonged wet periods you should also consider dosing for this parasite - not that these conditions are rife down here in Tasmania!!!!! On this point, as a little aside, did you know that Tasmania is the second driest state of Australia ?!!

Intestinal Worms:
    The two main 'nasties' in finches appear to be the gizzard worm and the tapeworm. Either of these can (and do) cause large losses among captive finches. Even those birds that survive worm attacks can often be so badly scarred that they will no longer reproduce.

Gizzard Worms -
live under the lining of the gizzard and make it very difficult for infected birds to grind up their food. Birds affected by these often spend lengthy periods eating soft foods, cake, soaked seed or livefood - any 'soft' feed that doesn't require breaking down or dehusking. Infestations of this magnitude often cause the birds to die of starvation as they are unable to breakdown enough food to survive. This could be that bird that is always in the feed bowl or the one that frantically flies down to greet you when you arrive with the soft food bowl. Whole seed in the droppings may also indicate this problem. The gizzard worm is hard to kill because of its location under the lining of the gizzard.

Tapeworms -
relatively common even in cooler climes. A large ribbon-like flat worm that can be seen without the aid of a microscope. The head segment is buried in the wall of the gut and the other segments are simply bags of reproductive organs. As a segment matures it is shed into the gut and passes out of the body with the faeces. Causes problems with the absorption of food across the gut and, in large numbers, can obstruct the gut and cause death. I have read reports where large infestations of these worms causes damage to the gut so that the food leaks out into the body cavity resulting in a form of peritonitis. As with the gizzard worm the infested bird has trouble processing enough food to maintain itself during colder spells when extra energy is needed. I dare say that an infested bird in Tasmania would live for a considerably shorter time than one in Queensland!!

Well, I bet by now you're ready to chuck down these ramblings and head for the nearest produce store to purchase the best 'all-in-one' wormer you can get.

"At least if I treat for these in my quarantine program I'll be all right for a long time-won't I?" Sorry, got MORE bad news for you. Wouldn't really matter all that much if one of your birds was infested with these worms it couldn't pass them on in a 'dangerous' form.

"What!!" Well, if I can remember my parasitology notes from long ago it goes a little like this: Both of these worms need what is called an intermediate host - usually an insect or other invertebrate. The bird picks up a worm egg from somewhere. The egg doesn't hatch but is simply 'primed' and passed out in the droppings. Here it lurks about until it is eaten by insects (often slaters, earwigs and beetles) where it hatches and develops into the next stage. Along comes your bird and eats some of these insects which allows the worm to enter the birds system and NOW it is in a form that is capable of wreaking havoc in your birds. That is a pretty abridged version of the process but it does tell you that you must treat the birds AND the creepy-crawly denizens of your aviaries in order to control parasitic worms. So then, in our new aviary how do we stop this problem? A quote from some film about "Eternal vigilance" springs to mind! Basically, no matter how great your aviary is 'they' will get in. "How?" you say. On your shoes, on or in your greenfood and seeding grass heads, through the open section of your roof or simply transported in by the humble ant. "Ants! - no bird eats those horrible things? - Do they?" Sorry, I once thought like you until I had more time to watch my birds and observed 3 species of finches eating the blasted things!! And this doesn't even include the birds that like to rub a little formic acid over their feathers when indulging in the habit of 'anting'.

Ye gods!! And I've only mentioned a few problems that I've encountered during my birdkeeping. That is without things like megabacteria, roundworms, fungal diseases or air sac mites. Here's a bit of disease trivia for you. Did you know that rats, mice and wild birds can give your birds a bacterial disease called Yersiniosis? The bacterium is called Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and is a close relative of the Black Death organism, Y.pestis.

Its symptoms are usually a large number of sudden deaths when your birds are rearing youngsters. On autopsy the liver is swollen and blotchy. Still like that open roof or vermin attracting compost heap!!!

Well, I've no doubt scared a few would be armchair finch keepers by now so I feel obliged to list a few products that could be helpful to you in maintaining your stock. PLEASE be warned I am NOT a vet, many of these products are NOT specifically designed for use in finches but they are products that have worked - at least I believe they have!- for me. Most of these have been recommended by vets with extensive bird experience and to them I am most grateful.

Baycox -
( Bayer Chemicals) will treat your birds for coccidia. Birds drink it with no problems.
MIX= 2ml/litre water for 2days.

Cydectin -
(Cyanamid-Websters) Active ingredient moxidectin. Works on gizzard worms, air sac mites and roundworms. Birds DO NOT like the taste so try it mixed with strawberry conserve or some other sweetener. Sheep and goat type NOT cattle strength.
MIX= 5ml/litre water for 5 days. Repeat 2 weeks later.

Wormout Gel -
(VetafarmP/L) main ingredients are praziquantel (for tapeworms) and oxfendazole (for roundworms) . Tastes pretty disgusting and I always use a sweetener when presenting this wormer.
MIX= 2ml/160mls water for 2 days. Suggest a repeat 2 weeks later.

Levamisole -
(Nilverm Pig and Poultry, 'Big-L' poultry and pig, Avitrol Plus) Active ingredient is levamisole hydrochloride 16gr/L. Useful against roundworm and gizzard worm. Be careful with one of these products as deaths have been recorded - we have found that pre-treatment with cydectin has, for us, prevented such deaths. (So far!!) A sweetener should be used with the Nilverm and Big-L as birds loathe these with a vengeance- the clear product appears to taste marginally better - but not much!!
MIX 40ml/litre water for 1 day. Repeat 2 weeks later.

Oxfen -
(Virbac) Active ingredient is oxfendazole 22.6gr/L - there are several types of this one, use only the sheep and goat types. This wormer dissolves in water reasonably well and has no taste. (Well at least not to humans!!!)
MIX= 5mls/litre water for 5 days treats both roundworms and may be effective against Tapeworms. Repeat 2 weeks later.

These are the main products that I use on my finches. I alternate the wormers that I use so as to reduce the possibility that the worms will develop a resistance to any one particular drug. If you know any serious livestock farmers you should check to see the various parasite control programs that they run to keep their animals in top condition. It certainly made me re-think some of my approaches to the use of chemicals. Chemicals can be our best or worst friends depending upon HOW we use them. Make sure you follow the instructions on the container, the advice of a fellow aviculturalist, or better yet contact your bird vet before you start your program. A well thought out approach to possible disease problems will have you sitting back in that lounge chair again with a clear conscience - well, at least till the first chicks demand that extra attention!!!
Good Luck!!!

Written by Marcus Pollard - Copyright remains with the author.