Cage tips for finches, Cage Finch Construction, Zebra finches colors, Origin of name canary

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People giving advice often say, and sometimes believe, that there is only one "right way to do it." In raising living things, in this case, cage birds, I believe that there are several "right ways," but there are indeed many wrong ways. So I'll present what has worked well or best for me.


Taking birds home from the pet shop or to a buyer entails some danger to them. Avoid extremes! Keep the carrier out of the sun. Over 90 degrees F is dangerous. If the finches are in an overheated car in the sun, they can die rather fast. Chilling with a wind on the birds is hazardous. I usually use a welded wire mesh cage for transport to buyers such as pet shops. I cover it with a towel to stop drafts and provide shade or conserve warmth. (Paper sacks can work well for short distances.) Do not transport more than 3-4 hours without food and water to avoid detrimental effects. Keep them in the dark for long trips.


The bigger -- the better. However, most of us are looking for the minimal size that can keep the birds happy and reproducing. I use 14" x 14" x 24" long with welded wire mesh. Welded wire is very strong and can stand being stacked 7 cages high, at least. The door is about 6" high x 8" long in the middle of the long dimension. Vertical cages look nice and conserve space in a room, but birds fly back and forth much more frequently than up and down. I prefer 4 perches of somewhat different sizes of quite straight natural wood (diameter about 3/8 inch to 5/8 inch and about 14 1/2 inches long notched at each end). Flat perches are not as good. If one must be used, sand off the corners from sharp to quite rounded. One perch is near each end about 3" from the top and end of the cage. Then 2 low ones about 3" off the floor are exactly under the upper ones. I place the feeder and waterers so the birds can use them from the low perches.

I set each cage into a cardboard box glued to fit the bottom exactly with a 2 1/2" lip up to reduce seed hulls blowing out from the birds flying (cut from a flat cardboard 20" x 30" since the bending "loses" about 1/2 inch). Finch dropping are so dry and small, one could go 3 months before needing a cleaning! Indian meal moths and a rain of seed hulls usually induce me to clean more often. A water bath is a treat for the birds. Use about 1/2 inch in a small bowl or treat dish that won't trip over. Canaraies would like it daily, but once a week is all most people can manage.


Commercial finch mix is readily available. The staple is usually millet: Large white Proso millet plus small red or yellow "German" millet. A black seed, Nigerian thistle, is often added: or for canaries, sesame seed. Wild foxtail "millet" is eaten also. Some finches will learn to eat many other types of seeds, for instance safflower, small black oily sunflower, oat groats, and soaked cracked corn. Try the latter on Java Rice birds, if they do not eat enough paddy rice. Canaries do like oat groats, and "canary seed" might make up 25-90% of their diet (high individual variation). Canaries are very wasteful of seeds, and may starve to death if you try to force them to eat off the floor, which may be covered with good seeds. Special canary seed dishes work well or one can use small crocks put in the cage daily. This greatly reduces the used seed hull problem . Commercial pellets for canaries and finches are excellent supplements.

(Doves eat milo, cracked corn, wheat, sunflower., safflower seed, and commercial pellets. Any of the small millet type seeds are avidly eaten by doves.)

A protein supplement of boiled egg is very helpful in getting finches to start laying and also when they are feeding young. I cut a boiled hen's egg into eights for this purpose. For zebra finches, at least, it is recommended to stop the egg "boost" after about the 3rd egg is laid and to resupply after the eggs hatch in 14 days.

Vitamins D3 and A are essential. Window glass blocks the natural ultraviolet which allows them to make their own D3. So add something like liquid vitamin supplements to the water. Two drops of Avitron, for example, per 1/3 cup (just over 2 ounces) of water is enough as maintainance, but 3 or 4 drops could be used if the birds are originally short on vitamins. These commercial vitamin products have much more than A or D3 in them. The additional vitamins which are necessary for humans and some other animals are made by the birds themselves naturally; but the supplements come with the extra unnecessary ones, so why quibble. Seed impregnated with vitamins is wasteful, since the hulls with the most vitamins in them are not eaten.

Minerals are essential also. Boiled egg shell from the egg supplements are usable for calcium. But I use "granular" F for calcium (85-98%) and granular livestock salt fortified with trace elements such as iodine, cobalt, manganese, etc. The doves and finches really like it and consume 10-50 times as much calcium as salt. Consumption of minerals goes up drastically with raising young. Grit for the gizzard seems NOT to be necessary for doves and finches. However, they do like granite grit or sand. Deep green leaves such as dandelion leaves (no pesticide please) is desired by the birds, but can be omitted if they are getting the vitamin additive. Plantain seed heads are avidly eaten by canaries, and other finches like them too.


Commercial wicker nests often catch the toe nail of many species of finches. Then the birds starves for food and water while the owner thinks it is nesting. Zebras are not so bad in this respect, but I still make my own nests out of box cardboard and water soluble glue. The vertical sides also help stop the new hatchlings from "falling out" as often. Size can vary but 3-1/2" square by 4" high with a 2-1/2" lip front works well for Zebra and Society finches. Canaries will want front and back open windows. They are said to prefer an open cup shaped nest, but mine, at least, prefer the "closed" cardboard nest open on opposite sides.

Nest material can be diverse. A mix of types is best. I use 4" squares of burlap sacking and let the finches tear off strands to use. I put in (preferably freshly fallen), dry, white pine needles as well. Fine dry grass stems about 1/32 inch in diameter or less can be used. Grass leaves are less desirable, but would be used. Odd things like fresh fallen bald cypress leaves works well too. Do NOT use string. Some young and even adults will tangle their feet or legs in it.

Give plenty of nest material while they are building a nest. Then remove it after the first 3 eggs are in it. Zebra finches especially are noted for burying their eggs and relaying. I have removed 53 eggs from one nest from one pair of zebras!! The young of Zebra and society finches are independent of the parents about 2 weeks after they come out of the nest. In the Zebra finches the young are independent if 1/3 of the bill from the base has turned orange.

Some finches, especially Zebras, want to roost at night in a nest. Pet shops and some fanciers seem not to be aware of this. If the cage is big enough (24" long), try putting in two nests well apart. Your finches will be happier. However, if you are holding large numbers of finches, they might crowd into one nest and scratch backs or suffocate some. Then don't use nests. Keeping sexes separate will delay the feather pecking, bare skin, and tattered effect.


There are several ways of getting the bird into your hand and holding it. Canaries are a bit tamer and slower than Zebra finches, so they may be caught by the hand in the cage with reasonable care. Most people don't have nets for the faster finches. I prefer to carry the cage into a room with no windows. I open the door, note the position of the bird wanted, turn off the light, and simply pick it up. If the room has windows, wait till night. The head can be held between the forefinger and middlle finger with the thumb supporting the feet. The base of the fingers restricts the shoulders of the bird. Their startle movements are then well contained without squeezing the bird. The birds can thus be held upside down with the back supported by the thumb or other finger. The bird can be held also with its back into the palm of the hand and tail toward the tips of the finger. The thumb then holds the feet.

Wilmer J Miller

Cage tips for finches, Cage Finch Construction, Zebra finches colors, Origin of name canary.

Finch pictures

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