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Breeding Canaries, Waxbills and Other Finches – The Importance of Insects

Red-billed FirefinchWild finches of almost every species consume beetles, spiders, caterpillars and other invertebrates throughout the year, and in large quantities both before and during the breeding season.  While those we keep as pets may thrive on seed-based diets, providing them with a variety of insects will improve their health and encourage breeding.  A reader’s note concerning his success with Bronze-Winged Mannikins and the onset of the spring breeding season here in the Northern Hemisphere have sparked me to take another look at this important topic.

Insects in Finch Diets

Reader Tom commented (see Insects for Birds: Zoo Med’s Anole Food) that his Bronze-Winged Mannikins enjoyed freeze-dried flies, and were breeding well.  In the wild, he discovered, this species times reproduction to the swarming of termites.  Not wishing to establish a termite colony in his home (there are options, however, please see below!), Tom found that his finches readily accepted the dried flies in Zoo Med’s Anole Food as a replacement.

Many popularly-kept finches breed at a time when they can best take advantage of an abundance of certain insects.  We are learning that their abilities to “predict” events such as invertebrate breeding assemblages are quite sophisticated.  A shorebird known as the Red Knot, for example, which undergoes a nearly pole-to-pole migration, somehow arrives at the Delaware Bay just as Horseshoe Crabs are laying eggs (the eggs fuel the rest of the Red Knot’s trip).  That such fine-tuning has evolved shows, I believe, the importance of these foods.

Young CockroachFinches might get by without them, but their enthusiastic response to live and processed insects will leave you with no doubt as to their value.  On the other hand, it’s virtually impossible to keep, much less breed, many softbills if a steady supply of insects is not available.  Included among these are Shama Thrushes, Superb Starlings, Indian Hill Tits, Pittas and others.

In many cases, the provision of increased amounts of insect food (at the right time of year) can help to bring birds into breeding condition.

Procuring Live Insects

During my years working with the Bronx Zoo’s bird collection, I always maintained insect traps as a means of providing dietary variety.  The ZooMed Bug Zapper is a light-based trap that is modeled on those used in zoos.  Assuming that you employ it in an area where pesticides are not a concern, this trap provides an excellent means of collecting insects for your birds.

There are quite a few other ways to provide your birds with nutritious live insects.  I enjoy collecting my own, utilizing a number of home-made traps and insect nets.  Raising mealworms, earthworms, sowbugs, roaches and others is enjoyable, relatively simple, and provides a variety of differently-sized individuals year-round.

Processed Insects

A number of products marketed for pet reptiles, such as canned crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and shrimps (shrimp are an old-timer’s favorite for bringing out the feather color) can be put to good use by bird-keepers.

I’ve written about insect collecting and processed insects in greater detail elsewhere…please see the articles below to learn more about these often over-looked bird-feeding opportunities.

Other Protein-Rich Foods

Egg Food is a unique and very useful product that should be part of nearly all finch diets.  You can also use hard boiled eggs and cottage cheese rolled in a bit of ground Softbill Select both have been long favored by zookeepers and professional breeders.



Further Reading

Collecting Live Food: an Entomologist’s Technique  

Diets of Free-Living Waxbills and Grassfinches  

Building a Termite Trap  

Breeding Mealworms


Red-billed Firefinch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tom Tarrant


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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