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Finches – Sampling the Incredible Diversity of Species Available

Finch enthusiasts are in the enviable position of being able to easily obtain a wide range of interesting, colorful and unusual species.  Among no other group of cage birds do we find such a variety of captive-bred specimens.  Although some are quite delicate, even those relatively new to the hobby can find a great many hardy species.  Today I’d like to provide a look at some of the possibilities.

Bicheno’s or Double-barred Finch, Stizoptera bichenovii

double barred finchMeasuring a mere 3 inches in length, this delightful little bird is the smallest of the Australian grass-finches.  It inhabits grasslands, parks and gardens; wild and captive individuals alike are quite comfortable around people.

Bicheno’s finch is clad in browns, fawn and gray, and the buff colored face is outlined with a dark, almost heart-shaped ring – bringing to mind a minute barn owl (well, actually I’m referring here to my mind, I’ve not had others second that opinion!).  Despite its diminutive size, this finch is quite steady in disposition, and makes a fine, always curious pet.

These finches are much inclined to scratch about the ground for insects…providing a pile of leaf mulch will keep them occupied and yourself amused for hours.

Pin-tailed Nonpareil, Eurythrura prasina

 Pin-tailed ParrotfinchClad in green, blue and bright red, this most desirable of the parrot finches occurs from Myanmar to Java.

Nonpareils are bred in large numbers, but remain a species best kept by well-experienced aviculturists.  They are fairly high strung and tend to crash into walls and cage bars when startled.  For that reason, they are best kept in spacious, well-planted aviaries.  For some reason, males greatly outnumber females, and hence true pairs are difficult to obtain.

Nonpareils require more dietary variety than many other finches, with soaked rice, insects and greens, along with a variety of seeds, being necessary for their well-being.

Green Avadavat, Amadava formosa

The beauty of this central Indian waxbill is less flamboyant than that of many other finches, but no less arresting.  The grassy-green of the back blends nicely with the yellow-gray throat and grades into lemon yellow, black barred under-parts, offset by a brilliant red beak.

Green Avadavats are birds of grasslands and sugar cane fields, where they construct enclosed nests of grass and hay.  Captives sometimes accept hanging, covered nests, and are generally good parents.

Although hardy once acclimated, green Avadavats are intolerant of damp conditions, and require a steady supply of small live or canned insects if they are to remain in peak condition.

Black-chinned Quail Finch, Ortygospiza atricollis

African QuailfinchThese odd finches do indeed resemble minute quails in body form, coloration and habits. They keep to the ground, even nesting there, and, like their namesakes, explode upward in whirling flight when startled.  Quail finches of one or another species inhabit much of Sub-Saharan Africa, usually in association with bogs, swamps and other damp environs.

These stout little birds do poorly in open situations in captivity, but settle down well if provided with ground cover in the form of bushes and live or dried grass clumps.  Quail finches feed on the ground, and should ideally be offered live or canned insects and egg food on a daily basis, especially during the breeding season.

Further Reading

Read an interesting account of one aviculturist’s success in breeding the quail finch. I’ve written about a number of other finches as well; please see The Gouldian Finch and the articles referenced there for more information.



Double-barred Finch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Glen Fergus.
Pin-tailed Parrotfinch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Barracuda 1983.
African Quailfinch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Magnus Manske.

Keeping a Preventative and Emergency Health Care Kit for Birds

In caring for birds at home and in zoos, I have found that having emergency care items  Scarlet Macaw on hand has often prevented minor mishaps from turning into disasters.  Supplements that aid in preventative health care are also essential.  Today I have assembled a list of products that parallel those used in public aviaries, and which should be every private bird keeper’s possession.

Bird First Aid Kit

The VSI Bird First Aid Kit is stocked with powdered styptic, bandages, antiseptic wipes, forceps and many other useful products, this kit has everything you need to deal with minor emergencies.  The emergency card included in the kit is most helpful.

Nutritional Supplements

Lafeber Powdered Vitamins can be used on a daily basis, and are especially useful in that they can be applied to food or water.

Virbac Vita Flight Supplement is flavored with fruit and therefore well-accepted by many birds.  It is designed for use during stressful times, such as when a bird has been re-located or is molting, breeding or recovering from an illness.  Another of Virbac’s products, Ornabac, is fortified with extra Vitamin B, an important nutrient during especially stressful events.

Feather and Skin Care

Feather Glo Bird Bath helps to keep both skin and feathers in good shape, while Feather Brite Bird Bath Spray contains lanolin and aloe to assist in soothing irritated skin.

Scalex Mite and Lice Spray should always be on hand to address external parasites.

Bitter Apple has long been favored as a means of discouraging feather plucking.  It is most effective when applied as soon as plucking commences, and therefore should always be on hand.

Beak Conditioning

Disguised as an attractive toy, the volcanic pumice in Four Paws’ Pumice Kabob is one of the most effective materials for keeping bird beaks naturally trimmed and in prime condition.

Further Reading

I’ve written a number of other articles addressing bird medicine and health.  Please see The Diagnosis and Treatment of Ailments Afflicting Cage Birds and the articles referenced there for more information.


Scarlet macau image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by VC-s.

Avian Nutritional Considerations: Amazon Parrots and Macaws

Please see Part I of this article for information concerning hill mynas and African gray parrots. Today we’ll continue our overview of nutritional considerations particular to specific groups of birds.

Amazon Parrots (Genus Amazona)


Amazons gain weight easily, and seem prone to obesity. This is in part due to their fondness for sunflower seeds and peanuts, and also to the difficulties involved in trying to convince them to accept a healthier diet…they are just to smart and stubborn for their own good!

Switching Amazon parrots to a pellet-based diet is the ideal solution, but is often quite a challenge. One very useful product in helping them to make the adjustment is Lafeber Nutriberries. Containing both pelleted and natural foods, nutriberries retain their consistency well, making it difficult for parrots to pick out favored ingredients.

Amazon parrots love to manipulate food items with their feet. You can take advantage of this by offering them thick stalks of kale, carrot chunks and other such vegetables. This may help to satisfy their appetites and will keep them occupied and stimulated as well.

Hypocalcaemia, Hypovitaminosis A and Sinusitis

In common with African gray parrots, Amazons are often troubled by these three ailments. Please see Part I of this article for a discussion of their causes and treatments.


Dietary Fat

There is some evidence that certain macaws, especially those that feed heavily upon palm nuts in the wild, may do best on a high-fat diet. However, please bear in mind that the nutritional requirements of the world’s 17 macaw species vary greatly, and they cannot be treated as a single entity in this regard. Always be sure to carefully research the individual species in which you are interested (please see Further Reading, below).

Psittacine Proventricular Dilation Disease

Known also as “macaw wasting disease”, this affliction is as yet incurable. Believed to be viral in nature, it is seen more frequently in macaws than other parrots, but is by no means limited to them.

In birds stricken by the disease, a region of the stomach known as the proventriculus dilates and ceases to contract normally. Food, unable to move through the digestive system, is usually regurgitated. Whole seeds may also appear in the droppings, and weight loss will be evident. Some birds also exhibit abnormal head movements, lameness and other problems associated with the nervous system.

Carefully choosing your birds, and quarantining all new arrivals for 3-6 months, is the best protection against macaw wasting disease.

Hypervitaminosis D and Stunting

With hand-raised macaws commanding such high prices, it is inevitable that many people try their hand at what is actually an extremely difficult undertaking. An excess of Vitamin D and a failure to develop normally, both typically seen in baby macaws, are linked to inappropriate nestling formulas.

Kaytee Macaw Handrearing Formula is specifically formulated for macaws, but the advice of an experienced aviculturist should also be sought if you are new to hand-rearing birds.

Useful Products

Please see our wide selections of species-specific foods, nutritional supplements , vitamins and minerals and books for assistance in formulating healthful diets for your birds.

Further Reading

Please check out my articles on the Natural History and Care of Macaws  and Amazon Parrots  to learn more about these spectacular birds.


Convincing Your Parrot to Accept Pellets – Lafeber Nutri-Berries

It’s now well-established that pellets designed for cockatiels, budgerigars, Amazons, cockatoos, macaws and other parrots represent one of the most effective means of providing these birds with a balanced diet.  It is equally well-established that many of our feathered friends adamantly refuse to eat pellets, and easily thwart our best efforts to disguise or hide them within other foods!

A Useful Feeding Technique (or Trick!)

Enter Lafeber Nutri-Berries.  Nutri-Berries are a unique combination of pellets, molasses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other ingredients, combined in a nugget that is very well-accepted by a wide variety of parrots.  Most importantly, their consistency is such that even the most fastidious pet will be unable to pick out favorite items.

Nutri-Berries offer, therefore, the best option available to those seeking to introduce pellets to a bird’s diet in a manner that pleasing to both parrot and parrot owner alike.  In fact, they are being increasingly recommended by veterinarians and serious aviculturists.

Their nutritional content is such that, when supplemented by fresh fruits, vegetables, sprouts and such other foods as may be needed by various parrot species, Nutri-Berries can be used as a dietary staple.

Species-Specific Nutri-Berries

Nutri-Berries  are available in a wide variety of flavors and in sizes suitable for average-sized parrots, cockatiels, and macaws and cockatoos. Budgerigars, who are often among the worst offenders when it comes to being picky eaters, readily accept cockatiel-sized Nutri-Berries.

Further Reading

There are a great many other feeding options available to those who keep parrots and other birds.  For a look at what zoos and private aviculturists have tried over the years, please see my article Alternative Bird Foods.


Vitamin A Deficiency and Swollen Eyes in Parrots, Finches and other Cage Birds

Swollen eyes (Periorbital Abscess) are a frequently reported affliction of budgerigars, African gray, various Amazon and nearly all other parrots, but are also seen in canaries and other finches, mynas, toucans, bulbuls and a host of lesser-known pet species.  In most cases, a Vitamin A deficiency is at the root of the problem.  Less commonly, cysts, trapped foreign objects, trauma and bacterial infection may be implicated.

Initial Symptoms (Periobital Abscess)

Swellings usually develop slowly, beginning as puffy areas in front of and possibly above the eyes, and may be quite subtle.  This underlies the importance of knowing your bird well, and of performing a close daily inspection – especially for those who keep smaller birds, or any bird in a large, outdoor aviary.  Eventually, the swollen area will spread, encircling the eye and forcing it closed.  Treatment may involve surgery and/or Vitamin A injections, followed by dietary changes.

Origin of Vitamin A Deficiencies

Vitamin A deficiencies are typical of parrots fed upon a seed-only diet, and are especially common in species and individuals that tend to feed upon 1-2 types of seed to the exclusion of all others.  As always, sunflower seeds are the main culprit.  Parrots are notoriously troublesome in this regard, but other groups have their share of offenders as well.

In softbills and other non-seed eaters, this or other deficiencies can arise in birds that feed upon a few favored food items, such as the Pekin robin that takes only mealworms or the toucan that fills up on the bananas in its salad.

Aviary and Group-Housing Concerns

While working in large, mixed-species zoo exhibits, I began to notice that the dominant birds in the exhibit were often the individuals most likely to develop vitamin/mineral deficiencies.  While this at first did not make sense, upon reflection I came to realize that it is precisely these birds that arrived at the feeding stations first and filled up on crickets, grubs, blueberries, hard-boiled egg and other favorites.

Left with only prepared softbill diets and pellets upon which to subsist, the subordinate birds actually consumed a more healthful diet than did the exhibit tyrants.  Those keeping groups of birds in outdoor aviaries would do well to remain aware of this phenomenon.

Balancing the Diet: Pellets and Prepared Foods

For parrot keepers, the answer lies in switching your birds to a pellet-based diet …a task much easier said than done where many are concerned.  Lafeber Nutriberries can be an invaluable ally in your battle.  Nutriberries present pellets in a very well-accepted form, mixing in seeds and tasty treats and greatly simplifying the ordeal.

Likewise, pellets can be put to good use in finch diets, and softbill pellets  should form the basis of the food taken by toucans, barbets, mynas and similar birds.

Other Steps to Take

Please be sure also to take a look at our extensive selection of bird care books, as there are small details affecting the nutritional health of all species.  A high quality vitamin/mineral supplement should also be used as part of a balanced diet for your pets.

Further Reading

For more information on the role of pellets in bird diets, please see my article Avian Nutrition: Pellet-Based Diets.


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