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Choosing the Best Cage for Canaries, Finches and other Small Birds

While working as a bird keeper at the Bronx Zoo, I cared for a number of finches that are commonly kept as pets.  Early on, I was struck by the amazing differences in the behavior of the same species when kept in large exhibits as opposed to small cages.  Along with increased activity and interesting behaviors came good health and excellent breeding results.  While few pet owners can keep their birds in zoo-exhibit sized cages, many do not give enough thought to just how much space their finches and canaries need.  Perhaps because these birds “get by” in small cages, and rarely exhibit the problems that afflict space-deprived parrots, they are often denied spacious living quarters.  But, because of their physical make-up and lifestyle, finches are poorly suited for life in cramped quarters…even less so, in some ways, than are many parrots. Choosing the best cage for these small birds is essential for their well-being and it allows you to enjoy more natural behaviors.

Painted Firetail

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jim Bendon

Finch and Canary Lifestyles

It’s important to bear in mind that canaries and other finches do not climb about on perches and cage bars as do parrots.  Flight space is a critical point in cage selection.  Also, finches are only rarely let out of their cages for exercise and interaction with owners.  The vast majority spend their lives in a cage…in many cases able to only hop a few inches from perch to perch, day in and day out. Read More »

Breeding and Keeping the Nonpareil Finch or Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch

Nonpareil FinchWhen translated to English, the French language name for this little finch – Nonpareil – means “without equal”.  The name suits the gorgeous bird perfectly…so much so that aviculturists of all nationalities have adopted it.  Also known as the Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch (Erythrura prasina), the brilliantly-colored Nonpareil has long been among the most desired of all Southeast Asian finches.

My first experience with these beauties came while working for a bird importer.  I was captivated by their colors, but despaired over the stress caused them by shipment and confinement to quarantine facilities.  Fortunately, an experienced private breeder helped me to learn the keys to keeping them alive and well.

Description

The 5.5 inch-long male Nonpareils are clad in “grass green”, bright red and brilliant blue, and sport elongated central tail feathers.  Females have shorter tails and are not as gaudy, but are also quite colorful.  While most related parrot finches are attractive (please see photos), none are as spectacular as the Nonpareil.

Yellow-bellied individuals are found in some wild populations, but are not common in captivity.  Birds originating from Borneo have more blue in the plumage, and are considered by most to be a subspecies.  Although few aviculturists see any need to experiment with color mutations, largely-green and pied strains have been established. Read More »

Red-Billed Quelea – Captive Care of the World’s Most Numerous Bird

Red billed QueleaAlthough attracting less attention than European Starlings and other common birds, Red-Billed Queleas (Quelea quelea) outnumber them all.  Yet despite being dubbed the “Locust Bird” for its habit of moving in flocks containing millions of individuals, this attractive African weaver is surprisingly difficult to breed in captivity.

Description

Population size is not the Red-Billed Quelea’s sole unique characteristic. It is also the only bird in which males exhibit highly variable color patterns that are not designed to advertise their value as mates.  In all other colorful, sexually-dimorphic species (those where males and females differ in appearance), color is used to express desirability to females (please see this Gouldian Finch article).

Some male Red-Billed Queleas vary so much from others that they appear to be of different species. The black or white facial mask is surrounded by feathers that may be colored red, orange, pink or various shades of each; the breast is often splashed with similar colors. Please see the article below for photos of several males…the effect of all this variation in a huge flock must be spectacular! Read More »

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Red-Headed Finch or Paradise Sparrow

Red-headed FinchThe Red-Headed Finch (Amadina erythrocephala) somewhat resembles its more familiar cousin, the Cutthroat Finch, but is a bit larger and, in my opinion, even more striking in appearance.  It is also a more reliable breeder than the Cutthroat and, if properly cared for, may live for over a decade.  Many keepers report that their Red-Headed Finches mimic sounds, and the songs of other birds, quite well.

Description

In place of the Cutthroat Finch’s attractive splash of color (please see photo), the male has a bright red or crimson head, and his breast is beautifully marked with black-rimmed white spots.  Females lack the red head and are more somberly-colored in general.

The alternate common name, Paradise Sparrow, is apt – in part due to the brilliant plumage but also because this 5 ¼ inch-long bird is stoutly built, and puts one more in mind of a sparrow than a typical finch. Read More »

Conserving the Gouldian Finch – How One Man’s Efforts are Making a Difference

Gouldian FinchesThe brilliantly-colored Gouldian Finch is something of an avian anomaly.  One of the most sought-after of all cage birds, it is bred in huge numbers by aviculturists worldwide.  Wild populations, however, are in serious decline, and have been so for over 30 years.  But, in conjunction with governmental and private groups, one dedicated conservationist is helping to brighten the species’ prospects.

Taking Action

Self-made millionaire Michael Fidler was first captivated by Gouldian Finches over 40 years ago, when he chanced upon a group in a store in Manchester, England.  From that point on, he has been concerned for their future.   And while few people can afford to follow in his footsteps, his efforts illustrate the importance of doing whatever is within one’s abilities on behalf of conservation.  Be it through money, ideas, teaching or a new observation, we all have some potential to help. Read More »

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