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Articles concerning owning pet birds as pets as a whole.

Taming and Training Canaries and Other Finches, Part 2

See Part 1 of this article: Taming and Training Canaries and Other Finches, Part I


Last time we discussed some finch training basics…getting your pet to calm down when near people and out of its cage. Please see Part I of this article for further details.

CanaryReturning to the Cage

As mentioned in Part I of this article, canaries and other finches are much easier to train when outside their cages. If your bird is to become truly tame, it is essential that it return to the cage on its own, and not be chased there. This may take a great deal of time, and will require you to be very patient.

Use treats to lure the bird inside. Canaries and finches often relish egg food, and may respond quickly when it is offered. Many finches cannot resist small insects. A convenient way to keep these handy is to utilize canned insects most silkworms are nearly always a big hit.

Your pet may also respond to fruit treats – freeze dried mango, coconut, papaya, blueberries and others work well for many species.

If you must net the bird, darken the room and try to be as quick and careful as possible.

Calling your Bird to Hand

The treats mentioned above may also be used to induce your pet to fly to your hand. If you call the bird each time food is presented, it may eventually fly to you when called, even if it does not see food in your hand. Continue to provide a treat each time it responds, but, as time goes on, hide the treat until your pet actually alights upon your hand (or head, as the case may be!).

Again, canaries are most apt to respond to this type of training, but I have also run across surprisingly responsive spice finches, Java rice birds, zebra finches, fire finches and others.

Further Reading

Although canaries are perceived to be natural songsters, a good deal of learning is involved…and you can help (no, you needn’t be a good whistler!). Learn more about improving your canary’s singing abilities in my article Teaching Your Canary to Sing.


Avian Medical Emergencies: Burns

Avian Medical Emergencies: What to do if Your Pet Bird Receives a Burn Injury


Birds at large in our homes, especially the ever-curious parrots, are at risk for burn injuries. If this happens, calm, quick and medically-appropriate action is absolutely essential if your pet is to survive.

First Step: First Aid

Areas burned by fire, liquid or chemicals should be flushed for 15-20 minutes with cool (not cold) water and then covered with a cool, sterile dressing. Use only medical dressings to cover the afflicted area, as the fibers from blankets, towels and other such materials may stick to the wound. If feathers or other debris have worked their way into the burn site, leave them in place…these should be attended to by a veterinarian.

Grease, butter and ointments should not be used, as they cause a rise in skin temperature and increased pain. Also avoid ice, and do not puncture any blisters that form.

Second Step: To the Vet
All burns require veterinary intervention. Be sure to call your vet with your estimated arrival time – injured birds often go into shock, and time is of the essence. Transport your pet in a warm (use a hot water bottle or plastic bag filled with warm water), dark container and disturb it as little as possible on route.

Electrical Shock and Burns – Your Own Safety Comes First!
Electrical burns are another matter, as CPR and assisted breathing may be necessary…I’ll address this in the future.

In the meanwhile, if your bird suffers an electrical shock (i.e. by biting an appliance cord), it is absolutely essential that you do not touch the bird until you are certain that it is no longer in contact with the current – no good will come from having 2 shock victims!

If the bird is in contact with the electrical current, shut the power from the source (i.e. circuit breaker) or move the wire or appliance away from the bird with a non-metallic object (i.e. wood, plastic, cardboard).

Further Reading
Burns are only one of the hazards that our avian friends may run into while under our care. For a discussion of the leading causes of pet bird deaths, please see http://www.exoticpetvet.net/avian/topten.html.


Taming and Training Canaries and Other Finches, Part I


When we think of tame birds, it is most often the parrots and mynas that come to mind. Canaries and other finches, on the other hand, are largely thought of as pets to enjoy for their bright colors, active ways and cheerful songs. To a great extent, these perceptions hold true…but not entirely. Just as there are parrots that would frustrate the patience of famed animal trainer Gunther-Gable Williams himself, there are finches that become wonderfully tame and trusting.

Good Candidates

Most who have tried to tame finches agree that canaries and the closely-related green singing finches make the best candidates. Their calm demeanors, modified by thousands of generations in captivity, are a great asset to the first time bird-trainer.

A friend once showed me a number of photos of 2 incredibly tame zebra finches owned by her father in Taiwan. The birds slept in his pocket, responded to several commands, and seemed to solicit petting and other attention. She assured me that trained finches were quite common in her father’s community, and in other places on the island as well. In any event, zebra finches have long captive histories, and some individuals seem unusually calm even without much close contact.

How Nature Affects Training

When attempting to tame your pet finch, it is important to keep its nature and natural history in mind. Finches are smaller than the majority of the predators in their habitats….even spiders and frogs make meals of them on occasion. Most are, consequently, alert, high-strung and quick to take flight.

It is important to avoid sudden movements and noises around your finches …move slowly and speak in low tones. Keeping your birds at eye level is a good idea, as most become stressed by movements above their heads. In the beginning, avoid direct eye contact, which birds may associate with danger. I first read of this tip in the wonderful book Hand Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder (Martin, 1963)…the advice was later echoed by experienced co-workers at import facilities and the Bronx Zoo, and has proven very useful to me.

Make the same low sound or whistle each time you enter the room, and spend as much time as possible in the area…sitting quietly, in the main, for the first few days. Watch your birds for clues as to when it is time to move on with the process. Once they stop flitting about and begin feeding, bathing and preening in your presence, you can begin to try some closer contact.

Moving to Free Flight Training

It is nearly impossible to tame finches in their cage…your hand within their territory will be too threatening. The best technique is to allow them liberty in a bird-safe (cover windows, mirrors, etc.) room. Do this only after your pets have accepted their cage as a safe haven and regard it as their territory. The time period involved will vary, but 4-6 weeks is a good starting point.

When first releasing your finches, slowly insert an 18 inch perch through the bars near the cage door, and then open the door. This will allow the birds to exit slowly…many birds (and most animals for that matter), are reluctant to just burst into unfamiliar territory. Finches will prefer to hop out onto the perch for a look around, and may take a surprisingly long time to leave their cage completely.

Never attempt to chase your bird from its cage, as even one bad experience, especially with species other than canaries, can easily ruin your chances of gaining your pet’s trust.

Be sure to have a comfortable perch (i.e. another cage top, potted tree or well-secured natural branch) set up some distance from the cage as well, so that the finch will have somewhere to alight.

Returning to the Cage

Now that the finch is flitting about the room, how does one get it to go back home? Please check Part II of this article next week for tips on hand-taming and returning your bird to its cage.

For a different perspective on bird training, please see my article, Hand Taming Wild Birds.


Check out Part II of this article for additional information.

Trimming the Claws of Waxbills, Weavers, Mannikins and other Small Birds and Finches – Bird Grooming


The claws of most pet birds require occasional trimming, and there are a few special considerations that should be kept in mind concerning certain groups.

The Adaptive Value of Long, Twisted Claws

Some birds that frequent grasslands and marshy habitats grow long, twisted claws as an adaptation to perching upon reeds and grasses (there’s a reason for everything, other than giving you more work!).  These claws, so useful in natural habitats, often cause captives to become entangled in nesting material, screened areas and aviary bushes.

Among commonly-kept birds, it is the rapidly-growing claws sported by many popular waxbills, weavers and mannikins that require the most attention.

Avoiding the Blood Vessel

When trimming your pet’s claws, be sure to work under a good light.  The claw’s blood supply is visible as a light red line within the claw…stop trimming above the point where this vessel ends.  The blood vessel will be difficult to locate in birds with black claws.  If at all possible, compare the claws of these species with similarly-sized finches having pale claws.  Trim black claws modestly, or, if unsure, bring the bird to a veterinarian for its “manicure”.

Necessary Trimming Supplies

Lay out your supplies ahead of time, so that you can complete the task quickly, thereby minimizing the stress factor.  Use a specially designed bird claw clipper and not just any small scissors that happens to be available.  This will assure a precise cut, and will prevent the claw-splitting to which tiny birds are prone.

Always have styptic powder available in the event that you do nick a blood vessel.  Styptic powder is an old standby – in zoos I’ve seen it used on animals ranging from hummingbirds to tigers – and will stem any minor bleeding (please note: styptic powder is not for use on deep wounds, infected areas or burns).  You may wish to keep our bird first aid kit, packed with a variety of useful items, on hand as well.

Further Reading

The brilliantly-colored Gouldian finch is a popular cage bird that is specifically adapted, via claws and otherwise, to life on the grasslands of northern Australia.  You can read about ongoing conservation projects for wild Gouldian finches at http://www.sciencewa.net.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=853&Itemid=670.



Humidity and Dust: Improving Air Quality for Birds and Bird Owners


Overly-dry indoor air is a common throughout much of the US, particularly in the colder months when naturally arid air and house-heating systems are both at work.  Bird and human skin can suffer as a result.  Daily misting of your pets can help, but in some cases it might be wise to consider a humidifier.  Zoo Med’s Habba Mist  is ideal… designed for use with pet birds and reptiles, it has 4 different interval and spray duration settings and is easily moved from place to place.

The fine powder down produced by cockatoos (including the cockatiel) is a quite necessary grooming aid but can pose a health concern to people with allergies or compromised lungs.  Feather dust can also be a concern with other birds (i.e. the African gray parrot), especially if large numbers are kept. Installing an air purifier can make a great improvement in indoor air quality…even if you are not overly sensitive to dust, you will likely notice and enjoy the difference.


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