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Tag Archives: Breeding Finches

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Weaning Canaries – Encouraging Fledglings to Accept the Adult Diet

Canary NestingWhether they are hand or parent-reared, young Canaries usually need some encouragement to switch from the nestling to adult diet.  This change-over period can be quite stressful, but there are a number of steps you can take to ease the transition.

The Transition Period

Pet Canaries feed their chicks largely upon sprouts, soaked seeds and Egg Food or hard boiled eggs.  Once the young fledge, which usually occurs at age 16-20 days, they will be fed by their parents for an additional 2 -3 weeks.  During this time, they will also begin to pick at food and eventually learn to eat on their own.  Fledglings benefit from watching their parents and siblings…chicks that are hand-reared are at a disadvantage in this respect, but will also respond to the ideas and foods mentioned below.

Hard seeds are a novel food for young Canaries, and acquiring the skill needed to open them takes practice.  A high protein diet remains important right through the first molt (which usually begins within 2 months of fledging), but eventually seeds should replace egg-based foods as their staple.  Read More »

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. Read More »

Hand Rearing Black-Headed Mannikins and Other Finches

Black headed Finch
While working for a bird importer in years past, I had the opportunity to hand-raise a number of finch chicks.  The following information is based on recent and past experiences with the Black-Headed Mannikin (Lonchura atricapilla), also known as the Black-Headed Nun or Munia, but could be applied to a number of related birds.

The youngest chicks I’ve worked with were 4-6 days old and, like most Mannikins, had hatched in a domed nest (please see photo).  They were reared in plastic containers lined with dry grass in an incubator set at 90 F (range: 86-93 F).

Feeding Nestlings

I feed very young finches at 2 hour intervals, from 5 or 6 AM to midnight at first, and cut back over 2 weeks or so to 6 AM – 8 PM.  Hand Rearing Formula (warmed per directions) offered via syringe serves well as a base diet.  Although not strictly necessary, to this I add a “drop” of peanut butter and 2 drops per syringe of sunflower oil.  A bit of cooked egg yolk and a drop of Avitron, provided three times weekly, completes the feeding regime.

Despite their delicate appearance, healthy Mannikin chicks are ravenous.  After a few days, they develop the amusing habit of raising one wing in order to ward off competitors…mini “jousting matches” sometimes break out!

Young Mannikins can only take a small amount at each feeding, and will choke or aspirate food into the lungs if it is forcibly squirted down their throats.  The safest way to feed them is to gently release from the syringe just enough food to fill their mouths…at a frequency of every 2 hours, this will provide quite enough nourishment.

Care of Fledglings

Black headed Finch NestUpon fledging, the chicks should be fed on a 6AM – 8PM schedule until they begin pecking at food on their own.  Most begin trying solid food on the fifth day after fledging, but this varies widely…close observation is very important at this point.

Their first meals should be offered on the cage floor, not in cups, to assure that they are aware of its presence.  Seed-based Finch Nestling Food, Egg Food and cut sprouts should be available at all times.

Once the fledglings have begun to feed regularly on their own, you can gradually reduce the syringe feedings to 2-3 times per day.  Continue this schedule until they lose interest in the syringe, which may take an additional 2-3 weeks.  It is a mistake to rush the weaning process – birds decline in condition very rapidly at this age, and poor nutrition during the fledgling period will have lifelong consequences for their health.

Black-Headed Mannikins and related birds prefer to sleep in a nest or enclosed space, even outside of the breeding season.  Fledglings raised together usually crowd into one covered nest, but provide extras in case of aggression.

Although generally quite hardy as adults, Mannikins are cold-sensitive as chicks.  Until you are certain that their immune systems are functioning well, take extra care to keep the youngsters warm at night (a hot spot of 86-90 F, with an ambient temperature of 80-82 F, works well).  A red or black night bulb, designed for use with reptiles, will provide heat without disturbing their day/night cycle.

Further Reading

Please see my article Introducing Mannikins for more information on these beautiful finches.

A video of Black-Headed Mannikins in the wild is posted here.


Black headed Finch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by SnowmanradioFinch nest image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kguirnela

Introducing Estrildid Finches – the Waxbills, Munias, Nuns and Grass Finches

Among the130+ species of the family Estrildidae we find popular cage birds and highly endangered species.  Some, such as the gorgeously colored Gouldian Finch, are both – at once rare in the wild yet abundant in the pet trade.

 Gouldian FinchWaxbills and their relatives are often the first finches aviculturists obtain after having gained experience with the hardier zebra or society finches.  The black-headed munia and several others are well suited to this role – slightly more sensitive than Zebra Finches, yet robust enough to fare well when given proper care.

Natural History

Estrildid finches range throughout Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Australia and, with the exception of a few Australian species, favor warm climates.  They range in size from the 3.3 inch long Fernando Po Oliveback to the Java Sparrow or Rice Bird which, due to its stout build, appears larger than its 5.5 inches.


While certain Estrildid finches are among the most numerous birds in their habitats, others, such as the Gouldian and several of the parrot finches, are classified as either vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.  The Black-lored Waxbill, known only from a tiny range in southern Democratic Republic of Congo, has not been seen since 1950, and may be extinct.

Keeping Waxbills

 Red cheek Cordon Bleu Finch Waxbills, nuns and munias are best housed in large indoor flight cages or, when the weather permits, outdoor aviaries. Warm temperatures are the rule, especially for breeding pairs (they leave the eggs unattended for longer periods than other finches), but healthy birds easily weather occasional exposure to temperatures in the low 50’s (F) if conditions are dry.

A covered nest should be included, even for non-breeders, as many Estrildids roost in nests outside of the breeding season.

Most species are gregarious in the wild, and do well in groups in captivity.  Mated pairs, however, are best kept alone.


Although primarily seed eaters that will thrive on a base diet of high quality finch food, Estrildids need a good bit of protein as well.  Egg food and softbill food should always be available.  Small live mealworms, waxworms, crickets and other insects are preferred however.  Canned insects and anole food (dried flies) are often well-accepted also.

Grit and cuttlebone should be available at all times.

Breeding Estrildid Finches

A number of species, especially the more popularly-kept munias and nuns, will breed readily in captivity if provided with ample room and quiet surroundings.  Tri-colored Nuns and other long-kept species are best suited for ones first attempts at breeding Estrildid finches.

All species studied thus far construct covered nests, and many roost in these even when not raising chicks.  Protein requirements soar during the breeding season – the provision of additional protein, especially in the form of live insects, is also useful in bringing finches into reproductive condition.

Further Reading

For specific information on individual Estrildid finches, please Introducing Nuns, Munias and Mannikins and The Common Waxbill.

I’ll cover the care of individual finch species in the future.


Gouldian Finch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kjacques

Breeding Finches in Captivity – mate selection, cage location, diet, nest choice and other basic considerations

Every aviculturist remembers her or his first pair of successfully breeding birds – nothing quite matches the experience. However, attempting to breed many popular species is often a time consuming and frustrating experience, and usually demands a good deal of space. Parrots in particular are notoriously choosy about both mate and nest site selection. Finches offer a pleasant entry into the field, and I suggest that you consider getting your start with one of the many colorful, interesting species available. You are more likely to succeed in your early attempts (or, rather, the birds are more likely to succeed!) and a pair can be more easily accommodated in fairly small quarters.

In this article I’ll highlight the basics of finch breeding – future notes will cover fine points concerning individual species.

The Cage
Birds of all kinds are more likely to pair up and breed if provided with a roomy, secure cage and an environment that meets, and even exceeds, their needs. You should, therefore, choose the largest cage  possible for your finches – remember, a cage can be fine for maintaining fiches but fail badly as a breeding habitat. In sub-optimal captive conditions, reproduction is the first activity to be abandoned (this applies across the animal kingdom, from invertebrates to mammals). If an outdoor aviary is a possibility, by all means utilize it – your chances at success will be greatly improved.

Light Quality and Photoperiod
Full-spectrum lighting is essential to bird health and functions in encouraging natural behavior, including reproduction. Be sure to maintain your finches under a bulb designed for use with birds (please see my article “Lighting for Your Pet Bird”, May 12, 2008 for further details).

A natural light cycle is also important – this will vary by species but most commonly will fall within the range of 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Some finches are stimulated to breed by a change in day length, so research your species carefully and install light timers if necessary.

Sex Determination
An obvious prerequisite to reproduction is 1 bird of each sex. Some finches, i.e. gouldians, zebras and green singers, are quite easy to sex (except for certain color phases) while the secondary sex characteristics of others, i.e. the various whydahs, become evident only during the breeding season. Visual sex-determination is nearly impossible for tri-color nuns, parrot finches and a number of other species. In these cases one must rely upon the birds’ behaviors, such as singing (or what passes for “singing” among some finches!), for clues.

Mate Choice and Pair-Bonding
Always attempt to secure unrelated individuals when pairing birds, and allow them to bond and adjust to their home for 4-6 weeks before adding a nest site. Finches can be choosy when selecting mates – you can improve a male’s “desirability” by providing him with a nutritious diet, and by giving the pair a large, well-provisioned cage located in a quiet location (the female, in theory, will view the male as being in possession of a good territory).

Mutual preening and species-specific courtship displays (research the species that you keep before-hand) are signs that you should introduce the nesting site Mounting can be a dominance display as opposed to a mating attempt, so be sure to watch your birds’ other behaviors as well.

The Nest
Depending upon the species, finches may utilize covered nests  (waxbills, zebras, nuns), nest boxes  (gouldians), or open nests  (canaries, green singing finches). Position the nest in a location that is hidden from view, i.e. behind an artificial plant, for particularly shy species or individuals. Dried grass is an ideal nesting material for most finches – avoid string, cotton and other materials that may bind the legs.

Using Food to Induce Breeding
Many birds, including some finches, are stimulated to breed by seasonal changes that bring an abundance of certain foods. Provision your birds with small mealworms and crickets, as well as extra greens (sprout pot) and fruit. An old zoo trick that I have used with great success is the feeding of wild-caught insects. The sudden appearance of such novel foods really seems to have a strong influence on breeding condition. I highly suggest that you use Zoo Med’s Bug Napper to secure small moths, beetles and other insects (learn to identify toxic species, and avoid brightly-colored insects in general). An adequate supply of calcium (Kay Tee Hi Cal Grit and other products) is particularly important for reproductively active females.

Finches raising chicks should also be supplied with live insects, egg food  and, as always, a high quality seed mix.

The Eggs and Chicks
Finches may lay between 2 and 10 eggs, with 4-6 being an average clutch. Incubation time varies by species, but is generally between 9 and 16 days.

Do not be discouraged if your birds fail to incubate their first clutch, or lose the chicks. This is common among young breeders – their performance usually improves over time. Chicks that fall or are tossed from the nest should be returned. Hand rearing of small nestlings is difficult but not impossible.

Information concerning the Australia Zoo’s finch breeding efforts, along with natural history notes on several species, is posted at:

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