To most people, a finch is a little bird that is often seen in their gardens, sometimes colorful and sometimes not, sometimes with a pretty song and sometimes not. To the bird keeper, a finch can often be a general term for birds that are not of the parrot family. But to be exact, a finch is one of several loosely related species that look and sound very different. So who are finches and how do you raise them?
Estrildidae vs Fringillidae
Latin names are always difficult to pronounce and remember, but due to the different local names of birds in different countries, they can often be the best way to conclusively identify a bird. For finches, most species found in bird breeding come from two main families: the Estrildidae finches and the Fringillidae finches.
The finches of the Fringillidae are often called “true finches” or Old World finches, despite the fact that some of them are found in Hawaii and a family in the arctic fringes. They are more common in Europe and the surname comes from the Latin name of one of their distinctive members, the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). The familiar faces of this family depend on where you live, but birds such as the European greenfinch, goldfinch, and goldfinches are all members, as well as one of the most common birds: the canary.
Estrildidae finches are often referred to as New World or exotic finches, although again this is not an entirely accurate name as some are found in the tropical areas of the Old World. Most of these species are from warmer climates, however when kept in the northern hemisphere they often need heat to survive. Another very common bird, the zebra finch, is included in the family, along with waxbills, fire finches, and dummies or munias.
Birds choose nesting location and nest type based on some internal standard that we humans can only try to anticipate; this means that there is no guarantee that a bird will choose the nest box for which it is ‘destined’. However, as a general rule, estrildid finches tend to use closed nests made of wood or plastic that have a small hole in the front or an open section. Fringillidae finches often use a nesting tray, a half cup often made of plastic or wicker, to which they add some nesting material.
If you are keeping finches in a large cage or aviary, they will often build their nests wherever they please. It can offer a lot of beautiful nesting facilities out of the box and will build a nest on the corner of a ledge or behind where the boxes are, so don’t be surprised if the nest box remains empty and the chicks appear from somewhere. weird.
In breeding cages, they have fewer options and often an external nest box is used so that the space inside the cage is not reduced. Nesting trays can be attached to the bars of the cage, and sometimes fake plants are used to hide them, so that the bird has the illusion of being in a tree.
The breeding process
Each species of bird has its own courtship rituals, breeding preparations and specific requirements to start the process. Some, like the zebra finch, simply need a place to nest, some nesting material, and a mate to start with and will breed whenever they want. Others wait for a specific breeding season, which will often coincide with the breeding season for the country’s wild birds, usually the warmer times of the year. Canaries are an example of this, as are goldfinches and greenfinches.
The eggs are usually white for estrildid finches and shades of blue-green for Fringillidae finches, the latter being larger than most birds. Incubation periods also vary as does the number of chicks, but about two to three weeks of incubation is usually the norm. Once the chicks hatch, some are completely bald while others have small tufts of hair, go blind for about a week, and remain in the nest for three to four weeks. When they leave the nest or fledge, they will be dependent on their parents for another week or two while they learn to feed themselves.
Of course, this is a simplification of the process that may not be as easy as this. Birds may leave nests with eggs and chicks, other factors may disturb them, or the chicks die in the eggs and the birds notice. The chicks can fall out of the nests or contract diseases that mean they die at some point. But with all of that said, there’s nothing better than peering into a nest and seeing a whole lot of new life, even if there have been bumps in the road.
In my experience, the key to breeding finches is to let them go ahead as much as possible and think about what they would need in the wild. Although most birds have never seen their native environment, their instincts are still strong. Plants, whether real or fake, are an important factor, providing live food, such as mealworms, for some species. Do plenty of research before you buy birds to understand what you need to provide for them to be happy; if they are not happy, they will never reproduce. And even then, things can still go wrong. But when it goes right, it’s a wonderful experience that you’ll quickly become addicted to.