Finches and Canaries

Finches and canaries are small birds that belong to the order Passeriformes, also known as passerines. There are numerous different species of finch with examples like the zebra finch, society finch and gouldian finch commonly found in the pet trade. Canaries have been bred in captivity for years and many different breeds are available such as the gloster, Yorkshire and Norwich. Many people keep these birds for their exquisite beauty, attractive songs, and entertaining personalities. These birds can be hand tamed if raised by people shortly after hatching.

Finches and canaries cage set up is just as important as any other species of bird kept in captivity. These birds love to fly across their homes, therefore, a long cage, rather than a tall one, is recommended. Numerous sizes of perches should be provided and placed at various heights throughout the cage. The diameter and texture of the perches should vary. It is not recommended to use sand paper coverings on perches as these can lead to sores on the feet. Toys should be provided to keep their minds occupied and engaged. Small passerines enjoy sticks, twigs and papers to play with. Bells and leather strings can be used as well. Hay that is intended for rabbits can also be turned into a foraging device. Although these birds may not be able to forage with large boxes or plastic foraging toys, hiding treats in various locations around the cage or under hay can be done. Hanging fresh vegetables or fruits for foraging purposes is another thing that can be done easily as enrichment. Cotton fibers and small strings should not be used as these can become entangled in the feet of the bird and lead to injury.

Finches and canaries should have access to sunlight. The ultraviolet-B rays in sunshine help maintain a normal skeleton by allowing a bird to make vitamin D3. This is then used to allow absorption of calcium from the diet. Putting your bird near a window will block the ultraviolet-B rays however. Therefore, getting your bird outside in the sun is the most effective way to provide for access to ultraviolet- B rays. Due to their small size, it is recommended that these birds stay in a cage while outdoors. A bird should be monitored closely while outdoors however to ensure it does not over heat. If you do not have a safe way to give your bird access to unfiltered sunshine, a safe alternative is to provide a lamp that emits ultraviolet-B, such as Zoomed's Avisun 5.0. These lights should be 12-18 inches from the bird and used for around 6 hours a day.

Just like other species, a balanced diet is necessary to allow for optimal health. Many people believe that seeds are all a passerine needs. Just like with parrots, if these birds only get seeds nutritional disorders will inevitably occur. There are small size pellets available for these species. Brands like Lafeber’s, Harrison’s and Roudybush make diets that are small enough in size for these birds to eat. The exact ratio of pellets in the diet still has not been determined by scientific experiments but many veterinarians recommend that finches and canaries get at least 50% or more of their diet as pellets. There have been several populations of these birds that have done great on 100% pellet diets. Seeds can be offered but should not take up large quantities of the diet. If seeds are offered, a high quality seed, such as Nutriberries crushed up into smaller pieces should be used. Fresh vegetables, fruits and grains should be offered as well. Diet conversion can be difficult; therefore, it is a good idea to make diet changes under the supervision of a veterinarian. If you are switching your birds to a pellet diet and need some help please refer to our handout on tips for diet conversion here.