Canary & Finch

Canary and Finch Husbandry (small passerines)

Caging

The cage should be large enough for the bird to have room to fly. We recommend purchasing the largest cage that you have space for and can afford. Exercise will greatly enhance your small bird’s quality of life. Multiple perches of varying diameter should be available and positioned to prevent the food and water becoming contaminated with fecal material. Small cement type perches placed as the highest in the cage will help maintain the length of the nails.

Toys and other enrichment may be placed in cage (avoid objects that may contain zinc or lead as these are toxic to birds), but the furniture should not prevent adequate movement around the cage.  Mental enrichment allows for a better socialized and interactive pet.  Birds spend the majority of their day foraging and looking for food.  Therefore, it is important to encourage captive birds to occupy their time with healthy, beneficial and natural activities.  Note:  Avoid birdy beds, tents, boxes or any other structure that may resemble a nest or cavity.  These structures will only stimulate unwanted and unhealthy reproductive behavior in both male and female birds.

These birds are best kept in separate cages as pets because when kept pairs they will constantly breed and same sex pairs/groups may fight.

Cage substrate

Newspaper or some paper based product. You do not need a grate in the cage bottom, they just make cleaning more of a hassle and some birds like to eat seeds that drop onto the cage floor. Toys and other enrichment activities may be placed in the cage, but be sure that the bird is still able to fly/move around the cage easily.

Diet

A high quality canary/finch seed should be fed as about 60-70% of the diet. We recommend mixing the seeds with a ground up, quality pelleted diet, such as Harrison’s High Potency Mash (www.harrisonsbirdfoods.com for more info). The remaining diet should consist of dark leafy greens, broccoli, mashed or shredded sweet potato, carrots and other vegetables. If using millet sprays as treats in the diet, please cut them into ½ inch pieces and feed in limited amounts. Try to avoid the large ”honey treat sticks” altogether.

Offer your small passerine fresh water daily for drinking and for bathing. Do not put vitamin supplements in the water.  Most of these supplements are light sensitive and will break down within 15-30 minutes.  They can also lead to bacteria formation.

Grooming/Bathing

Both grooming (i.e., preening) and bathing are natural behaviors inherent to all birds.  Many birds in captivity come from a relatively humid environment.  In addition to being a normal behavior, it serves to occupy their time and improve general condition of skin and feathers, as well as providing hydration to their nares (i.e., nostrils).  It is recommended that your bird should receive or at least be offered a bath every 2-3 days if possible, if not at least a minimum of once a week, more during winter/dryer months.

Nail Trims:  Even if rough, sand or concrete perches are provided often birds require routine nail trims.  The tip of the a nail should be even (i.e., form a straight line) with the toe pad.  Failure to maintain this could result in improper stance and therefore pressure being placed on a non-loadbearing structure causing sores (“bumble foot” or pododermatitis).

Wing Trims:  While it is not common to trim passerines wings it is important to understand and be aware of the consequences.  Birds can become spooked or excited and fly out an open door or window.  Once outside the bird may become disoriented in the new environment and seek the highest perch, which is often a tree branch well out of reach, or just continue to fly/glide away.  Since they have never been outside and in an unfamiliar environment they will not know how to find their way back home.

Beak Trims:  In most circumstances birds do not require beak trims.  They may be required if your bird has a malocclusion (e.g., scissor beak), abnormal growth as a result of previous trauma or some other pathologic condition.

Lighting and Temperature

UVB lights, such as those sold for reptiles, can be mounted over the cage for better lighting. UVB lighting simulates natural sunlight and is beneficial to your bird’s feather quality. Remember, plastic and glass filter UVB so be sure there is not any between the light and the bird.

Birds are fairly temperature tolerant and do not ”catch colds” as easily as has always been rumored. They can tolerate temperatures between 55-85 degrees F, as long as they are not exposed to the extremes of these temperatures over a short period of time. Keep the bird in an active part of your house where they can interact with the family. If you place them near a window, be sure that a portion of the cage is hidden/covered, so your bird is not constantly nervous about predators and other birds it may view through the window.

Common Problems

Feather cysts: This condition involves the feather follicle and presents as multiple lumps on the chest or back feather tracts. These are a congenital defect and thought to have a genetic etiology. Affected animals should not be bred. Treatment is surgical removal of the cyst and affected feather follicle. Most common in canaries.

Air sac mites: These parasites inhabit the trachea and lower respiratory tract and cause significant respiratory distress. Clinical signs may include open mouth breathing or a clicking noise. Treatment is aimed at relieving respiratory distress and elimination of the parasite.

Obesity: Diets high in fat and decreased physical activity can lead to obesity. Overweight birds are prone to liver, heart and arthritic joint diseases.

Baldness of the head: This disease syndrome seems to be hormonally associated and is likened to male pattern baldness. Hormonal therapy has been used with moderate success.

Hyperkeratosis: The skin on the legs grow large “scales”. This is a hormonal condition that will not injure the animal. This is more common in canaries.

Thread necrosis: This condition involves fine threads or fabric constricting the foot. Often these items are sold as nesting material. Treatment is aimed at removal of the thread from around the foot. Surgical amputation may be required if the foot/leg is devitalized.

Bacterial infection: Finches are susceptible to a variety of bacterial infections. Treatment is based upon culture/sensitivity is applicable.

Egg Binding: Egg binding may cause sudden death with no premonitory signs. Proper diet and husbandry can help to prevent this disease syndrome.

Cage mate aggression: Some species of finches can be highly aggressive to new additions to the cage or sick members of the flock. Proper cage size and husbandry should be provided to prevent stress and overcrowding.