All About Finches and Canaries

7 min read

Caring for Your Finch or Canary

While many finches are very social and are best housed in pairs or groups, canaries are successfully housed singly. Male and female canaries both may sing, but males are typically better singers. In order to stimulate a male canary to sing, which males do typically to court females, he must feel like he is in competition with another male. Thus, housing a male in the vicinity of another male (even without a female around) will typically stimulate male canaries to sing competitively during breeding season in the spring.

Although canaries and finches are small birds that don’t take up huge amounts of space, they do require a large enough cage in which to fly, and if pairs of groups of finches are housed together, the cage needs to be larger to accommodate a greater number of birds. The cage bar spacing should be small enough (generally no more than half an inch wide) to prevent the birds from escaping or getting their heads caught. Horizontally-oriented cages, rather than tall vertical ones, typically are better at facilitating flight. Wood perches should be small in diameter (typically 3/8 of an inch for finches to no more than 3/4 of an inch for canaries). Sandpaper or other rough-surfaced perches should not be used, as they can be abrasive to small birds’ feet. Cages should be kept in well-ventilated areas (away from cooking fumes and other aerosols) and in areas with plenty of direct sunlight. Having distinct daily light and dark periods is important especially to canaries to modulate hormonal cycles to get them to sing.

In general, finches and canaries do well at room temperatures comfortable to most people, as long as they are out of direct drafts, such as from air conditioners. Of course, cages should be kept safe from predators – including predatory cats and dogs living in the house. Some finches and canaries also enjoy size-appropriate toys such as swings, bells and other hanging toys placed in the cage so as not to hinder flight. While most finches are not hand tamed, canaries can learn to perch on a finger, and most finches and canaries will vocalize in response to the sight of their owners.

Like other birds, all newly purchased or adopted finches and canaries should be checked out promptly by a bird-savvy veterinarian after they are acquired and every year after that. As these birds are small and get dehydrated easily, any finch or canary that isn’t eating well or that looks fluffed up should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Common medical conditions in canaries and finches include feather cysts (more common in canaries; in this condition, which is typically genetic, a feather grows under the skin like an in-grown hair), “tassel-foot” (or the development of dry, scaly, tassel-like projections of skin on the feet and/or face in response to mite infection or severe vitamin A deficiency), barbering (in which birds, more often finches, will chew off feathers from each other’s heads when they are stressed from overcrowding), and occasionally air sac mites (in which birds breathe quickly with open mouths from mites living in their respiratory tracts). Birds with any of these signs should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

What do Finches and Canaries Eat?

In the wild, finches and canaries eat a variety of vegetation, insects, worms, as well as some seed. They do not eat all-seed diets, as many uninformed finch and canary owners often feed their pets. Rather, pet finches and canaries do best when offered a mixed diet of limited seed, minced produce (such as leafy greens, berries, apples, pears, peaches, shredded carrots, peppers, squash and sweet potato), a fortified, nutritionally-balanced pellet appropriately sized to very small birds, and occasional protein sources such as cooked egg.

One trick to try to get these birds to eat different types of foods, rather than just seeds or just produce, is to offer a variety of foods minced up small on a paper plate that the birds have to stand on to eat. This encourages them to try new foods. In addition to food variety, cuttlebone (a calcium source) is essential for breeding and egg-laying birds, and all birds need fresh water daily. Spray millet can be offered as a treat from time to time but should not make up a significant part of the diet.

Where to Buy a Finch or Canary

Finches and canaries are available from reputable breeders and stores nationwide. Many also can be found in need of homes at bird rescue facilities. When looking to purchase a finch or canary, a prospective owner should look for a bright, active, vocal bird with sleek feathers an upright body position. Fluffed, hunched birds with closed eyes are typically sick.

When cared for properly, these personable little birds can be excellent pets for anyone who wants a fairly low-maintenance pet that doesn’t take up a huge amount of space and that may not love to be handled but offers joy in the form of song.

Toni Paraschiv via Shutterstock 

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