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Choosing a Society Finch

By: Dr. Susan Clubb

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The society finch, also known as the Bengalese, is unique in that it is a cultivated variety of bird for which there is no wild population. It does not – and never did – exist in the wild. Society finches are good pet birds for all ages, but they are especially appealing to older people because they are brightly colored and sing without coming out of their cage. They are also an excellent starter bird for children.

The beautiful plumage, quirky song and antics of society finches have made them one of the world's most popular finches. They are easy to maintain, hardy and well suited to any home environment. They require little space, although, like all birds, they enjoy having space to fly.

They are constantly active, hopping and flitting around the cage, making a squeaking call that sounds much like a toy trumpet. Although they are highly domesticated, they are not typically hand-tamed and do not like to be handled.

They can be kept in groups in aviaries and get along well with other species of similar-sized birds. When nesting, however, they may become aggressive to other birds, especially weaker finch species.

Appearance

Numerous color mutations have been developed over the years but most of the birds commonly seen are pieds (having patchy color). Colors include fawn/white, gray-brown/white, chocolate/white and solid white. Dilutes of these color recently have been established.

As pieds, no two birds are identical. The patches are usually uneven, but with careful breeding, birds with symmetrical marking can be produced. Solid-colored society finches (birds with no white) have been bred and are referred to as selfs. Crested varieties have been bred and are increasing in popularity.

Society finches are usually sold in pairs and should be kept as pairs. If you are selecting birds from an aviary, try to pick two birds that are perching together to enhance your chances of getting a compatible or bonded pair.

Feeding

Classical society finch diets have been seed diets consisting of a mixture of mixed millet seeds and canary seed but they can also be offered rapeseed, dehusked oats, linseed, hemp, lettuce and other small seeds. Rape is high in protein and beneficial oils. Canary seed and millets are high in carbohydrates.

Pelleted diets, made in a small size, are available for society finches and provide balanced nutrition in every bite. These can be substituted for seeds, which can be given as treats.

Society finches also should be offered small mounts of fresh dark green leafy vegetables such as romaine, endive, spinach, watercress and dandelion greens. They also enjoy tiny slices of apple, grapes, melons, or sprouts. Boiled eggs or commercial egg food are excellent for young and breeding society finches.

If your society finch is fed a seed diet, vitamin supplementation is needed. Ideally, vitamins should be added to soft foods, such as egg food and a soft bread mix. Vitamins can be provided in the water, but the bowl or water bottle must be washed daily to prevent bacterial over-growth. Vitamin supplementation is not necessary if the bird eats a pelleted diet.

Society finches historically have been given grit, but they do not require it. What they do require is fresh water daily. They can die if water is withheld for 24 hours.

Housing

Society finches are small, but they are very active and should be given plenty of room to move around their cage. They should have at least two perches far enough apart to jump or fly between. Cage size for a pair should be at least 14 inches square.

The cage should be placed so it is not directly below an air conditioning vent or in a direct sunlight, but should be in an area of the home where there is much activity. Note that society finches are very susceptible to air-borne toxins. If you keep your bird in the kitchen, be aware of the dangers of Teflon poisoning and cleaning chemicals.

Grooming

Society finches enjoy baths. Small bird baths can be purchased that will fit through the door of a standard society finch cage. After filling it with lukewarm water, allow the bird to enter as he chooses. A shallow bowl of water also could be placed on the cage floor. These birds should be allowed to bathe twice a week.

Wing clipping is uncommon for society finches because they are not usually handled. Nails can be clipped with fingernail clippers. Be careful not to snip the quick (vein) inside the nail. Because a society finch's nails are white, the vein can easily be seen and the nail should be clipped a little bit past the vein. If a nail bleeds after it is cut, you can stop the bleeding by applying Quick Stop. If no such product is available you can stick the nail into a bar of soap or apply flour or cornstarch. Because of the birds' small size, bleeding control is important.

Breeding

Society finches typically are easy to breed and they raise their babies in the home, with the male helping the female. Breeding season usually is in the spring, March to July, in North America.

Breeding society finches in pair cages is ideal, but they can be bred in aviaries. The classic breeding cage is about 24 inches long, 14 inches tall and 10 inches wide. The standard canary breeding cage is a good choice.

Society finches build a nest in a half-open basket hung on the side of the breeding cage. Baskets can be purchased in pet shops and usually are about 4 1/2 to 6 inches long. Small wooden finch boxes also could be used.

If breeding in an aviary, scatter the boxes, providing about two boxes per pair to prevent quarreling over nest sites. Nests should be placed so they can be inspected without too much disturbance. Provide building materials such as dry grasses, moss, and cow hair, unraveled cut hemp rope, which should be placed on the floor of the cage or aviary.

Provide plenty of food for the pair to feed their young, especially egg foods and some fresh greens. Sprouted or germinated seeds are also relished. The chicks can be banded at 8 to 10 days of age. Chicks should be removed from the parent's cage when about three weeks old.

Common Diseases and Disorders

Finches are relatively healthy birds but are suscpetible to the following:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Yeast infection
  • Cochlosoma parasite
  • Atoxoplasmosis
  • Coccidiosis
  • Trichomonas
  • Liver disease

    Note Don't allow your society finches to have unsupervised freedom in the home. Other family pets such as cats and dogs often kill society finches. They also often succumb to household hazards – open toilets, ceiling fans and toxins.

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