Every morning when the weather is nice, a flock of finches gathers noisily in the shrubs near my front porch. They are lovely and cheerful, and pleasant to watch as they flitter from branch to branch, but would these finches — or their domesticated counterparts — make wonderful pets?
The answer, says experts, depends largely on you.
"What you should not do," says Laurie Hess, a New York state-based bird specialist and exotic animal veterinarian, "is walk into a pet store, see that beautiful bird with all those phenomenal colors and, on impulse, just take it home with you."
Hess, who has created a series of videos about bird care, adds that "birds require a lot of care, a lot of preparation and a lot of thought before you spend money to get that bird. It's not just what you're going to do on that day, it's the future preparations that you have to make."
Are Finches Easy to Keep as Pets?
Finches are generally the size of sparrows, but with relatively large beaks and long, flat heads. The large, extended family that finches belong to — Fringillidae — has more than 200 different species in a variety of colors and patterns. Only a few, however, are popular as pets.
The good news, says Sara Ochoa, a veterinary consultant for doglab.com, is that "finches are very easy to keep."
Some of the most popular types of finches that do well as pets include the zebra finch, owl finch, strawberry finch, saffron finch and the Gouldian finch. All have slightly different characteristics within the finch family, but require similar care.
The zebra finch, for example, is an exceptionally easy keeper — especially for beginners. It is hardy and resilient, and requires a minimal time commitment. Still, zebra finches make a stunning addition for their black-and-white striped chest plumage and bright orange beaks.
The zebra finch lives in large flocks in the wilds of Australia, so it's best to keep them in pairs so they have ample time for socialization. This socialization requirement is true for all types of finches. Sometimes finches are kept in larger groups of up to six, but keep in mind that finches will breed rapidly if given the opportunity.
Do Finches Like To Be Handled?
In a word? No. Finches are generally not fond of people and would rather keep to their feathered friends.
"Finches don't need to be handled a lot," Ochoa says in an email. "Actually, they would rather just stay in their cage. That's why it's best for them to have a cage mate."
While finches are docile and friendly birds that are sociable and prone to delightful chatter, they definitely aren't waiting around for the people in their lives to open their domicile door and pluck them out for a cuddle sesh. The truth is, they don't really want human affection and aren't known to form bonds with the people around them.
That said, "you do need to talk softly to your bird every day," Ochoa says. This helps acclimate the bird to its environment, and to its caregiver, so feeding, care and cleaning is less stressful.
How Do I Care For a Finch?
Because finches aren't likely to be out of their cages being handled by their people, it's important to provide a relatively large area in which to roam. So, while finches may be among the smallest birds to be kept as pets, they need plenty of space to fly — vertically as well as horizontally.
Square or rectangle cages are best for finches, because they like to cozy up in corners for shelter. Keep in mind that finches tend to nibble on cage bars, so a nontoxic PVC coating may work best. And, once the cage is in place (preferably with at least some direct sunlight every day), take care not to move it frequently, as this can upset finches.
Inside the cage, finches will want to have a water bowl in which they can bathe. Finches also prefer perches located on each end of the cage, so they still have room to fly without the perches interfering in their fun.
While in the wild, finches eat vegetation, insects, seeds and worms, one common mistake made with domesticated finches is feeding seed only. Like their people, finches prefer a varied diet. In addition to seeds, they like minced produce mixes of leafy greens, fruits including apples, pears and peaches, and vegetables including carrots, squash and sweet potatoes, according to Ochoa. Many owners add nutritionally balanced pellets to the mix, and an occasional protein such as cooked eggs.
With proper care, most finches live five to 10 years, Ochoa says, making them colorful, cheerful additions to families who are ready to take on the responsibility.