Finches, a Family Tradition for Fishes


Breeding finches is a hobby that I have been passionate about for many years. It is a hobby that has strong roots within my family, dating all the way back to my great grandfather keepifng finches and canaries, and has been passed on throughout the generations of the Fish family. I am very lucky and grateful to be able to share the passion of breeding finches with both my pa (Tony) and my dad (Stephen). 

Love Blooms with Gouldians

I have always had finches, as my dad began keeping them when he was 12. However, my first hands-on experience with finches was when I was eight years old, and I received a pair of Orange-headed Gouldians. It was following this that my passion blossomed. 

My father and I have primarily kept Gouldians, starting with our first three-section aviary. This consisted of a variety of Gouldians—we had Normals, all three head colours, and a pair of European Yellow-backed Gouldians. Unfortunately, despite the Yellow-back pair breeding, we never had any young. 

Gouldians are a bird that we will always keep in our aviaries, as they are my original finch, and they are such a vibrant bird. This year we have had the best results we have ever had with Gouldians, breeding over 50 young birds. We were overwhelmed by their success, which we put down to the things we have learnt over the years that have contributed to the way in which we keep them. 


I believe two imperative things for breeding Gouldians is cooked egg shells and sprouted seed heads or sprouted seed. This is supplied daily and the birds go nuts over it. We have just paired up our birds for the coming breeding season and are excited to see what will happen.

This season we are beginning with a new mutation—the Aussie Yellow Gouldian. We were given a beautiful pair of split Aussie Yellows and are excited to see what they produce. The male has been doing his mating dance for the past few days. 


Parrotfinch Woes and Wins

We added to our collection with Blue-faced Parrotfinches. We kept Blue-faced Parrotfinches for a very long time. These were a species that troubled us greatly, despite my father breeding them quite successfully with his father when they were younger. Now, looking back, I feel that we possibly didn’t have a true pair, which is something that is imperative to be a successful breeder. 

These days it is becoming harder to sex parrotfinches because of an improvement in the quality of both males and females, but females in particular. I think this may have been our problem originally. We tried to introduce different females and males to see if that would make a difference. We also began providing mealworms and maggots. However, the eggs that were laid were infertile. I believe we did finally have true pairs of Blue-face, but they were too old to breed. We ended up moving them on to create space for a different pair of birds that my dad had wanted for years. I hope one day to get them back, however, parrotfinches tend to be quite aggressive, so we have to be careful with how many we keep and where we put them in our aviaries, because of the variety of species we keep. 

We have Red-faced Parrotfinches, Sea Greens and Pied Red-faced Parrot Finches. The Sea Green and Pied are yet to breed, but we have observed them building nests lately. The Red-faced Parrotfinches were our project last year. My dad had never been able to breed them either. We had had them for a few months without any signs of breeding. I began to research them and some triggers for successful breeding. I found that they required a lot of livefood—mealworms. We began feeding them mealworms once a day and, finally, we saw them begin to build a nest! After three failed nests, we finally bred them successfully for the first time.

A Sale Experience

Following this we went to our first sale at Singleton. It was an amazing experience. We bought a few pairs of birds, including Orange-breasted Waxbills, Cordons, and Double-bars and Parson’s Finches. We did a great amount of research on these birds, however, it took quite a while before we started to see building of nests. It wasn’t until this year that we were finally successful, with our pair of Orange Breasts producing one baby. We learnt a lot with these Orange Breasts, and that was compatibility among different species. This is imperative to successful breeding, we originally had the Orange Breasts with Red-faced Parrotfinches but found the Red Faces to be too dominant. When moving the Orange Breasts in with the Gouldians, we began to see them become a lot more settled and ready to breed. 

Cordons and Egg-binding

The Cordons were another first for us. We, unfortunately, were not successful with them. I personally have done a lot of reading about finches and the different diseases and sicknesses they may get. We were very excited to see the Cordons finally nesting, however, one day I discovered the female all fluffed up—a very sad discovery. On picking her up, I noticed her vent to be swollen and deemed her to be egg-bound. We put her into our hospital cage and fed her some red cordial. The following day she passed the egg and began to look better.

We put her back into the aviary, but we were then told that she needed to have a calcium supplement, Calcivet™. In the aviary she had a wide variety of calcium available to her, however, she still became egg-bound two more times. This was upsetting and very confusing to us. 

Around this time, we went to Finches’17. We learned a lot and had the privilege of speaking to some amazing people, providing a wealth of knowledge. At the convention there was a seminar by Stacey Gelis, speaking about calcium and egg-binding within finches. We learned that it is imperative to provide a variety of calcium to the birds, as they can be picky in what they eat. Vitamin D3 is also very good for the birds, which is in Vetafarm’s Calcivet™. Despite all this, sometimes birds can also have some sort of genetic deficiency that in spite of the amount of calcium provided, they still may become egg-bound. I believe this was the case for our Cordon. Therefore, we retired this pair. I hope one day, provided we have the space, I can get a pair of Cordons again, as they were a brilliant addition to our aviary. The male’s song and mating dance is one of my favourites. 

Cuban Triumph

This year we have added a variety of finches. One finch that we originally had steered clear of, due to their known aggression, was Cuban Finches. However, while at our friend Bruce Hockley’s place, we saw a pair in his holding cage and ended up coming home with them! They have been a great addition to our aviary. We were advised of their aggression towards the male young that they breed, therefore it is imperative that once the fledglings reach four weeks, or are independent, they must be removed. Some people say they have had them live in a colony together, however, I feel that it is better to be safe and remove them. 

Shortly after putting them in the aviary our Cubans began building a nest. We barely saw them for a few weeks, then, one weekend we began to hear a lot of noise from that aviary. It was babies. As well as this, the parents had been a lot louder in the days prior. This is an observation we have made. Cubans have a beautiful call, however, the parents are noticeably louder days before the babies are about to fledge. We produced three Cuban females, which was a great result. The pair have now had their second clutch.


Longtails and Silverbills

Following the Cubans, we were gifted a pair of longtails and two pairs of silverbills. Silverbills are a bird that I believe is very understated and often cast under what some people call the ‘brown bird syndrome’. They have a beautiful call and are stunning in the sunlight. They are also known to breed like mice. We were successful in breeding one pair. They are currently on their second clutch of four babies. 

Shortly after having the longtails, they successfully bred too. However, they chucked out their chicks at about one week old. This was a disappointing find. We had checked the nest, but that was a few days prior to the rejection. Next time around, we were careful not to check or go near the nest. They were successful on their second time and produced two fledgings recently. 

Pink Ruddies a Favourite

A favourite bird that we keep is Pink Ruddies. This is a mutation I am beginning to find very hard to get. There are not many people who breed them. We did have a pair a few months ago, but lost the female. We got another female back in October. I was very excited to see them building from the first day we put the pair in the aviary. A few weeks later we had three babies fledge, which was a great result for first-time breeders who are only a few months old. 
The parents have already started to build a new nest. I intend to breed a fair few of these Pink Ruddies as they are a beautiful bird that I feel many more people should keep. They were also relatively easy to breed, requiring seed and livefood. 

Tri-coloured Parrotfinches

One of our most exciting results this year was having Tri-coloured Parrot Finches successfully breeding. We got a pair a few months ago. Their first nest was chucked out. We believe this to be the result of a rogue Gouldian. The next nest we checked, and it was then abandoned. Following this, the Tri-colours stopped breeding and went through a moult. 

Recently we saw them looking unbelievably great, so we were happy to see them build a nest—but I wasn’t going to get my hopes up. Then recently we had one fledge! It was the most exciting moment for us. The following day a second baby fledged. We were very excited to finally have them succeed. We put this down to the fact that we had left them completely alone. 

Learning as We Go

We were told that birds will easily abandon their nests. However, some other people said that it was possible to check nests and not have them abandoned. We made the decision, following a few failed nests from our birds, that it was not worth the possibility of losing babies due to checks. We completely stopped checking nests and the results we have had in the last few weeks, I believe, are a result of this. 

We have also learnt that observation is key and can show us a great deal about what is going on without checking the nests. For example, in the Pink Ruddies and Tri-colours, we observed that one partner was always missing during the day and only the male sitting of a night time. Then, after a week or so, there would be both the parents sitting together of a night. Following this, the parents began to eat a lot more livefood. This was a direct indication to us that the birds had young. 

We also have Star Finches, Diamond Firetails, Fawn Painted Firetails and Fawn St Helenas that have yet to breed for us. However, they are all young birds, so I believe they should start to breed soon. 

I feel that there are a few things that we all must consider in order to breed successfully. 

The first is making sure that you don’t overcrowd the aviary. There is no definitive answer for this. There are general rules to how many pairs should be kept in an aviary but there are other contributing factors such as, are the pairs you have together compatible? Are there any dominant birds that could disturb or annoy the others? 

Next, you should ensure you have birds that are young or in breeding condition. Following this, you need to make sure that your pair is compatible. This is something that I think is often overlooked and has been the topic of discussion recently. We personally never took much notice as we have always had birds that sit together, eat together and sleep next to each other, therefore being compatible. It wasn’t until we got some new species this year that I noticed them not sitting together, often doing things separately. This is a sign of incompatibility. Often pairs will grow together to become compatible; other times you may need to introduce a new female or male. 

Finally, you need to ensure you are providing the proper diet for the birds you have. Various species may require something different when breeding or not breeding, therefore this is very important. I believe that if these questions are all answered, you should be on your way to success. 

Conclusion

Breeding finches is all about experience. We can research and be told so many great ideas and tips, however, you need to experience and experiment yourself. One method may work for one person but not for you. I remember speaking to a very good breeder one day, and he said something that has stuck with me, and that is, that you can read only so much; you must try and try and try on your own. It is all trial and error at the end of the day. There are so many different variables when breeding finches, therefore everything needs to be altered to your own individual needs and those of your birds. It is not as easy as sticking a pair in the aviary and them instantly producing babies. There is a lot of heartbreak with these birds, but I use the upsets—whether that be a failed nest or a dead bird—to motivate me to do better with my birds. It may alert us to something that was not right. 

In this hobby we are constantly changing our ways and introducing new ideas. It is a matter of finding an even balance of what works best for you and the birds. 

Along the way in my journey with this hobby I have met some amazing people who have been very helpful in guiding us and who are always there to answer questions. Those people include Bruce Hockley, Rodney and Adrian Byrnes, Craig Greenaway, Gary Fitt, Steve Sass and Sam Davis. We are also very active on a variety of Facebook pages dedicated to finch keeping. These have been a major contributor to our success, allowing us to gain a wide variety of knowledge and share our exciting times with others. I am also extremely grateful to share this hobby with both my dad and my pa. 

I hope to continue breeding finches for a very long time, successfully breeding a variety of species.