If you do allow your birds to breed, here is what you should know. The dedicated breeders section also includes hand raising (deliberately). I still have hand raised babies (6 years later) that are as tame as a house-cat.
Make sure your finches are in good health 1 month prior to breeding by providing a nutritionally complete diet- which may not be what you assume, so please refer to the Advanced Nutrition Section of this site for more information. Secondly, they need an enclosure conducive to breeding with has ample UV rays to provide vitamin D (light through a window is not sufficient as it filters out more of the UVB rays).
Finches are prolific breeders, and if they are in breeding condition, will breed continually throughout the year. If you have placed a pair of finches in an enclosure, and they are not breeding within 2 weeks, there could be a few reasons: mismatched pair, undesirable nest (or nest location), stress, malnutrition or with some of my rare mutations- they need to be coursed.
There are three breeding triggers in the wild, sunlight, food supply and rain. If a pair is reluctant to breed, I give them a medical exam to rule out any conditions, and then facilitate the process by providing additional sunlight (10-14 hours a day) which trigger the release of luteinizing hormone (LH). Light stimulates photoreceptors in the brain, where there is a circadian rhythm of photosensitivity. Furthermore you must increase food allowances- often providing more fresh items and simulate the 'rainy season' by misting the cage with mineral water twice a day for a week in addition to their 'bath dish' which is available twice a week (should be increased to daily).
Fledgling Cream Zebra Finches, hand raised
Zebra finches prefer a woven nest, and seem to prefer bamboo or millet dome covered nests, my finches are very large (28g vs 12g)- so you must purchase a 'budgie' size nests as the normal nests will not suffice. I also cut the entrance a bit larger so it is easier for me to manipulate. These bamboo are disposable, and easy to mount inside the cage. You must provide nesting material. Nesting material can be obtained from a pet store, or from your own backyard. I use Sisal fiber, coconut fiber, cotton pod fiber, jute, grasses, fresh flowers and torn tissue paper (organic if possible) and of course the birds will utilize anything they can carry.
If the nest is not set up correctly, then the babies could have a splayed leg syndrome- which can permanently disable the birds and ultimately cause death.
Advanced nesting setup: I fill the base of the nest with coconut fiber that I sprinkle with Pau D'Arco, Bay leaf and Cinnamon- which prevents mites/insects and mold growth (candida). I then proceed to grow nesting material which has micronurients, antifungal and antibacterial properties. I sprout wheat grass, oat, barley, rye spelt and millet grasses. When they are approximately 8 inches tall, I cut and half dray (leaving a small amount of moisture to provide nutrients as they carry these things to the nest with their beaks). I also grow niger and hibiscus let that bloom. The blossoms have nutritious pollen that lines the inside of the nest.
I should point out the importance of providing more than one nest per pair. Single pairs I always give an option of 2 nests, and if housing more than one pair together I give numerous options- sometimes with different filling at the base of the nest.
The nests should be placed high in the cage, and preferably above your eye level so the birds have privacy- and if they breed you will be able to change food/water dishes without disturbing their incubation as they will not see over the top of the nest.
The male will sing a complex courtship song, and begin building a nest. Once the nest is completed to the liking of the female, they will mate. Copulation takes a matter of seconds and is not aggressive like some other species. This makes for an ideal learning experience for children.
Eggs will commence in 5-7 days after copulation. If you have witnessed insemination, begin providing fresh egg mash.. and you should already be providing fresh produce and sprouted seed
The egg mash provides the protein, calcium and fat; the produce provides vitamin A and glucose and other important nutritents; while the sprouted seeds provides the macrobiotics and trace minerals. These things are required for the hen to produce quality eggs/embryos and gives her the strength to make it through the laying process.
If the hen is not strong enough- there can be egg binding (often fatal), low rate of hatching (meaning the baby dies in the shell). So please be mindful.
Building a ‘duplex’ is not uncommon as over zealous males may start to build another nest on top of the current nest…. Before the eggs have even hatched on top of the mom and kids!
Prevent this by removing nesting material after the first egg is laid and provide distraction: tie burlap strands to a perch or the side of the cage allowing it to hang down. He will try to remove it to begin nest building- but will never succeed. It is a perfect distraction for the little guy until the chicks fledge.
The hen will lay one egg every 24 hours. After the 3rd egg is laid, the hen and cock will start to incubate the eggs, laying a clutch of between 2-9 (average is 5, but rare mutations seem to lay less). Once incubation begins the chicks should hatch in roughly 14 days. When the temperature outside increases the eggs become overly stimulated and develop extremely quickly (10 days instead of 14) and often are not as healthy because they did not have enough time to properly develop. I prefer in the heat of the summer to give them a ‘resting period’ in which they take time off of breeding to recuperate.
Hand raised: Silver split for lightback/Blackface young Zebra Finch Young Male
For finches the biggest determinants of clutch size appear to be the genetics and diet. I selected larger hens that produce lower clutches; these larger finches sell at a premium price because of superior health. Others have selected for the number of eggs that the hen produces regardless of the size, and the hatchlings are often smaller (like in America) and very unhealthy.
Birds that are fed a balanced diet tend to produce larger clutches than ones on sub-optimal diets. It’s important to provide sufficient protein, fat, vitamin A, calcium, and trace minerals to support egg production, and these must be balanced with other nutrients in order to be most effectively utilized. For example, calcium cannot be absorbed without vitamin D- which comes from natural sunlight. For this reason my birds have outdoor enclosures which are guarded from predators.
All Calcium is not created equal:
Be aware of calcium that also has high levels of heavy metals. For example, oyster shell flour has 38% calcium and 0.07% phosphorus but has enough lead so it is not recommended in excess. It also has over 3000 ppm of iron. Iron has profound effects on the hematopoietic system and immunity. I choose to keep my calcium supplementation to mostly powdered egg shell and cuddlebone with very little sea shell.
EXCESSIVE EGG LAYERS: A very small number of birds become excessive egg layers. They lack the nutrients to produce healthy clutches and ultimately many have thin shells that break or embryos that do not develop, or die shortly after hatching. If excessive egg laying is suspected please see the Dedicated Breeders Page for more information.
LOW RATE OF HATCHING:
There is a strict science behind all of the eggs not hatching- and it can be narrowed down to a few things and should be corrected immediately. Please see the Dedicated Breeder Page for more information.
Variation in a single clutch of Hand Raised Zebra Finches
PROCESS AFTER HATCHING:
As soon as the first chick is born, I remove shell grit from the cage. There is a small incidence of the grit entering the chicks crop and not emptying properly causing infection.
After 24 hours, hen feeding will commence and I provide ‘Nestling Food’ or ‘Soft Food’ (recipe to the right) to parents 3 times a day: mashed egg, with the addition of cereals, vitamin supplements and sprouted seeds. This mixture is consumed by the mother/father, and quickly regurgitated to the babies providing the vitamins and protein for advanced development.
Unfortunately there can be unforeseen circumstances which cause the mother or father to completely abandon the nest. My first reaction is to find foster parents for the abandoned young as feeding zebra finches at such a young age is EXTREMELY difficult due to human exhaustion. However if you invest the time, money and emotion into breeding a high end stock, I recommend that you are prepared.
I recommend buying an incubator- there is really no other way to do it.... and also buy a brooder. I know professional breeders that still only have a 50% survival rate when hand feeding zebra finches as exhaustion leaves a large room for error (up every hour during the night- and day- mistakes happen that are often referred to as 'failure to thrive'). Failure to thrive is also used when there is no apparent sign of illness, however the chick does not make it. The formula additives I use are important to prevent this, as there are many signs- some not to the naked eye.
Hatchling= hatched, Nestling= pin feathers, Fledgling= feathered and leaves nest, Juvenile= begins first moult, Adult= growth complete
For detailed information on hand rasiing finch, please click below:
More on this in the dedicated breeders section.
I use a few different items to hand feed- a piece of pasta, dental tools and syringes.
I do not approve the use of the toothpick, commonly used- there are many chemicals in the processing, and when the hatching grabs to feed, there is possibility of splinters and air sac rupturing from the narrow device; alternately use a piece of spaghetti (dry) that can be sanded smooth . A better still device is a 'dentist tool' used for cleaning teeth, or a 'crab cracker' (small metal device used to remove crab meat). It is larger than a toothpick, and has a nice angle on it. Finally, I use syringes- many different sizes (generally prefer a 3cc) with catheters of varying sizes.
For more detailed hand raising or development details, please see the Dedicated Breeder section.
Day 1: I provide re-hydration liquid. This keeps them hydrated (pink color- not red and shiny) and allows them to digest their yolk sacs.
Day 2: Thin formula (like water) is prepared with regular water instead of pedialyte. Fed every hour (4 times through the night) of 1 or 2 drops.
Day 3-5: Formula is the consistency of creamy soup. Feeding moves to every 1.5 hours, and 3 night feedings.
Day 5 to 7: Feed whenever the crop is empty- every 1.5 hours, and 3 night feedings. Add Jumpstart Mix in excess of 1% to the morning feedings. Recipe for this can be found in the Dedicated Breeders section.
Day 8 to weaning: (eyes should be opening)
Formula is thicker, like pudding. Feed when the crop is empty every 1.5- 3 hours, (gradually stop night feedings).
By 18-21 days, the birds will fledge. They are transferred to a separate enclosure for conditioning. They will have juvenile colors (muted) until they get their adult plumage around 5 weeks and full color at 10.
MY METHOD FOR PRODUCING TAME FINCHES :
Beginning at 1-1.5 weeks I will hand feed the babies inside the enclosure nest on occasion (usually 3 times a day) to relieve the burden off of the mother. At this age they do not have feathers, and are very fragile. They must remain in their mothers care until they have pin feathers.
I remove chicks between 1.5-2 weeks and are then transferred to a separate enclosure with controlled temperature and humidity and hand fed (every 2 hours or as needed- some still require night feedings as the parents would preform).
Baby lightback (full color comes in a couple weeks)
Socialization is critical from 1.5 weeks forward (after eyes have opened) for imprinting- learning to recognize and bond to individuals. I spend hours with the babies interacting and exposing them to new and interesting things.
Each bird is raised as an individual, and with that comes different personalities, and different progression rates. The birds do not all wean at the same time, and I practice abundance weaning, therefore I will hand feed until the bird refuses.
Once fledged (able to walk/flutter and have feathers) they are transferred to a larger enclosure to condition their bodies and await their adoption by their new families. Adult color begins appearing 5-6 weeks and should be completed by 10 weeks. I will let the finches go to their new homes once I am satisfied on their ability to eat on their own and they are showing a good amount of adult coloration (around 10 weeks usually). I do take pre-orders, but I cannot guarantee color combinations or sex. I do offer a health guarantee, and you must fill out an application before adoption. Available babies are HERE. For detailed information on advanced breeding techniques, chick illness and processes, please visit the Dedicated Breeders page.
FOCUS OF STUDY:
One of my major focuses was the neurological and behavioral adaptations: males learn to sing a complex courtship song during puberty from parents and environmental factors- while the females do not. This is similar to how humans learn speech with lineages of finches having similar unique songs. This demonstration of learning ability opens the door to training, and hand taming of finches.
To tame a finch allows it to move up in the pet store ladder. Seen less as ‘wild animals’ and more as a pet. This coincides with better nutrition and housing practices from breeders and pet stores.
Babies trained to come on command. Here they are coming from cage to hand. They respond to a subtle click noise that I have made when I fed them as nestlings. Hand taming aids in the neurological pathways preventing depression/stress and indirectly corresponds to a healthier bird. Hand taming reduces the incidence of disease as it reduces stress of cage involvement (such as cleaning of the cage and changing food dishes) and allows you to easily spot illness. In the event of sickness, it makes administering medication less traumatic as they are used to being handled on a regular basis.
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