Breeding or caring for any living thing requires dedication, and raising hand tame, hand fed finches is probably the most taxing thing I can imagine. Because of their small size, things can go wrong very quickly, and you have little or no means for correction. Just the sheer amount of time you have to dedicate is under estimated.
This page is a supplement to the Procreation section on this website (so please read that in detail first, as well as the Advanced Nutrition). This detailed information is provided for educational purposes for experienced breeders; some of this information is controversial and experimental but is supported by scientific date and studies.
For detailed information on mutations, I would refer you to efinch.
Interesting read regarding nestling mutations: Nestling mouth markings and colors
Easier read with similar material: Mouth Patterns of Nestlings on efinch
See developmental progress photos below.
MORE NUTRITION, NOT MORE FOOD
Contrary to what people believe, zebra finches do not consume greater quantities of food while egg laying. Breeding/egg laying pairs actually consume 8% less. Instead; females naturally reduce activity during the laying cycle, despite the additional energy requirements of egg production.
Therefore conditioning for 1 month before egg laying commences and increasing the nutritional value of the food during the egg laying process is critical. Assuming you have followed the protocol on the Advanced Nutrition, you will only need to modify slightly during egg laying.
If you have witnessed copulation, begin providing fresh egg food, fresh produce (specifically greens and apricot) and sprouted seed twice a day. I also begin adding vitamins and probiotics to the water.
The egg food provides the protein, calcium and fat; the produce provides vitamin A and glucose; while the sprouted seeds provide 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 you are breeding, and your eggs take 18 days to hatch (in good weather) or you have dead in shell, or die just after birth. This is not normal... it needs to be corrected immediately. Not just for the health of the young, but for the health of the parents.
EXCESSIVE EGG LAYERS: BE SURE TO GIVE EXTRA NUTRITION
A very small number of birds have a neurological disorder and become excessive egg layers. Even healthy birds will lack the nutrients to produce constant 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, place 'dummy' eggs in the nest at the upper end of the normal clutch. Dried raspberry leaf supplement may work synergistically with light cycle manipulation. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon dried raspberry leaves per half-pound of food.
Manipulation of the light cycle is a simple but stressful way to interrupt egg-laying. Leaving the hen in a cage exposed to continuous light for 3 to 7 days in a row may upset the circadian and annual rhythms to “reset” the reproductive hormones to a resting state. You may need to leave on 300 to 400 watts worth of bright white incandescent bulbs in the room with the cage, or about 4200 lumens worth of daylight compact fluorescent bulbs (i.e., 95 CRI, > 5500°K).
LOW RATE OF HATCHING:
EGGS SHOULD HATCH
There is a strict science behind all of the eggs not hatching- and it can be narrowed down to a few things:
Infertile eggs, adult malnutrition, extremely low humidity, eggs cooled during incubation, infection or dietary deficiency.
The most common cases are an iron and iodine deficiency, which is very easy to correct. I feed a balanced diet, complete with crushed sunflower seeds and sesame, kelp, broccoli, apricot, cooked beans and dark leafy greens. But furthermore in preparation for breeding, my finches receive Bird Builder by Harrisons in the water on days when they don’t receive specific whole foods. More information can be found in the Advanced Nutrition Section.
Furthermore, soft shells or low clutches is a calcium deficiency- however this does not mean to supplement with calcium. Vitamin D3 is absorbed through natural sunlight through the skin, and it is required for birds (and humans) to process calcium. If you are providing crushed shells and cuttlebone, you need to increase the sunlight by a UV light or moving your cage to sunny area. But please follow the mounting and suggested exposures to ensure your birds do not become stressed.
PARENTAL SUPPORT of CHICKS IN THE NEST:
After 24 hours, hen feeding will commence and I provide ‘Nestling Food’ or ‘Soft Food’ 3 times a day. This is mashed egg, with the addition of cereals, hand feeding formula and sprouted seeds. This mixture is consumed by the mother, and quickly regurgitated to the babies. This soft food is easier to digest, and allows the babies to get accustomed to the flavor of the hand feeding formula. This simple mixture provides the carbohydrates, vitamins and proteins for the chicks advanced development.
HAND FEEDING DETAILS (GENERAL)
It is better to be prepared for anything, BEFORE you need it. Once you realize you need to take action, the time to gather supplies could mean death for the young ones.
Also if possible, gather these medications:
Antifungal- such as Nystatin
Antibiotics- such as Amoxitex
Re-hydration liquids (Pedialyte, etc)
Probiotics- such as Avipro Avian
RAIN by HealX and Coconut oil
Infant apple sauce and apple cider vinegar
ADDITIVES FOR HAND FEEDING FORMULA- important as birds do not have a strong immune system when they are young
Every single commercial hand rearing formula suggests that it is nutritionally complete. However upon examination the protein levels are too low, and they lack proper amino acids and trace minerals.
I use a commercial hand feeding formula (currently Pavodan as that is what is available here), but I also add additional ingredients to strengthen the immune system and help prevent infections. Schedule as follows: Probiotic (Mon. Fri.) One feeding a day- which strengthens the bird own immune system.Jumpstart Mix: (Daily) 1/4 cup Spirulina, 1TBS kelp powder, 1TBS garlic powder, 2TBS Crushed Bee Pollen, and 2 tsp Cinnamon. I add 1% of this mixture to the morning feeding from day 5 to weaning.
Apple Cider vinegar: (Tues. Thurs. Sat) 1 tsp apple cider vinegar to 16 oz water. Used in place of pure water for formula every other day for morning feeding. This prevent crop disorders (fungal) by equalizing the pH.Egg Yolk: (Sun. Wed.) I add 5% hard boiled egg yolk to the formula. It mixes in easily and increases the protein of the formula for feather development. MAKING FORMULA, HEATING WATER
Heating the water for formula is tricky- it is said not to use a microwave as it can create hot spots. But it is not reasonable to assume people will boil water with hourly feedings feedings. Instead I choose to have a mini crock pot running with bottled water that I replace regularly.
Be sure to follow the directions on the formula exactly. Two sets of measuring spoons work well. One set for water, and one set for formula (so dry formula doesnt not stick to the spoon and create more cleaning and inaccurate measuring/hygienic issues).
Mix the correct proportions of formula and hot water (boiling), mix well and let cool to 101-104°F (38.3-40°C) Cooler and they wont digest it- hotter and it will cause crop burns.
HYGIENE: All areas must remain very clean at all times. Bedding must be changed with every feeding, and furthermore I take a damp cotton swab on the rump to clean off any feces, and apply with a bit of RAIN by HealX, coconut oil/or petroleum jelly to sooth the skin as the feathers start to come in. If feces does become encrusted on the rump, remove quickly or this can become a blockage, use a touch of coconut oil on a Q-tip to loosen and water with another cotton swab to gently remove.
Clean syringes and formula cups after every feeding. Use a bleach solution and be sure to rinse well. Do not re-use formula under any circumstance. In the brooder, I use a glass bowl as a 'nest' because it does not harbor bacteria like plastic does and line with paper towels (kleenex does not have ample support to prevent splay leg as the ridges are what is required. I tear into 1/3 strips and create a overlapping star pattern). Glass is also a great diffuser of heat, and helps maintain temperature when the brooder is open.
Be sure to wash your hands with the hottest water beforehand, and do not use scented soap. Warm the water hotter than bath temp as it cools while preforming this task.
IMPORTANCE OF TYPE OF BROODER:
There are many options currently for brooders (which your bird will live in for weeks while developing), most are a vessel that is somehow heated with a soft concave bottom. When you have the desire to produce tame birds, the type of vessel material is important. Please not the following:
Producing tame birds requires that you solve for two things; imprinting, and fear. Fear can be a powerful mechanism that can deter proper socialization. The most critical stage of reducing fear is when they are very young- therefore exposure is of great importance. The brooder must be clear (glass they can see surroundings), and there must be activity taking place in and around the brooder. Day to day human noises and activities are important (crumbling a chip bag, opening a can of soda, clapping your hands, laughing, fast movements, variation in lighting, etc). I suggest producing your own brooder, but be sure your heating element is adjustable (as the bird grows- you must adjust the temperature exactly). I do not give instruction on creating a brooder- some say to use 'diaper heaters' but this prevent the daily stimulation by interacting with surroundings and many retain the same temp concurrently. Imagine being in a padded room- and they open the door to feed you. When you got out years later... how would you act?
Brooder temp and humidity is critical, if not within these ranges the chick will either not be able to digest food, or become dehydrated.
Do not confuse fear/attachment with being tame and socialized.
Fear attached birds will gain confidence to be fed. Food motivation and naive nature give the impression of a tame bird. But once released into a group atmosphere, will turn to a flock (going 'wild'). Truly tame birds identify with you, are confident and enjoy time spent with you. Even when returned to a flock, they will still treat you as a companion, and therefore you are required to provide them with special care to simulate the flock environment. (more information below)
PROCESS DETAILS OF HAND REARING FROM DAY 1
(not recommended- scroll down for suggested method)
Day 1:Hatchlings receive 1 drop of re-hydration liquid at 102 degrees 45 minutes after they hatch. If the clutch was incubated early, then babies may hatch over the course of a few days and require age specific care. (3 day old and a newborn in the same nest with unhatched eggs). I use a non toxic marker to color a few pieces of the nestlings fuzz (same protocol as in the lab), so they can be identified (green is first born, blue is second, purple is third, red is 4th, etc.
Try to diligently record down data so you can identify the progress of babies.
About 6-8 hours later, I mix re-hydration liquid with probiotics and touch of formula (so it is like water- no thicker) and feed 1 drop every 2 hours or so (at least 3 times during the night as well). This keeps them hydrated (pink color- not red) and allows them to digest their yolk sacs. Improper digestion of the yolk sac can cause infection and death. If you do suspect that the yolk sac was not properly digested, start them on antibiotics and antifungals with probiotics. I do not recommend 'diagnosing' illness yourself. If breeding in this method you should have a good relationship with a avian vet.
Day 2: Weigh each baby with a gram scale, keeping the chicks warm with a heat lamp over your work area. From this point forward, it is imperative the babies are weighed each day to determine the proper amount of formula. Each baby should have 10-12% of their body weight in food per feeding. Thin formula (like broth) is prepared with bottled water instead. Feed roughly 1-2 drops every waking 1.5 hour (and 4-5 times through the night). Watch for signs of dehydration: babies skin should be supple and have a pink coloration, and not a deep red. If skin starts to darken, provide re-hydration liquid immediately (heated).
Day 3-6:Thicken your formula to 3 parts water and 1 part formula (consistency of creamy soup). The babies may begin to change color (lighter or darker skin depending on the plumage color). This should be watched closely to ensure it is not dehydration. Use petroleum jelly or coconut oil to prevent feces becoming stuck to the rear end of your nestling.
Feeding moves to every 1.5 hours, and 3-4 night feedings. An example of feeding times is as follows:
7:30 am, 8:30am, 9:30am, 9:30am, 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm, 4:30pm, 5:30pm, 6:30pm, 7:30pm, 8:30pm, 9:30pm, 10:30pm (bedtime)- 12:00am, 1:30am, 3:30am, 5:30am
Begin using 1% Jumpstart mix in the morning feeding.
Jumpstart Mix: 1/4 cup Spirulina, 1TBS kelp powder, 1TBS garlic powder 1TBS cinnamon.
(for adult illnesses, please see this section)
SKIN COLOR: Normal finches skin looks pink to yellow in color unless it is a rare variety with darker skin. If you notice dry, deep-red colored skin, the chick is dehydrated. Immediately ensure the enclosure is at leaf 50% humidity and give a few drops of re-hyrdration liquid (such as pedialyte) directly into the mouth, and dilute future formula by a minimal amount for 3 future feedings.
If the dehydration has progressed to a point where the baby no longer gives a feeding response, the bird must be brought to the vet for fluids under the skin.
FECES COLOR CHANGE: Note the chicks feces: yellow to brown in color is normal. If the chick begins producing green feces usually indicates Crop stasis (crop "slow down), overfeeding, improper formula temp, infection or improper enclosure temps.
If crop stasis: (see below)
AIR IN CROP:Some air in the crop is not an issue with these birds- make sure to look out for 'bubbles' which can mean infection. Usually air in the crop is due to feeding a finch too slowly (causing the bird to gulp air) or infection. You can relieve the air by "burping" the bird: while the chick is begging, gently apply pressure to the crop and hold until the bird burps. This needs to be done a near empty crop. Infection (fermentation in the crop can cause air to build up inside of it) and may require treatment with an antibiotic or anti fungal immediately.
Subcutaneous emphysema, distention of cervicocephalic air sac, is caused by air gulping, slow feeding or fermentation of food in crop producing gas. Please also make sure that your feeding tube is the appropriate size, the crop fully empties at least once a day and there is not a yeast infection.
SLOW CROP/CROP STASIS:
In most cases of slow crop, either the baby is kept at too cool of an ambient temperature, the food is fed at the wrong temperature (either too low or too high) or dehydration.
In the event of crop stasis or slow crop, administer rehydration liquid mixed with baby applesauce (or papaya) and massage the area extremely gently; ensure the next feeding has a mix of pedialyte and infant applesauce with probiotics to keep the mobility; antibiotics and anti-fungal medications should also be administered to correct the condition if bacteria are present.
If crop does not empty in a few hours:
DELAYED CROP/LABORED BREATHING: This can be a multitude of things, but Candidasis- a disease that is common in hand-fed chicks - is caused by a yeast that most commonly affects the crop and the digestive tract; but it can also affect other organs, including the respiratory system. Home treatment:
1 tsp of Apple Cider Vinegar per 16 oz water or One capsule of garlic, one capsule echinacea, 1/2 capsule of probiotics per 50cc prepared hand feeding formula twice a day for three days.
Your veterinarian will prescribe Nystatin which should be combined with probiotics (listed below).
PUNCTURED CROP OR ESOPHAGUS:
When feeding- deep utensils, or overzealous babies reaching up can cause a puncture. It then fills with air with every breath. You must seek an avian vet- they will puncture it- releasing the air. After the pressure is released, there is a chance of survival as the air sac can heal fairly quickly but antibiotics and antifungals are recommended to prevent infections.
SPLAY LEG SYNDROME:
Make sure to create a nest in your brooder that is narrow at the bottom and snug fitting. If the legs stay out to the sides, this may cause splay leg syndrome, and the bird will be permanently disabled.
Occurs when food is fed to the baby that is too hot (it should be 100-105 degrees F) and the delicate lining of the crop is burned. See a veterinarian.
ITCHY SKIN/ FEATHER BITING:
Skin can become irritated due to expedited development. I use AVI Healx soother (dilute 1 tsp water with 4 sprays of solvent into a small dropper). I apply this to the skin once a day with a Q-tip. Try to warm the mixture in your hands before application to reduce stress.
CROP EMPTY TOO FAST:
Hypermotile intestine, Diarrhea/Infection, formula too thin.
Weaning (crop is shrinking) Improper formula temp, Infection, Aspitation, Overfeeding- check weight-
LAYING ON BACK:
Common response to sound, or protective behavior, but you should look for Intestinal Infection, Neurological problem and congenital/developmental issues.
Infection, Congential malformation, Fatty Liver, Ascites - Fluid accumulation in abdomen, Constipation, Intestinal stasis
Infection, Aspiration of food, low humidity
BLOOD IN STOOL:
Hematochezia (red blood in the stool), typically from lesions in the lower GI tract, coccidiosis, and melena (black tar-like digested blood), associated with gastritis, enteritis and ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract, GI foreign bodies.
Have your veterinarian perform a necropsy. Necropsy is a vital diagnostic tool for flock management.
COMMON MEDICATION DOSAGE:
Most common medication administered to young birds is an anti fungal. Be aware that anytime a antibiotic is administered, a antifungal and probiotic should be administered to prevent a secondary infection.
Antifungal Nystatin 400 000i.u. Ideal for crop dosing baby birds.
Dosage and Administration:
Avian: Mix 5g with 500g of soft food for 5-7 days.
Hand Reared Chicks:
Prevention: Mix 1g per 200g of soft food daily for as long as symptoms prevail.
Treatment: Mix 1g per 20ml of water, shake well and dose 1ml of mixture per 100g bodyweight twice daily.
Antibiotic- non-chlamydial intestinal and respiratory bacterial infections.
Per 15 grams body weight. Mix one (1) level teaspoon in 3 teaspoons of water.
Give only 0.2ml daily.
Warning- this is extremely unpalatable and should be used only with a confirmed diagnosis. Must be followed with a probiotic, and you may need to also administer a antifungal to prevent overgrowth of yeast.
EU licensed Probiotic, soluble fibre, Vitamin A, C and E and electrolytes. Ideal for sick, stressed or young birds.
Treatment or Prevention: 2g per 50ml of drinking water. Can be given orally as 1ml per 100g body weight
The first week is critical as they are extremely delicate. Please make sure you are feeding full strength formula to aid in development. Their cells are replicating at a exponential rate and require the energy to build their body. Furthermore, make sure you are using an appropriate size catheter- otherwise air can be trapped in the crop.
Day 7 to 8:Instead of kleenex use papertowels for the 'nest' in the brooder so they can have traction to prevent splay leg syndrome.
I start to add in a thicker formula (2 parts water to 1 part formula like thin pudding). Since you have thicker formula, and you are feeding a larger quantity you can space out the feeding times to whenever the crop is empty- every 1.5 -2 hours, and 2-3 night feedings. Watch for dehydration, if signs are present immediately warm re-hydration fluid and provide 1ml every hour until the baby regains its color (never force liquid- tap the baby on the butt or the beak to engage a feeding response). Be careful to not underestimate dehydration, it can strike fast, and linger for days. Remember, dehydration is not just the fluid in the crop/'belly' is it the fluids in the muscles, skin, etc. This takes some time to replenish, and can often relapse.
Day 9: (eyes should be open). Feed when the crop is empty every 2- 2.5 hours, (gradually stop night feedings over the course of the next 2 weeks). (images of growth on the right hand side of this page toward the bottom). Note the color of skin- while this can change depending on mutation- they skin should be close to the original color of the hatchling- if it darkens, or looks 'leathery' or 'shiny' the bird is dehydrated.
Day 12: Pin feathers should be visible- starting with the head, wings and back. Under the wings develope later, so do not be alarmed if there are bald spots.
Temperature in the brooder can be slightly lowered to 90 degrees.
At 16 days, I give one night feeding (10:45pm, 1:45am and 5:45am). However your birds may vary. Note that birds are very transparent- depending on crop, skin and feces you can determine cause and effect extremely easily and this is what you should gauge your feedings on- not the side of a formula box. It may seem daunting or frustrating at first, but soon it becomes abundantly clear.
18-21 days, the birds will fledge. I keep the room temperature at 78 degrees. Allow ample physical therapy (do NOT leave them in the brooder all the time if you desire tame birds).
At 21 days stop night feedings with last feeding 10:45pm and a early feeding (6:45am). Each bird is unique- so be sure to monitor each bird closely to ensure they are getting the proper nutrition.
I may mix the formula closer to 1:1- (when feeding one bird, I use 3 parts water to 2.5parts formula- but all formula is different) this thick formula is extremely nutrient dense and becomes a supplement rather than a full diet once they start ingesting solid foods. They are transferred to a separate enclosure for muscle conditioning and training as they now have feathers. During this time, they are offered millet, sprouted seed, soaked pellets, egg food (or nestling food) and still are hand fed until they are fully weaned. However, with handfed babies, many dont wean on 'schedule', and instead require had feeding up to 8 weeks, which can be extremely frustrating. DO NOT FORCE WEANING BY LIMITING FOOD OR INCREASING SPACING OF FEEDINGS EARLY.
I will note that as you become more comfortable with the process, your babies will wean faster as you become more versed in the procedure.
Begin slowly lengthening time between feedings- at 25 days- weaning I am usually feeding every 4 waking hours. But please make sure they are beginning to eat on their own. If they are not consuming solids, then you must continue hand feeding. (more details below)
This is what I consider the most complicated because you are not dealing with scientific fact, but rather individual choice and personalities of your birds. Furthermore you can have quite a large span of ages....depending on the clutch size (I usually have 6) that is almost a week difference.
Once birds are feathered out, offer "adult" foods such as sprouted seed, soaked pellets, finely chopped vegetables, millet sprays, egg food and a shallow dish of fresh water. You will have to 'teach' the bird to wean, simulating a 'pecking' behavior by tapping the new food items with your finger. Once they start to understand, then provide them with the seed mix they will be fed as adults in addition to other things.
The most important items you can provide are sprouted seed, millet, egg food apricots and vegetables. Leave apricots to a minimum, but they do provide a very specific digestive enzyme that helps them break down the food they are consuming.
Ultimate weaning food: Sprouted Spray Millet
Take Spray Millet, and place in strainer and submerge in water in glass dish. Rinse a few times a day for 24-48 hours
As soon as it starts to grow strands- You have the ultimate weaning food!
(refrigerate to prevent overgrowth/mold. you will use a lot of this- so keep it constantly growing). Regular sprouted seed is also good, but this is visually very pleasing to them.
During the weaning process, birds will often lose weight (10% - which can be quite scary to the diligent breeder) however common, it should be avoided. Offer more and more 'healthy' alternatives, but do not starve the baby by limiting hand feedings or 'favorite items (such as millet). This will inhibit growth, and cause premature death- also known as 'failure to thrive' in 2 months time, therefore it is important to monitor them closely.
This is another reason I don't recommend hand feeding to anyone other than a dedicated individuals. I hear numerous stories of people assuming 'no night feedings because they are 2 weeks old). Baby birds are very similar to humans- in fact, just a few protein short. The baby may be 3 weeks old, but still require hand feeding every 2 hours and supplemental through the night). You need to be a mother bird- I witnessed in the wild, and in captivity the rate of feeding, and each one in the nest is unique.
Remember the proper amount of formula (10% bodyweight) and estimate what else they have consumed to prevent crop issues during weaning. The crop does shrink as they start to wean- so please be mindful of the consumed amount of items beyond formula. I use a webcam to watch the birds during the day and assess the consumption rates.
Note about raising single babies:
Raising single babies may be the most difficult but the most rewarding. Finches are social, and often reliant on their companions. When finches are in the nest together, they utilize their nest mates for proper development:
Splay leg: Tightly packed in a nest prevents spay leg syndrome
Grooming: Mates help open pin feathers and therefore they can better control their temperature
Notification: One baby crying triggers a feeding response to everyone in the nest, they also help them wean, which can prove difficult when hand feeding.
Companionship: To keep warm and emotionally healthy having other birds around.
If you are raising a single chick, you have to be very diligent and work extremely hard to provide the things above as if they did have the interaction of other nestlings and parents.
If you have a single raised finch- be prepared that in the future, your finch may die of a broken heart. Finches are such social creatures, they cant possibly be left alone. Even as fledglings.... You will leave for work, and come home to a dead bird- cortisone levels spike so high they can experience strokes due to you (his flock) not present. They NEED you, to the point where they will imprint on you, and if you are not there, they cease functioning (eating, drinking). While having a 'velcro-bird' may sound enjoyable, it is actually very dangerous so much care has to be taken to determine if this method is something you wish to pursue and you are prepared to give them at least one bird friend.
RECOMMENDED METHOD FOR TAME FINCHES:
Note: I am not referring to 'hand tame finch', but social and interactive feathered friends. Following you through the home, doing commands, and completely docile at all times. If you just desire a finch that will eat from your hand in an enclosure (hand tame), this is not the process for you. This is time consuming, and can only be accomplished as a young if you are available full time. Purchasing a truly hand-raised finch with this method is a solution for a long term feathered companion.
When the finches are 1-1.5 weeks old, I will hand feed the babies inside the enclosure nest on occasion to relieve the burden off of the parents. Finches are ready to be transferred into your care at about 2 weeks when they have ample feather development (you may only take the older chicks- and leave the smaller ones with the parents a few more days- but be mindful- the parents may abandon the nest due to intrusion). During exceptionally hot weather, they may develop faster- and cold weather may develop slower. A proper method for testing readiness is to place your hand at the front of the nest before the birds are fully feathered (pin feathers should begin opening): They normally will beg for food and have the ability to move legs independently, if they pull away (scooting their butt up in the air) then you are too late and should allow the parents to raise the clutch as they will not be 'companion tame'.
The chicks are transferred to an aquarium/brooder with controlled temperature and humidity and hand fed (every 2-4 hours depending on age) and are closely monitored (follow additives for hand feeding listed above). Socialization is CRITICAL at this time, and exposing the birds to common household items, sounds, surfaces, colors and smells should be part of your routine. They very quickly become attached, and you will have a hard time staying away from them (they will scream for you and follow you around the home- be careful underfoot and with hot items such as tea or pans).
People have difference methods for handfeeding chicks. I believe they should be raised closer to the way many large parrots are reared- have 'group contact', 'seclusion' and 'individual contact'.
Note: NEVER feed a finch inside the enclosure when hand feeding. This instills a bad behavior:
"I get fed no matter what" when instead they should come 'to you' for food (similar to training a dog (they should not be rewarded for antisocial behavior). Either gently remove the bird for feeding, or coax them out for feeding. When they become older, they should fly to you on command out of the enclosure.
SOCIALIZATION:I find that people have the most trouble with this portion: "I handled and interacted with them regularly but when they are older, they become completely wild again" -false.
I will explain techniques which will allow you to imprint on the bird, rather than 'feed and play' with the bird. The nature of the bird will allow them to inherently be aware of how to be a 'bird' but imprinting fully on humans by way of a very specific manner ensures they recognize humans AND birds as flock members, allowing your bird to remain tame, even as they age.
Group Contact: This is when they are in the brooder. Birds choose a group mentality, and this constant interaction while helping them to develop, also inhibits the imprinting process that you desire.Seclusion: This is a specialized enclosure where the bird is left alone, and becomes independent (also dependent on YOU, therefore desiring more contact with you). This should be a 'fun land' with interesting and stimulating things like torn paper, inanimate objects and millet. There should also be a higher temp, to reduce any stress (78F degrees).Individual Contact: This is where you spend time with the birds, individually outside of the normal environment. Often this is spent exposing them to stimuli (TV, clapping hands, microwave, barking dog, etc).
Daily Routine: Feed birds and allow then to relax and digest for 30 minutes. Then spend individual time with each one for 15 minutes each. When done individually interacting with the bird, move them into different enclosures for seclusion (no other birds or people) for 30 minutes. (You) Returning as the victor in 30 minutes to escort them to the brooder or continue spending time with the bird outside the enclosure.
Note* Feeding, 'playing' and directly returning to brooder after each feeding does not enforce the positive behavior for a strong bond to humans. Instead they must remain secluded after play, and then have a positive interaction for you returning them to the brooder with the other birds.
At 21-24 days fledgling conditioning begins and chicks are transferred to a cage specifically designed for completing the weaning process. The same technique above still needs to be followed, utilizing time outside of the enclosure in between each feeding. The structure of activities to preform with your bird are very important. Simply 'playing' with your bird does not allow proper imprinting. I will cover the Conditioning Enclosure details, then go over the techniques for imprinting. Coincidentally, the period of weaning, is the most influential portion of their lives, and must be taken with rest care.
The Conditioning Enclosure has low branches, and food containers designed for easy access. The room temp around the cage is kept at 78 degrees during the day, and 70 at night and a source of UVB for vitamin D3. The chicks are handled at numerous times in between feedings, and are introduced to the home. They are taught clicker and verbal/visual cues at great length. The more time spent with them, the better companions they will become. You are teaching them that birds, and humans are both viable options for future relationships. Sitting on the sofa for an hour, side of the sink while doing dishes, or while reading a book are good options for individual time.
Activities with your fledgling:One of the most important activities you can preform with your fledgling is bathing. Bathing involves a preening method- in which they will imprint on you. The first bathing ritual is important, and the utmost care must be taken as it should be extremely enjoyable.
It should take roughly 15 minutes per finch. After the bath, they should be held close to your body to dry completely. (I will explain more on this later).
Surfaces are also a very new thing to young babies. They have now grown up with tissues, paper towel, and natural branches. It is imperative you go over different surfaces: marble (countertop), sanded wood (table), hair (head- although I do not condone training them that this is a suitable place to land), fabrics (towels/blankets), Leather (accessories, furniture) and odd places- boutique of flowers, candlestick, etc. Other the course of their lifetime, they will encounter these things- and more. They need to be aware of how to position themselves to feel secure. These should all be slow and calm exercises as young.
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. Do to try to 'force' a weaning process on the young by 'estimating the feeding schedule due to age'. This can easily cause stress, and death. You must follow the same protocol that adult birds would, which means night feedings are eliminated according to each birds progress.
This is a video of a 7 week old, who unfortunately had a very difficult beginning due to environmental factors out of our control. She is now growing fast, and catching up to the other birds in the facility with proper supplementation. However often birds that seem 'sweet' are actually ill, and all measures must be taken to ensure their livelihood. For more information on illness, see the right hand side of this page and the Ailments & Remedies section of this website.
Birds get increasingly hard to control as they can fly and want to be ‘on’ you at all times. That is why a form of training is advisable (I will elaborate on this at a another date). But do train your birds early on with rewards the same you would a parrot or canine. At this stage, with a clutch of birds following you around the home, accidents happen. Often there are bird-on-bird collisions as they cannot anticipate how to land and fly with moving objects (chasing humans around the home).
NOTE: Always offer adult food before offering formula during weaning. Once they are eating 100% on their own (about 7-8 weeks), and they have their adult plumage they are ready for their new homes. I do not allow them to leave until thy have adult plumage- Moulting is very stressful on the system- and disrupting this cycle, or providing improper nutrition can have significant consequences.
Dehydrated finches have dark red skin that may look dark and shiny. Re-hydration liquid should be warmed at 103 and given immediately (higher temp because it cools quickly... must be administered drop by drop) but not forced as this can cause aspiration. You need to feed with a feeding response: Stimulating a feeding response can be accomplished by touching the beak or the back of the bird with your clean finger- or a cotton swab. Do not coax the chick using your feeding instrument as this can get formula on the chick, or bacteria on the instrument.
THE MAIN CAUSE OF DEATH IN BABIES- DEHYDRATION AND CROP DISORDERS
PREVENTION OF CROP DISORDERS:
b. 90‐92 F Neonates (Unfeathered Nestlings)
c. 85‐90 F Chicks (Pin and down feathers)
d. 75-80 F Fledgelings
e. Wean at no less than 75 degrees to prevent stress.
Video by efinch. An amazing website with beautiful birds.
PREVENTION OF DEHYDRATION:
Unlike many people, I believe rehydration liquid is extremely important. If you notice a bird with symptoms of dehydration, do not delay and provide 102 degree rehydration liquid. Proceed to thin all feedings very subtly for the next 12 hours with part rehydration liquid.not a 1-time occurrence, and if not corrected properly it is recurring. After the initial onset it will return an hour, or even a day later. After signs of dehydration, check in your your chicks every few hours for the next 24 hours.