Feeding - Finches
In nature, finches eat a diet that mostly comprises seeds. This has led some keepers to believe that finches can thrive on just seeds, but such a limited diet is no more healthy for a finch than an all-cheese diet would be for a person. The truth is that while finches eat a lot of seeds in the wild, they also eat a wide variety of other foods, including leaves, fruits, shoots, flowers, insects, spiders, worms, and other invertebrates. For the happiest, healthiest finch, you will need to provide him with a varied diet comprising seeds, pellets, fruits, vegetables, and possibly insects.
There are many types of seeds from which to choose. It is easiest to buy a premixed variety of seeds, although some owners make their own mixes. This actually helps reduce waste because you can tailor the mix somewhat to your finch's taste. Additionally, making your own mix allows you to customize it for maximum nutrition. If you are buying a premixed bag of seeds, purchase only those designed for finches—other types of birdseed are often too big for these birds.
Make sure that the seed is fresh. It should not have rodent droppings, webs (these are created by moth larvae), or bugs (the bugs are not dangerous—your finch may even enjoy eating them—but their presence indicates that the seeds are likely stale) in it. Smell it and reject seed that smells rancid. A good freshness test is to loosely fold a spoonful of seeds in a damp paper towel; most of them should sprout in a couple days. If they don't, the seeds are dead and stale, and you must find another source.
A special type of seed that finches love is millet spray. This is millet seed still on the stalk. Finches really love pulling the seeds off the stalk and eating them. Offer your bird millet spray regularly.
Pellets are a prepared diet mixed from many different ingredients. Theoretically, they provide complete nutrition, but most avian veterinarians agree that pellets are not nutritionally complete, although they do make a valuable addition to the overall diet.
There is a wide range of pellets on the market. Ask your local avian veterinarian, bird breeder, avian society, or zoo for their recommendations. Read the ingredients, and avoid those that have lots of preservatives or that seem to have fewer nutritious ingredients than other brands.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide an extensive array of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, they are low in fats. Finches love brightly colored fruits and vegetables, as well as leafy greens. Always wash all the produce you feed your bird thoroughly; buy organic fruits and veggies whenever possible. Although iceberg lettuce is fine to feed as a treat, it is low in nutrients, so it shouldn't be a staple item in your bird's diet. Other, healthier choices include:
- bell peppers
- butternut and other winter squashes
- collard greens
- corn on the cob
- dandelion greens
- mustard greens
- sweet potatoes
Basically, any item in the produce department is fine for your finch. The one exception is avocados, which are toxic to birds. Feed fresh vegetables whenever possible. Frozen veggies are okay in a pinch.
Chop or grate any large or hard fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and squashes, into small pieces that your finch can consume easily. You can chop or leave leafy greens whole—your bird will snip off pieces easily with his beak.
Several species of finches (including waxbills, owl finches, and Lady Gouldian finches) require live foods when breeding. Most other finches will enjoy this nutritious addition to their diets. While there are numerous options when it comes to feeding insects to finches, two of the easiest are mealworms and wax worms, both of which are available at most pet stores. Crickets, silkworms, and white worms are just a few of the other types you may wish to investigate more fully.
Larval beetles that live in grain, mealworms are a good food for finches but can be tough for young finches to digest.
They are usually sold refrigerated in small cups. When you purchase them, place them in a larger container half filled with oatmeal or wheat bran. This will provide the mealworms with food. Place a slice of potato or sweet potato on top for moisture. Feed them to your finch in a shallow dish that is deep enough to prevent the worms from escaping. Note that some may become beetles before you feed them to your finch. Some finches will eat the beetles; you can also keep the adults around to produce more mealworms for you.
Wax worms are the larvae of a species of moth; they can be a serious pest in beehives. These soft, fatty caterpillars are easier for finches to digest than mealworms, although they may not be as nutritious. Feed out wax worms to your finch the same as mealworms. Wax worms have a specialized diet, so feed them to your finch within a few days or the worms will starve.
Feeding Your Finch
Now that you know all about the components of a finch's diet, put that information together into a meal plan. No matter what species of finch you have, feed him a wide variety of foods. This will help ensure proper nutrition and keep him from becoming bored.
Provide your finch a variety of fresh seeds, leafy green vegetables, chopped orange vegetables, some fresh fruits, and a calcium supplement (usually in the form of a cuttlebone or mineral block, but eggshells—boiled to kill bacteria—are another good source of this mineral) every day. If you are including pellets in the diet, provide them daily as well. Remove fresh foods after an hour or so to prevent them from spoiling. Your finch should always have access to clean, fresh water.
Finches tend to eat only the top layer of seeds from a bowl, leaving the hulls behind. Be aware of this because they have starved to death with bowls full of food in their cages. Even if the bowl of seeds looks full, clean the old seed hulls out of the bowl every day so that your finch can see the edible seeds underneath.