For most people, the pincushion is a small bird that is often seen in their gardens, sometimes colorful and sometimes not, sometimes with a nice song and sometimes not. To the bird watcher, finches can often be a term for non-flower family birds. But to be more specific, the finches are one of several species that look and sound very different. So who are pinnipeds and how do you breed them?
Estrildidae vs. Fringillidae
Latin names are always difficult to pronounce and remember, but due to the different local names of birds in different countries, it can often be the best way to definitively identify a bird. In the case of finches, most of the species found in poultry farming belong to two main families: Estrildidae finches and fringelids.
Fringillidae finches are often called “true finches” or Old World finches, although some of them are found in Hawaii and one family is found in the arctic fringes. They are the most common in Europe and the family name comes from the Latin name of one of its distinctive members, Fringilla coelebs. The familiar faces of this family depend on where you live, but birds such as the greenfinch, goldfinch and chickadee are members, as well as one of the most well-kept birds: the canary.
Estrildidae finches are often called New World or Exotic Finches, although again this is not an accurate name, as some are found in the Old World tropics. Most of these species are from warmer climates, however, when kept in the Northern Hemisphere, they often need heat to survive. The family includes another very common bird, the Zebra Finch, along with waxbills, firefinches and dummies or munias.
Birds choose their nest site and nest type according to an internal standard that we humans can only try to predict; this means that there is no guarantee that a bird will choose the nest box it “meant”. They generally prefer closed nest boxes, however, nest boxes made of wood or plastic with a small hole or open section in the front. Fringillidae finches will often use a nesting pan, a half cup made of plastic or mesh, and add nesting material to it.
If you are raising them in a large cage or aviary, they will often build their nests wherever they like. You can offer a number of beautiful ready-made nesting facilities and they will build a nest on a ledge or behind where the boxes are, so don’t be surprised if the nest box is empty and the chicks appear from a strange place.
In breeding cages, they have fewer options and often an outdoor nest is used so that the room inside the cage is not reduced. Nesting pans can be attached to the cage bars and sometimes fake plants are used to hide them, giving the bird the illusion of being in a tree.
The growth process
Each species of bird has its own courtship rituals, breeding preparations and specific conditions for starting the process. Some, like the Zebra finches, need somewhere to nest, some nesting materials and a mate to get started and will breed when they want to. Others wait for a specific breeding season, which will often coincide with the breeding season of the country’s wild birds, usually the hottest times of the year. Canaries are an example of this, the red and green ones.
The eggs are usually white among the strildids and shades of blue-green in the Fringillidae finches, the latter being larger like most birds. Incubation periods also vary with the number of chicks, but incubation is usually about two to three weeks. When the chicks hatch, some are completely bald and others have little hair, they remain blind for about a week and stay in the nest for three to four weeks. When they leave the nest, or hatch, they will be dependent on their parents for another week or two while they learn to feed themselves.
This is of course a simplification of the process which is not as simple as this. Birds may leave nests with eggs and chicks, other factors may interfere, or the chicks die in the eggs and the birds realize this. Chicks can contract diseases that mean they fall out of the nest or eventually die. But all that being said, there’s nothing better than looking at a nest and seeing a bunch of new life, even if there have been obstacles along the way.
In my experience, the key to breeding finches is to get them as far as possible and think about what they would need in the wild. Although most birds have never seen their native environment, their instincts are still strong. Plants, real or fake, are a big factor, providing some species with live food like mealworms. Do a lot of research before buying birds to understand what you need to feed them to make them happy; if they are not happy, they will never reproduce. And yet, things can go wrong. But when it goes right, it’s a wonderful experience and you’ll be instantly addicted.