Finch Breeding Basics

I have kept finches for over 30 years but seriously since 1984 when I moved to Broken Head, NSW.I am a finch breeder and that’s all I keep. I always try to improve whatever species I choose to breed because this is what I believe all true bird breeders should aspire to do. The following […]

I have kept finches for over 30 years but seriously since 1984 when I moved to Broken Head, NSW.I am a finch breeder and that’s all I keep. I always try to improve whatever species I choose to breed because this is what I believe all true bird breeders should aspire to do.

The following articles are derived from my bird breeding experiences, reflections and are wholly my opinions on what I have found works for me. Although I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience from the past with regards to breeding birds, what I write about here is what I do today.

It gives me a lot of satisfaction and is very personally rewarding when each day I can cast my eye over the collection and say to myself “That’s a nice bird; that’s a nice pair; that’s a nice lot of young birds”.

This is not going to be the way with all the birds you breed, but if you can truthfully say this to yourself often, you are on the right track to achieving what you have set out to do and to feeling this sense of satisfaction.

To achieve this you must have a basic knowledge of certain facts and principles that not only govern finches but all birds, including budgies, canaries and poultry. It appears from my experience that not all pairs or pairings produce better than themselves; it is probably less that 10%.

For example, if you breed ten Longtails from a pair, you are lucky if have one bird that stands out above the rest. You must keep this bird and to make sure this bird does not slip through the net you must:

  1. Not sell uncoloured birds; because until you have seen the bird in full colour you have not seen the bird properly. So resist as long as possible the need to dispose of the bird, either by sale or giving it away.
  2. What every bird breeder needs to have is a very good holding cage. Then you can take your young out of the breeding aviary and band the bird with an identifying ring; give them sufficient room to grow, socialize and develop mentally and physically to change from a juvenile to a beautiful, mature and most importantly fully coloured bird ready for the owner to appreciate the end result and decide what will be the future for this particular bird. One should never be in too much of a hurry.
  3. Even if you do not exhibit your birds you should have a good set of show cages. You need to study each and every bird you breed, and I repeat, do not let any bird go from your possession until you have had a good look at it. Assess each species as a group; take the time because this is where you will get to see your birds up close and to view them separately and to look for any differences or characteristics that stand out in a particular bird as against another of the same species even a sibling. You are looking for any distinguishing features that appeal to a breeder. The good birds will stand out and these are the birds that will define your future successes. It is so much easier than looking at 10 birds in a box; sticking your hand in and hopefully pulling out the bird that looked all right.
  4. If you find a bird amongst these birds that you would like to keep, then you must decide what to pair with this bird or birds. The next step in pairing is to find a suitable unrelated partner for the outstanding bird or birds.

So what next? There are several paths to follow.

Pair your best birds to best birds and keep them as unrelated as possible. It is hard to have completely unrelated birds because it is hard to track birds that may have come from your initial birds, they may have gone all the way around the country and back to you. But in their journey they may have picked up some genes along the way, so in reality they are not exactly the same.

But really, if you find you get two birds together and they breed good offsprings, then that is all you can really ask for, because even the best bred birds with an impeccable pedigree can still breed ordinary birds. I find that breeding good birds to good birds you give yourself the best chance.

When we think of genetics we try to pair birds that, as far as possible, are not related. If we think of most finches in the wild, they are a flock bird, so how do the rules apply? How do the birds know what bird is not related to them?

For example, take wild Gouldians. They breed at a particular time of the year. They leave the nest, join other juveniles and go through the socialization of the flock life, and moult into their adult plumage. They are heading towards their own breeding season to bond with a bird that they are attracted to and it is pot luck as to which bird they will pair off with. It is possible that the bigger the flock the better the choice of mating with a partly unrelated partner.

What we have to do as breeders is try to keep that flock gene pool and we can eliminate those brother-sister matings that inevitably diminish the flock’s genetic strength. You should always keep a record of your birds. Keep your gene pool intact and ensure that you do your best to pair birds as far as possible from each family.

In 1984, I bought five pairs of wild W.A. Longtails at a pet shop in Tweed Heads. These were of the last legal shipment from the west.

Since then, I have introduced five or six birds I acquired from a bird breeder in Casino, NSW in 1990, All the Longtails I have are from these birds and because I keep many single pairs and have a system of banding that tracks the family groups. Consequently, I have no problem with fertility or genetic defects, etc. I can go about my business, feeding etc and often cast my eye over the species and still say “What a nice lot of Longtails”.

You cannot do this if you just throw ten pairs of Longtails in an aviary and hope for the best. Birds will breed in a colony of same species but it is too time consuming to observe what is actually happening in the colony. What works for me, and the only way I know how to get results, is by breeding birds as single pairs of species in with other single pairs of species.