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Joining together individuals who share a common interest in breeding Carduelan species in captivity

Updated Monday, 09 June 2008

These pages are devoted to your questions and answers on bird problems.
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In October I received a letter from Peggy who lives in El Paso, Texas. She is a licensed wildlife rehabilitate who has worked for many years with wild finches. She writes:-

Our organisation and my work with birds is on a volunteer basis, although, in the spring and summer, there is no time for anything else! I know very little about captive (pet) finches, but I have been just fascinated by raising and caring for injured and ill wild finches. They are such marvellous little birds with distinct personalities and preferences. Most of the Fledglings I receive will refuse to be fed. I have over time discovered several techniques for feeding without resorting to prying open their mouths. Curiously enough, some birds that refuse to take food from me, will readily take food from my son (who is 22 yrs. old). I often paint one fingernail red and the birds will gape when they see the spot of red coming towards them. Sparrows nearly have a stroke if they see red near them. I generally keep the birds (upon receipt) in a hospital/nursery room inside my home which is equipped with incubators and intensive care units. Once the birds are feathered and feeding themselves, they are moved to an outdoor aviary so that they might begin to socialise and learn to fly. They are then released from the aviary. I usually leave the escape hatch open for several days so that they may return and leave at will. Almost all of the finches I have handled either imprint or become habituated. They become very tame, very friendly and very animated. I fall in love with everyone of them. It usually takes a week or more in the aviary before they learn to fear me again. It is sad to have to teach them to be afraid of me, but it is necessary if they are going to survive in the wild. As much as I would like to keep them, aside from the illegality of it all, they are wild creatures that deserve to be free. I always cry when I say goodbye. 

The number of species of finches indigenous to this area (El Paso, Texas) is limited, the greatest number being house finches and purple finches. I would be very happy to share any information I have with you, if any of it would be of interest. I was able to hatch four babies from eggs that were brought to me this past spring...that was an experience!

My focus has been primarily on the behaviour and diseases of finches. I have attended a number of seminars so that I might be better equipped to deal with these birds as I receive them and thus return more of them to the wild. I have placed my name and address at a couple of sites in the event that I could be of assistance to others and in the hope that I can gather some information that might help me save a bird. I would greatly appreciate any information you might have.

Thank you for contacting me. I thought your web page was very nice.


Peggy Kirk

Easy on the nail polish fellows. You should always ask before you use it.

Hand feeding young Carduelan birds

Peggy is keen to gain information regarding the raising of young abandoned chicks. From my experience, I have found that newly hatched chicks are very difficult to care for, with most not surviving after three days. Those that do, require either crop-feeding , which involves using the number 14 or 16 crop needle, or a feeding tube. The latter method is particularly beneficial to the young as it does not damage inside the crop. When the chick is four days old it can be fed by another method. This is a method that I have found particularly useful. I get a plastic sandwich bag, and fill it with the following ingredients - 2 teaspoons of hand-rearing mix (commercially available), 1 teaspoon of finely crushed sun-flower seeds, a small amount of finely chopped lettuce, 1 teaspoon of egg-and-biscuit mix., a couple of drops of cod-liver oil and enough warm water to make a smooth consistency. I then cut one corner of the plastic bag so that a small amount of food will come out when pressure is applied. This mixture should be enough to feed the young for one day. I am aware that other breeders would like to add other ingredients to this mixture,. I prefer to keep it simple. In the past I have tried to feed the young with the use of a matchstick. However, I have found the plastic bag method to be safer for the young as it does not damage the side of the mouth or the crop.

I also received a reply from Jorg Nitschky who says that he has never had a successful experience with hand-feeding young birds. He has found that the bast way to raise young birds is to put them in another nest. Canary-hybrid females, which are usually infertile, often prove to be good surrogate mothers.

You would agree that this method is the best , as it saves many sleepless nights and provides the abandoned young with appropriate care.


I have also received a letter from Bruce Dixon, from Victoria. He has raised an interesting question asking why his birds are failing to complete their nest. He has noticed that they carry nest material into the cup, but then remove it leaving the cup once again empty. In response to this, it is important to note that this is a common problem with the Carduelan species in captivity. For some unknown reason, they often fail to complete their nest. Each pair of birds should have two nest locations from which they can choose their preferred location. I always attach a cup as high as possible in the aviary and I don't use any brushes or trees. Rather I use drapes around the two nest locations, made out of shade cloth, which provide the same effect. They also provide the birds with more flying space and it is easier to keep the aviary clean. The key point is, that unless the breeder actually makes the nest, he\she could be waiting forever for the bird to achieve breeding success. The Red Siskins are especially por at nest-building (see photo album). In these photos, all nests were made by me. The occasional bird is a real master builder (see photo of the ten-day-old chicks). However this is a rare occurrence. I believe that if breeders were to make nests, we would have a lot more Carduelan Species bred in captivity.

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