Finches & Their Care

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“How many Finches will fit??”
One of the most important elements of Finch care is cage size. Rather than asking “How many Finches will fit in my cage?” you should be asking “How big of a cage can I fit in my home for my Finches?” The more space you provide your birds, the better. That should be your ultimate goal – to give them more than enough space rather than fitting as many as you can into one cage. If that is your concern then you probably should downsize your flock. Here is a great size calculator from the Finch Information Center (lowest possible answer is 1).

Where To?

Basic Flight Cage
Stacked Cages
Large Aviaries
Cage Location
Lighting
Seed
Food & Water Dispensers
Toys & DIY Treats
Perches
Nests
Questions?

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aviary_photo12Basic Flight Cage – Fits 1-2 Zebra pairs
The cage you buy will depend on how many birds you have, or plan to have, your living space, and your financial situation. You must always consider the possibility of expanding – it’s almost inevitable with owning birds. Overall the individual flight cage option for husbandry is the most efficient for cost, maintenance and overall care.

It is most beneficial to keep pairs of Zebra Finches in separate flight cages. This prevents any fighting or aggression which is always inevitable when housing multiple Zebra Finch pairs together. It also is beneficial to breeders because it keeps the genetics of their flock easy to track.

The best option – basic 30x18x18 Finch flight cages that fit 1-2 pairs of Zebras now range from $60-$100+ online but cost far less from local retailers such as Barbi’s Bird House (in Bainbridge Island, Wa.). These flight cages include plenty of room for flying and general living on a permanent basis. Your birds need this room to exercise, as they will be doing a good bit of flying, and for their peace of mind.

The ASPCA recommends at least: 25 [height] x 25 [length] – but I think that’s a bit small, honestly. In my experience if a Finch stays in a 24x16x16 cage they are fine on a temporary or quarantine basis but will experience depression and anxiety in the long run. My happiest pairs rarely come out even for their free-flying time, they really enjoy being inside of their cages and don’t need any coaxing or catching to go back inside. This smaller cages also do not promote enough exercise over a large enough distance. Be careful when buying cages not to buy the more common 24x16x16 cages that can look just like the 30x18x18 ones.

Any Finch that is not very energetic and flying around enough to need the cage space is probably sick and should be seen by their vet for a checkup.

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Stacked Cages – Fits 1-2 Zebra pairs in each cage
If you are breeding birds or letting your birds actively build nests and raise clutches of eggs, there is a great chance your birds will become territorial and aggressive towards each other. If this becomes a problem, it is easily solved by using multiple stackable cages to house different pairs. (Or if you don’t want breeding at all, by removing nests.) These can house multiple pairs of Finches separately which is especially great for those species that may not necessarily get along with others. Java Finches, Owl Finches and Diamond Firetail Finches for example can be aggressive as well as territorial and would have to be kept in cages separate from other species. Here is an incredible compatibility chart from Finche Niche for more information about housing breeds together.

The easiest solution for multiple cages is to stack them. If you do decide to stack multiple cages, you need to be very aware of the drafts your pairs on the lower end of the totem pole may encounter. Natural drafts from vents, windows, the spaces under doors, etc. can lead to sick Finches.

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From my Pinterest – Click for more info

Large Aviaries
The price of large aviaries can range from the cheap cost of whatever materials you need to make one yourself to very expensive.

Indoor aviaries come in many forms. They can be in the form of large flight cages (either custom-built or store-bought) or the walk-in variety. Many people believe it is beneficial to use large aviaries for large amounts of Finches because it seems easier. If you are breeding or plan to breed your flock, this is not true! Large aviaries require lots of observation to keep track of mating.

In some cases novice breeders will become lazy and fail to stay up on their record keeping for their large flock housed together. This will result in a highly inbred (and mostly infertile) stock that they will then try to sell off. They will either offer the entire flock for sale all at once for a low “discounted” price or they will try to sell each individual bird for very cheap. In this case they will charge as low as mere dollars per bird and their flock is noticeably weaker in features and size.

Outdoor aviaries introduce additional risk factors to your birds – the most common being predators and pests. There are ways to prevent this through the use of traps, additional fencing and medication. For a list of pest cures and preventative measures visit this LGF page.

From my Pinterest – Click for more info

With aviculture becoming increasingly popular, people are inventing new ways to design aviaries all over the world. This has led to some spectacular builds! You can visit my Pinterest for a list of interesting & beautiful aviary ideas.

There are many Finch species that are compatible enough to live together in a large aviary. The hardiest ones that I feel are the easiest to introduce to each other and also work well together are: Zebra & Society Finches. Society Finches also make excellent surrogate parents and have been known to hop into another pair’s nest if they’ve abandoned their babies.

Be careful when adding to your flock, though. The more birds you take on, the more time and money that will need to go into their care.

You can read more about indoor VS outdoor aviaries in this article.

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7290956696_095ec69fdcCage Location
Never underestimate the location of your cage or aviary. It could mean death/stress or a thriving, happy flock. There are three main factors that should be handled carefully when deciding where to place your avian friends: light (your birds should have access to full-spectrum lighting throughout the entire day), sound (your birds should be separate from high-traffic areas), and temperature.

You should also consider drafts and air currents, that is why it is safest to have your cage away from vents or heaters/ac units as well as any other draft – especially from an open or closed window. In the winter time, your windows and the areas immediately surrounding them will be very cold. You will either need to make sure their cage is warm all of the time or that it is away from windows while still providing them with the full-spectrum light that they need.

Another thing to think about if you have a small studio space or if you plan to keep your Finches near your kitchen is cookware or other fumes. Teflon products create fumes when burned that are toxic to birds. Other fumes and smells will also irritate or harm your Finches since they are very sensitive to smells. In the wild, they are able to travel great distances and seek out food sources from miles away. In captivity, their sensitive senses make them subject to all kinds of things like cleaners, incense, candles, air sprays, smoke, etc. Always make sure your Finches have fresh, clean air to breathe.

For more information about how Teflon products are harmful to birds and why, here is a comprehensive article on the subject.

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Don’t ya wish you had a bird room? Photo from the wonderful eFinch

Lighting – Bringing the Outside Inside
Lighting is very important! Birds naturally live outdoors in the sun of course, so it is vital that they live next to a window or in a room where their cage lights can stay on for the day. The right amount of light enables them to see food and water sources, identify their mates, and stimulates appetite, growth, feather development, egg production and strong bones.

Simple table lamps, LED lights or regular indoor light fixtures are not enough for any bird. It’s not the light itself that they need, it’s the UV rays and Vitamin D that they get from the sun. Birds who do not get enough sunlight have less energy and are stressed more. Vitamin D and sunlight deficiencies can also cause other health problems.

There are a wide range of lighting possibilities. It really just depends on space and budget. If you are unable to purchase individual cage lights but are still looking for a light bulb that will fit in a regular overhead fixture to put in your bird room, you can use a 200-250 watt (depending on room size) CFL (compressed fluorescent light) that is clear white and not foggy, and rated at 2700 K (Kelvin) or higher. That recommendation comes from years of both indoor bird and plant keeping backgrounds.

If you’d like to use individual lighting on top of or next to cages, you will need a very low watt bulb. In comparison to a single light above that I mentioned, a near-to-the-cage light needs to be at about 235 watts less. 15 watts is the standard for cage lights and still provides birds with what they need.

The bulb itself is the most important part. Be sure to read reviews and do your research. A higher percentage in UV rays is best, but also take into account how much heat that bulb will generate and how close you intend to have it near the cage. Also be sure not to purchase a bulb that has too high of a UV rating – you don’t want to expose your bird to “direct sunlight” levels on a constant basis.

Personally, I have used a miniature cage light from FeatherBrite for $80 that has provided my flock with bright warm lights that they love to sit under in the morning as it comes on in their cages or when they fluff up underneath it for an afternoon nap. It has a 15 watt bulb and comes with a 1-year guarantee for the light bulbs and a cord extender to keep those beaks away from the electrics.

Cages and aviaries also need some kind of nightly glow – be it from bright streetlights next to an open window or from a nightlight. This is to help them find the perch again should they fall off, need to move in their sleep, or if they have a night terror/fright.

If you have any kind of lights on in your bird room do not let them free-fly, since they can be injured by the heat of the light bulbs if they were to try to touch them. Before you let your birds free-fly, make sure that all day lights are off and have had time to cool.

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Not Your Grocer’s Seed
I promise, I’m not a paid spokesperson for Lady Gouldian. BUT I should be, because I cannot shut up about Laraine’s store. It has only the most fresh ingredients, and the products that work the best.

The easiest way to test the freshness of your Finch’s seed mix is to try to sprout it. This is also called the “sprout test.” Here is a link to a detailed sprout recipe from the Finch Information Center. Sprouted seeds are especially great for breeding pairs and young Finches, but adults also benefit from the additional protein and nutrients found in sprouts.

All LG seed mixes pass the “sprout test”, and are sure to be gobbled up by any Finch – even the most picky. In the end you save money buying a seed mix that will be eaten entirely rather than one that will mostly end up on the cage floor. Those colorful bits of seeds and fruit are nice, but that’s not what a finicky Finch is after. Lady G has the perfect seed mix for sprouting as well as feeding as a daily diet that won’t end up on the cage floor at all – unless by accident and only temporarily! For non-breeding Finches, use her resting season blend.

Lady G also has vitamin supplements that I place on sprouts and soft food. My birds are healthier, and so are their young, thanks to: Breeder’s blend, calcium plus, f-Viteherb salad, & cuttle bones. Supplements from Lady Gouldian also work great and are very safe. They also come with a long list of recommendations and success stories.

For more specific food information, check out the Food – for starters & otherwise page.

The TWFA Diet
In order to keep any animal in their healthiest condition, it is vital to replicate their natural diet that they would seek in the wild. With Finches this is especially important. Very often common issues of health both mentally and physically can be corrected through improving the Finch’s diet. It is especially important for breeders who put a constant stress on their pairs by allowing them to reproduce. Every element of what I feed my flock is important to preserving their lives and the lives of their babies, and keeps them the happy and gorgeous birds I have always been blessed to keep.

(I do not feed my birds pellets and would never recommend doing so because of the health risks associated with them. Read about them in this article from the International Parrotlet Society.)

Do They Really Need All That Extra.. ??
Hobbyists have been breeding and keeping birds for hundreds of years and without a lot of the items I use or have listed here. That is great and works for them, this is what has worked for me in the best of ways. I’ve tried multiple products from independent stores, chain stores and home-made mixes recommended by other hobbyists over the years and one thing remained true.. The avian veterinarian-formulated products give the absolute best results. My birds went from lean to hardy, infertile to fertile, fertile to very fertile and my babies fledge with vibrant colors and great body builds. But don’t get me wrong! They still enjoy natural herbs, fruits, vegetables and hobbyist-home-grown remedies – but their nutrient foundation remains the same.

But don’t just take my word for it of course! Everyone should do their own research and decide what is best for their birds and life style. Here are a few articles on the subject:

All products I have listed are on hand and available for free sampling or purchase at Lady Gouldian.

Also Note: A seed-only diet is harmful to a Finch’s health and can lead to issues such as vitamin deficiencies. 

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Food & Water Dispensers
Food and water bowls empty fairly quickly, and Finches will leave feces in them as they hop and eat. It’s terrible manners, but they really could care less 🙂

Troughs and trays are really just larger versions of bowls – the higher the food is the better, as this makes the bird feel safe while eating. There really is no best solution. A silo feeder doesn’t require to be refilled every day, but if your bird likes to ‘make it rain’ as mine do they might empty the seed early in the day onto the floor just because it’s fun.

I’ve found that the vacation feeder from LG only needs to be replaced every couple of weeks and catches seed husks for easy clean up. Mixed with various small treat cups and finger trays also from LG, my flock can take what they need as they need it.

I use multiple water silos for providing birds with their daily water supply. Just one pair can empty one of those on a hot day. Small ones only hold about a couple ounces of water at a time. All silo waterers are easy to refill, and easy to clean with their own custom brushes. It also stays pretty clean, since there’s not much room for birds to step in. Just be sure to clean it at least once a day because there will still be fecal matter, seed and seed husks, or other debris from messy Finches. Water should come from a filtered source to avoid small amounts of lead that could come from old pipes or taps.

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Toys & DIY Treats – Because Boredom is Boring
It’s a common misconception that Finches don’t enjoy or play with toys like other larger birds will. They surely do! I love to watch mine play with their bells or look at themselves in their funhouse mirrors. It’s part of the joy of keeping them. They peck at bells or other dangling objects and they like to check out their reflection. Swings make for great toys that also promote exercise.

Toys are very important for the happiness of all birds at my aviary. They are affordable at less than $5 and Finches do love them. I keep one or two toys in each cage at a time, and rotate toys between cages every so often. For a complete list of TWFA-used products including some of the toys I use, visit my Pinterest.

Treats are a great way to diversify a boring diet and supply Finches with added nutrients that they need. Sprouted seed and hard-boiled egg soft foods are easy DIY treats that are especially beneficial to parents and their young for the added protein boost. There are also many recipes available for fresh fruit and vegetable “chops”, biscuits, breads, etc. that Finches may enjoy. It’s a great idea for their mental as well as physical health and really helps them perk up and get excited. You can also find recipes on my Pinterest boards.

Sad birds make sad pets. If you want to see your birds flying and fun, give them something to do and be happy about!

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Perches
True, most cages will come with their own set of perches. Finches however need a balance of unobstructed flying space and perching surfaces. They also need a diverse range of perches in different sizes.

I use beautiful as well as cheap Manzanita branches and fake flowers to supply my birds with multiple perching spots. This provides beautiful decoration and also gives them somewhere to perch – so they are never sliding down the sides trying to hang on. It also provides them with realistic branches to sit on and use to climb to higher places in their cage.

I also use natural Maple branches that have fallen from trees at a local park. I zip-tie them inside cages which keeps them secure. There are also perch attachments for natural branches that you can purchase. Here is a list from BirdSafe.com of safe and unsafe branches to provide for your birds.

It is also a good idea to include at least one manicure perch that is designed to help keep their nails trim. Long nails are detrimental to Finches because they cause their feet/toes to be stuck or caught and often result in serious injuries. Many people are uncomfortable with catching their Finches and this is a very good alternative to regular nail-clipping if it works effectively enough. I include one cement perch in all cages in a spot that they access regularly.

Fawn fledglings enjoying a fresh cage bottom (Bronson & Bella ~ Fawn OB BB x BC CFW). TWFA 2013

Finches also spend a lot of time standing on the bottoms of their cage foraging for food and nesting materials. The cage floor should support their feet and allow for the flat-footed time that they need. Grates that come in the bottoms of cages do not support their feet properly and should be removed. In any cages where you plan to have young, it’s a good idea to provide a soft layer on the cage bottom to protect young from being hurt if they are pushed or hop out.

Personally I remove all grates and place paper on the bottom of cage trays, with a thick layer of bedding or natural fibers on top of that. My Finches love to forage on their cage bottom and have a separate source for nesting materials so they don’t rip apart the flooring.

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TWFA 2013 Fawn hatchlings (Ivar & Isabelle ~ Fawn OB BB x BC CFW)

Fawn hatchlings (Ivar & Isabelle ~ Fawn OB BB x BC CFW)

Nests
Nests are not a necessity unless you’re a breeder. The addition of nests in a mixed or group aviary will usually cause territorial or dominance-driven fighting. Finches do enjoy building nests and sleeping inside of them, some even build two separately for raising offspring and sleeping (though they sleep fine on perches). They will build one given the proper materials. This does not mean they are “asking for permission” or “need” to breed, it is merely part of their natural instincts to build nests, copulate and raise young when the resources are provided and plentiful enough.

Often times overzealous novice or first-time breeders will breed their Finches too early or without the available space (or homes) for offspring. Be careful to only provide nests for your pairs if you have the space to accommodate their offspring or pre-screened homes you know will adopt them.

You will need to take the size of each nest into account if breeding babies. The larger the clutch, the larger the nest will need to be or babies will be forced to fledge sooner than is natural to them when no space is left and they are pushed out.

An unexpected nest from Bronson & Bella (Fawn OB BB x BC CFW). TWFA 2013

An unexpected nest from Bronson & Bella (Fawn OB BB x BC CFW). TWFA 2013

Removing Eggs
If your Finches lay eggs and you don’t want them to, just dispose of the eggs. It’s natural and humane to do and the birds will not mind, trust me. Hens will lay even when they are not mating/near males. They do mind if the eggs have hatched or are close to hatching though, so be sure to do nest checks daily for new eggs.

If this does not solve your laying problem then I would recommend purchasing fake eggs which can trick the hen to stop laying and trigger her to incubate them. You can also help stop their mating and laying by removing all protein-rich foods that can be breeding stimulants (such as breeding season seed mixes, sprouted seed, egg foods, insects, etc.).

253_heartFor more information about over-laying, read this article by local Avian Vet Dr. Cathy @ Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center (in Kirkland, Wa.).

Isabelle (BC CFW) sitting on her freshly-laid eggs. TWFA 2013

Nest Style
As far as what kind of nest is best, it’s really up to your birds to pick their building style and where they will need added support structure provided for them. I have tried many types of nests and have settled on letting each Finch decide by providing multiple options for them to choose from and replacing unstable nests with a sturdier structure.

Nesting boxes are the easiest to check because they hang outside of the cage. Some pairs need to be “trained” to use them however and others flat out refuse them. They provide the most support, privacy and ease of access for breeders and provide very sturdy support for developing baby legs.

Inside-hanging nests can range from Canary-style “cups” that Finches can build on (pictured in small size below, left) to Bamboo-woven Finch nests that provide a little more privacy but the same amount of medium-sized nest space (in jumbo size below, right). Both designs do not accommodate for tossed chicks however.

Big Mama & Papa (Pied Society Finch pair) feeding Zebra Finch foster hatchlings inside their Bamboo-woven Finch nest (Ivar & Isabelle ~ Fawn OB BB x BC CFW). TWFA 2013

Chick Tossing
Gouldian Finches also need additional “porches” or platforms/enclosed space in addition to their nest box to assist with chick tossing and make the likelihood of tossing far less due to the additional privacy a porch provides. You can purchase one here. You can also prevent injury if chicks are tossed by including a soft lining on the cage bottom.

Injuries from nests
Natural-woven twig Finch nests are dangerous for long nails and often times result in toe/leg injuries. They are beautiful but they are poor options that can prove to be fatal if a Finch is trapped long enough and unable to access food or water.

Finding the right nest
The best practice to introduce new nests is to provide the support type that is best for each separate builder. Some prefer boxes, others prefer Finch nests, and others still enjoy the large Canary-style. It is a trial and error process at first but after the first or second clutch you are usually able to tell what your male builder will need in regards to a nest foundation.

When you have provided the correct support type for your pair, you will notice the male will dance with materials, begin to build and the nest will appear sturdy and safe to raise offspring in once it is completed if you have done your part correctly. Parents are also less like to toss or abandon eggs or hatchlings if they are comfortable in a stable nest.

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Veterinary Care
It is always a good idea to use an avian-specific veterinarian for your Zebra Finches. It is especially important for breeders to have an Avian Vet in their pocket because breeders will run into issues at some point and need to be able to provide proper vetting for their birds.

Most good veterinary clinics have at least one Avian Veterinarian on staff. There are also very helpful websites where you can pay a small fee to have your questions answered by a knowledgeable avian vet. I have personally used Just Answer – Birds for non-emergency issues with success in the past.

I have also used Banfield @ Petsmart for as long as I’ve had animals. Their staff and products are really great and they always have a good avian vet on call. They also have monthly plans for breeders and anyone else that needs to make multiple visits each month but do not want to pay per visit. I highly recommend them.

253_heart0thumbTWFA-used & Approved Local Avian Veterinarians

Dr. Cathy @ Avian & Exotic Animal Medical Center (Kirklank, Wa.)

Local Emergency 24-hour vets: Pacific Avenue Veterinary HospitalSumner Veterinary Hospital, and The Tacoma Animal Emergency Clinic

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Questions?
If you have any additional questions about Finches & their care, email me at whitefinchbreeder@gmail.com. You can see more pictures of my personal favorite outdoor and indoor aviary ideas on my Aviary Pinterest list.

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5 Comments

  1. Delia says:

    Your my favourite reason to be on the internet. I say to you, I definitely get irked while people consider issues that they plainly don’t know about.

    However You hit the finch care nail upon the head and defined everything well, folks could take note. Will be back to read more.

    Thanks

  2. AMHeretyk says:

    Hello,

    I found your website before getting my male zebra finch when I was looking for information on healthy, balanced diet for this species. It is very inspiring. I also looked through the pictures of your various finches and I noticed that there are no Silvers (Dominant and Recessive) in your flock? I’m a beginner in this field and even though I was trying very hard to identify which mutation my bird is, I cannot be sure. I was wondering if you could help me with that if I sent you his photo? I’m guessing he’s a Dominant Silver & Lightback split.

    Also, I would like to ask if you’ve had any experiences with injured zebras. I was told that he’s had a broken wing (at the pet store where I got him). The wing in question appears to be positioned much lower than the other. Is that normal? On the top of that wing the skin is bare and of orange-yellowish color. And I don’t know if it’s a scar or worse – some kind of infection or mites’ infestation, because he keeps pecking at that wing every now and then. Unfortunately I don’t have any information regarding the circumstances in which he broke his wing or wether or not he was properly taken care of at that time. He is only 6 months old. He can fly without problems.

    Any kind of information would be very helpful and greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time,

    Agnieszka Monsen

    • Hello Agnieszka!

      Thanks so much for the kind words about my site! Feel free to send along a photo of your finch and I’ll do my best to determine the mutation. If I cannot determine it then I’ll send you to someone who can.

      I specifically don’t keep any Silvers, Pieds or Crested Zebra Finches because of the fact that they ruin lines. When I say “ruin” I mean they change the look of the offspring forever. Those offspring will look like their Silver, Pied or Crested parents or variations of such. They will never look like anything else. I also specifically don’t keep any English Zebras because the fat shape I accomplish is due to hard work, not by adding fat mutations. It’s much harder to get that shape with hard work vs breeding it in easily using English Zebras. For that reason I won’t even keep an English Zebra in the house.

      I’m sorry to hear about your bird’s injury!! If your Zebra experienced a broken wing before it’s most likely that he has not been able to heal properly or it’s become infected. Wings are not one of those limbs you can splint so it is especially hard to fix. I would suggest getting a finch-safe antibiotic treatment such as Amoxitex from LadyGouldian.com which is where I get almost all of my supplies from (also accompanying the antibiotic should be some kind of nutrient supplement for emergency situations like NV Poweder). The yellow-orange color you’re describing is definitely a symptom of infection. Their skin should be a red or pink color on a normal basis – red or darker in coloring may suggest dehydration. I would also suggest giving him some Calcium Plus which is a liquid supplement full of Calcium that can help mend the bones in his wing. If he’s itching or pecking at the wound underneath the skin I would definitely assume it’s due to an infection. Sovereign silver may help with that irritation, which is the finch equivalent to Neosporin.

      If you can seek advice from an avian vet, I would highly recommend it also. They can sometimes provide a better diagnosis as they are considered experts in most cases. Sometimes however when they are clueless experienced hobbyists/breeders may be able to provide more answers. Many avian vets will answer finch related calls via email or phone while allowing you to send photos and videos. This is because it can be detrimental to finches to move them around – especially in a car or new place.

      I hope all of that helps! Please let me know if you have any more questions or concerns and I’ll do my best to figure it out with you based on my experiences. I hope your little boy recovers fully soon!! Keep me posted!

  3. Lucille H. says:

    I did not understand your comments about cage size. First you say that the ASPCA recommends at least a 25×25, and then go on to say that a 25×16 is too small, without addressing the ASPCA recommendation of 25×25 at all.

    • Hello Lucille! Sorry to hear that you’re confused by my article on basic Zebra Finch care. At the time I wrote it I did not think the minimum ASPCA requirements were large enough for a single pair. My reason for this belief was that if I moved a settled pair from a 30x18x18 cage into a 24x16x16 cage suddenly it became anxious, depressed, generally unhappy. I found out later as you can find in reading my later website posts that if I started a pair off in a 24x16x16 cage they were perfectly happy with it. I would also note that this website is not kept current and my care guides remain unchanged/unedited since I moved to a new domain. Hope that helps!

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