Losing a pet is always hard whether it be a bird, dog, cat or some other beloved companion. This is true for both the owner and any other pets in the household. This is especially true for our highly social finches. It's usually best to keep finches in pairs at the very least, this every one knows. But what do you do when one dies and is survived by his or her companion finch?
I've been asked this question quite frequently over the past few years and have always given it considerable thought. After all, do finches grieve? Do they need time to mourn the loss of a companion? Just how soon is too soon to introduce a new companion and how should it be done? To that fact if the surviving finch is old is it worthwhile to get another one knowing that the surviving finch could die any day? Often the answer will vary given each individual situation.
Do they grieve?
To some extent yes I believe they do. It's partly to do with the sudden loss that follows a companion's death. It's also partly to do with the fact that finches are very social animals and the company of another finch makes any single finch feel like he/she is part of a flock.
If a single pair is kept together in a house with no other finches for years when one dies, the stress of losing that long time and sole companion is very hard for the surviving finch. Now if those two were only one of several pairs in your bird room then the stress wont be as hard on the surviving finch because there are other members of the flock to turn to. This is true even if each pair is in their own cages. Simply seeing and hearing other finches give a single finch a sense of belonging.
If that single pair was only recently acquired then the bond between them may not be as strong as it would be had they been together for years. This will also ease the stress a little for the surviving finch.
How long to mourn?
Humans mourn for a loss for a very long time in most cases. This is especially true if we were close to the person who passed on. Finches on the other hand don't dwell on the past. In fact it's to their advantage and overall survivability if they don't. On average a finch will need only 5-7 days to come to terms with the loss of a companion. This time is mostly allowed so the finch understands that the dead finch really isn't coming back.
If you don't supply your finch with a new companion at the end of that week he/she may indeed appear to still be depressed. This is normal. Not so much that he/she is still mourning the loss, rather the finch is simply lonely. In time and if you are around more often the finch may perk up and appear happier. This happens when the finch starts to view you as part of the flock. A mirror in the cage can also help the finch cope with being alone but note that some aggressive species may feel threatened by their own reflection.
How is the new bird introduced?
This will either go very smoothly; buddies at first sight. Or very badly: that new finch is invading my space! We always hope for best but finches have individual personalities just as we do and some personalities clash.
When getting a new finch it is often best to acquire one of the same sex and species as the deceased. Granted this isn't always possible.
If you can't finch the ideal companion, than look to your surviving finch for guidance. If you have a highly aggressive species of finch I suggest you get another of equal size and temperament but not the same color. If you have a docile species of finch, look for another very docile species to use as a companion.
When making the introductions you may want to house the finches in separate cages for the first few days. Allow them to see and hear each other but not touch. Once you are ready to put them in one cage it is best to re-arrange the cage set-up a bit. Remove any nests and nesting materials, move toys and possibly even perches. The idea is to make the territory that they will be sharing as neutral as possible. If it doesn't seem to belong to either of them they wont be as likely to fight over it.
Cage re-arrangement isn't always necessary but it is something to keep in mind if the initial introductions go badly.
What behavior do I look for after putting the new finch in?
99% of the time the first behavior you will see is one finch mounting the other. This isn't a sexual response; rather it is a dominance response. Basically one finch is letting the other know that he/she is in charge in this cage. If the other finch allows the mounting without any fuss they will normally calm down and relax within a day. If the mounted finch protests you will often see the next behavior, beaking.
Beaking looks like they are taking quick jabs at each other's beaks and eyes. This can result in serious injury but rarely does. Often one will back down fairly quickly and accept the dominance of the other.
The struggle for dominance may last several days. They will have moments that they appear to be getting along just fine and suddenly break out in to a fight with more beaking and often chasing and growling.
If they are going to become friends the aggression should stop within the first week or two. If the aggression should escalate to plucking or any other type of physical damage to one another you will need to separate the pair. You can try to reintroduce them again after a 2 week cool down but the chances that they will learn to get along at this point aren't favorable.
Hopefully you'll never see any of the more aggressive behaviors. What you want to see is the pair sitting together on a perch at night, preening each other and using the food and water cups together. These behaviors indicate that they have fully accepted each other and will be very happy together.
Should I even get another finch?
This is something I always leave up to you. Honestly you know your finch a lot better than I do and I can't really asses a finches overall condition or potential life span via e-mail.
If your surviving finch is 6+ years old and has taken the loss of his/her companion fairly hard then there is a good chance your surviving finch will die within 30-60 days. Of course that is only a rough estimation as it is possible your elderly finch will live another 4 years if he/she is healthy and fit. If you do get a young companion and the older finch dies 6 months later then you will once again be in need of another finch. The only positive outcome to this is that both of your finches will be young and should live many happy years together.
If your surviving finch is young, 1-3 years old, I generally recommend you get a companion. Finches at that age usually live many more years and I doubt the finch will want to be alone all that time.
If you don't wish to keep finches anymore but worry about the surviving finch being lonely I suggest you find a new home for him/her. Maybe you know someone who already has finches and would welcome another addition to the flock. Or perhaps you know someone who'd like to have pet finches for the first time. You already have the cage, food and supplies, all that is left is for the new owner to buy a companion for the finch. There are always options for you and your finches so everyone can be happy.