Finches will fight, chase, pluck and attack each other for a variety of reasons and this is true for small cages with only one pair housed or a large walk in aviary containing 10+ pairs. Before you buy your finches or build your aviary you need to stop and think about which species you plan to keep. Then figure out their requirements as far as space and diet and how well they will interact not only with members of their own species but other species as well.
Multi Species Aviary-
Keeping a colorful variety of finches in a spacious aviary is the ideal goal for most people. They are fun and relaxing to watch. The biggest mistake most people make is housing species that aren't really compatible, especially if you have nests in the aviary. Nests trigger nesting instincts and territorial instincts and this can lead to a lot of fighting.
Four very simple things you can do to help decrease aggression right from the start are
- Do not put nests in the aviary – maybe you can add them later
- Use lots of perches, and fake or real greenery to add hiding places and break up the space.
- Keep only one pair of any given species in the aviary.
- Don't house species with similar colorations – this may fool them in to thinking there are more rivals in the aviary than there actually are. For example don't house a zebra (orange cheeks) with an orange cheek waxbill (also orange cheeks).
Next work out which species you are interested in. Generally it's wise to keep species that originate from the same habitat (no your local pet store is not the habitat I'm talking about). Zebras, Owls, Gouldians, Shaft tails & Stars all come from Australia. They'll have similar dietary needs and will be more likely to co-exist well.
Let's say you want something a little more exotic in your aviary. Then try some African species. Orange Cheek Waxbills, Cordons Bleus, St. Helena Waxbills, maybe a pair of Red Headed Finches or a pair of Whydahs. Do use caution when keeping Whydahs, Weavers or some of the more exotic waxbills. They do require more space and may be aggressive towards the smaller species in your aviary.
It will also help greatly if you learn about the dietary and housing requirements of your finches and feed them properly. A finch not being fed the correct diet will be stressed and for lack of a better term, cranky. Being too hot, cold, humid or dry will also lead to less than happy finches. While they are adaptable and the environmental conditions aren't as important as the dietary conditions it is still something you need to keep in mind.
If you do plan to breed your finches in the multi-species aviary you shouldn't have too many problems providing they were all living peacefully before you put the nests in. The biggest issue you will face when they breed is territorial aggression. This doesn't only apply to the nests. It will apply to the area around the nest, perches in good look-out spots and the food bowl. Sometimes it's necessary to put in several feeding stations to keep aggression down and it will help a lot if your nests are not only well spaced but partly hidden so that the breeding pair can feel secure. Security and privacy are extremely important to the more exotic species.
Some chasing and plucking may still occur if you plan to breed. I can't always be stopped. Watch your flock closely and if necessary you may need to remove any highly aggressive species from your aviary.
Single Species Aviary-
Many people find it easier and just as much fun to keep an aviary of only one species. At least the diet and housing aspects are less complicated in this scenario. As with the multi-species aviary there are a few things you can do to cut back on possible aggression right from the start.
- Do not put nests in the aviary – add them later if you plan to breed
- Use perches and greenery to break up space and as hiding places
- Keep your flock number even as much as possible - male:female ratios aren't always important.
- Put all your birds in the new aviary at once whenever possible – tossing in one or two in to an already existing flock can lead to fighting.
Some species naturally tend to get long better in an aviary than others. Society, owls, gouldians, zebras, stars, orange cheek waxbills, nuns, java, spice, silverbills, red headed finches, cordons, and so on are generally very good species to work with. A flock of wavers, whydahs, saffrons, bullfinches, lavender waxbills, and so on will probably tear each other apart. There are always exceptions but you get the idea.
The most important thing here is to really know which species you are going to keep. Society for example can't be visually sexed. Lucky for you it rarely matters how many of either sex are in the aviary. Society will pair up or trio-up or just pile in. They tend to be very social and normally get along no matter what.
Zebras in the other hand can be a little more difficult to work with. Zebras are considered to be a fairly aggressive species. They are quite territorial and will fight violently to defend their nest and area. One trick to housings zebras is to always keep at least 3 pairs in the aviary. In fact more is better. It's a numbers game with them. Two pairs = fight / 3 pairs = less fighting. It's also wise to keep them in even pairs; a male for every female.
A single pair in a cage-
Normally keeping a pair of finches in a cage isn't much of a problem. However I've been getting a lot of questions about pairs fighting recently so I feel I need to talk about this a bit too.
When you have two finches in a cage and they are fighting, the fighting will continue until you figure out why they are fighting. Often it's necessary to separate the pair for awhile to calm things and allow any plucked feathers to re-grow.
Ok so why are they fighting?
- Nest: Did you put a nest in the cage too early? Maybe they aren't ready to breed yet, they may simply be too young and don't know how to handle it. This is a very common mistake. Often created when the pet store tells you “They need a nest to sleep in”. It's a lie, don't believe it. Yes it is cute watching them sleep in the nest but it often creates more problems than it's worth. Remove it.
- Same Sex: Are they a same sex pair? With most species this isn't a problem but when it is a problem it's a big problem. You may need to find an appropriate companion.
- Opposite Sex: Does he not like the female? Actually that can go the other way just as easily. Sometimes the answer actually is, no. They don't like each other. Not all people get along, not all finches will get along. It happens. Can you fix it? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Maybe all they need is a larger cage with a more active environment (greenery, swings, perches, etc.). Sometimes this helps. Oddly enough sometimes giving them a nest and allowing them to raise a clutch now and then will also help. Finches pair up to breed. If the mate isn't holding up his or her end of the deal (making a nest, making babies) they may view each other as unfit and want to go their separate ways. Darn cage walls get in the way every time one tries to leave.
- Diet: a poor diet will lead to unhealthy finches and can also lead to fighting problems.
- Housing & Environment: A cage that is too small, an area that is dark, drafty or otherwise uncomfortable would make anyone upset and stressed out.
- Noise: This one not many people stop to think about but noise can be an issue. Maybe you have a dog that barks a lot. Maybe you have parrots that scream all day long. It's enough noise to drive any tiny finch to aggressive outbursts.
In all 3 situations babies and breeding can and often does lead to aggression to one degree or another and it's normal. In fact, expect it and then deal with it correctly before the problem escalates out of control.
Once the babies fledge and start the weaning process the parents will often become slightly aggressive towards them. They may even pluck a few feathers and chase the little ones around. This is your cue to get the nest out of the cage before the aggression gets worse. Then wait and watch. Ideally the aggression will stabilize, but still be noticeable. Once the chicks are eating on their own and all begging has stopped for several days it's time to move the youngsters to another cage.
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