goldfinsh and canaries

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Keeping and Raising European Goldfinches

The famous bird of European antiquity is the European Goldfinch. It can be seen in paintings in most major museums in Europe and the world. It's lovely cheerfulness, perky charm, and delight to both the eye and the ear was perhaps replaced by the canary only because the canary is a more cooperative bird to raise in captivity. That does not mean that the goldfinch is delicate in any way. There are a few special feeding requirements which can be easily satisfied, and breeding them is a bit more challenging. The canary is an easier breeder. The goldfinch remains popular in Europe, but doesn't seem to be well understood in America, probably because the canary won over here in America.

There are several lovely advantages that the goldfinch has over the canary, however, and I would love to see the bird revived. Their song is a delight. It may be less sensuous than the canary, but it is always different and never repetitious to the careful listener. I know no bird that sounds as cheerful and happy. I could do without my canaries, but I could not do without my goldfinches! Trying to describe bird song seems futile, but it's faster and more varied in every way.

They can be kept in a canary cage, but they need a larger cage or aviary for breeding. As they are so perky, they are more fun to watch in a larger cage. They may sing more in a canary cage, however. They can be seen hanging to the sides, tops, any place in the cage, which doesn't mean that they want to get out. They are use to hanging upside down and every which way on their favorite plants, the teasel and thistle. They are a lot more acrobatic than canaries.

Their color may be less gaudy than the canary in some peoples eyes, but the red, white, and black face, black & white wings and tail, with the splashes of gold, (orange, if you color feed them) rich brown back and buff brown belly makes them no slouches to look at. The better I know them, the more I love the way they look.

If you see a goldfinch in a store that looks like it's on the way out, you can revive it. They will not last long on either a canary or a finch diet, but have special diet requirements. Pet store owners usually do not know this.  You should consider whether you want to go through a bit of extra work, but it's easy enough to do, and very well worth it.

The first thing to do is find a seed mixture that has a lot of niger. I think buying wild bird thistle from a Jewel store is adequate, but I was told that it's a lower quality. An excellent mixture is Kellogs song food, and it can be bought in the bulk size right for you. Check with your pet store. The next major seed is sunflower hearts. Many pet stores don't seem to carry them, but perhaps you can special order it. I buy mine at a food store. I've seen it with wild bird seeds in nursery stores, farmer type stores. If you have trouble, I'd use the yellow pages. Once you find it, your in business, though! I'm sure this is enough seed variety, but if you can, you can add hulled oats, hemp, teasel (it grows wild around Chicago), weed seeds of many kinds, spray millet, etc. However, as I said, canary or finch seed alone is not sufficient. I can't get mine to touch canary seed, although many books recommend it.

Goldfinches need a lot of greens, every day. Canaries can survive without them, but not goldfinches. Standard greens like broccoli or bok choy work, but during the summer it seems like they can't get enough dandelions, and you can pick all you want off your neighbors’ lawn. They also eat some spruce or pine. They love spring tree buds, especially elm and willow. They are a bit messy, but the birds love them. The dandelions are the easiest in summer.

Goldfinches also like a lot of egg food. I'm sure that commercial egg food is fine, but if you have time, you can save pennies by making your own, and it may be more healthy. I boil eggs for at least 15 minutes, shred with their shells, which supply calcium, and mix in about 1/3 Kellogs petamine, so that it will dry out before it sours. I put this in those tiny treat cups every day. I also mix in a bit of nikon vitamins here.

If you follow these directions, your goldfinch will revive and be silken and beautiful in one season. Breeding them is a greater challenge, however, it's so rewarding, if you try it for fun. I really am in favor of keeping a captive population, so I very much recommend you try it, perhaps after you've given them a year to acclimatize. If you get captive bred birds, you won't have to wait.

To begin with, you would need a male and a female! If you have a pair, it is easy to tell which is which, as the female has a little less of everything. -just a little, however. Unlike the canary, she does sing a bit even, but not as fully as the male. If you're buying a pair, it's more challenging, as it's a matter of degree. There is an area of the extended wing which is supposed to be a full proof way of sewing them. Brownish on the female, black on the male.

They need a fairly large cage to breed, and books usually recommend an aviary. I use cages, however, which are two feet long and one and one half foot deep. The larger, the better. I keep the pair together all year, and they are really fun to watch in that size cage.

Goldfinches are late breeders, and I recommend that sometime in March you add artificial light and extend the day gradually until 8:00 pm. (9:00 dst). That will extend the breeding season.

The nest is a canary basket, the smallest size. Sew in two nest liners, being careful not to leave thread inside the basket. They have a way of twizzling their feet into everything. I've lost several females that way. You can put it in when you notice the black on the tips of their beaks disappear, when you notice the female carrying things around, or when you feel like it. As much as they like hair, even dog hair, I will never use it, because they twist it around their feet. As I said, I've lost several females that way. I find the best nesting material to be burlap, cut into four inch squares and pulled apart. Some Burlap sacks have nylon strands in them which I toss out. They might also use coco fibers, although I think they would be happy with just burlap and toilet tissue, torn up very small. I haven't seen them use bermuda grass, feathers, or sphagnum moss, although I've been told that they may. I've just heard of corn husks, but don't have any this year.

The female does all the egg work, you do none. I don't candle eggs, or handle them at all. I think it's all up to her. I also don't remove eggs. She just gets peace & quiet. About this time I add 8 in 1 nesting food into the egg mixture, with the Kellogs Petamine (about 50/50). I also give them wax worms, and give them all they want when the babies hatch. I don't know that this is necessary, but I fuss over them! Watch the male at this time, as I have had aggressive males toss out baby birds, I think in frustration. The female can handle everything by herself, and you can take him out as soon as she's finished laying eggs, if you wish.

The babies are so exciting, but I don't disturb them at all, and, once again let the female do all the work. I know someone who has had fed babies, but I can't imagine it! All I do is trust the great cosmos, but I do remove the male if he is the slightest bit disturbing. This year I may just move them out and be safe. Of course if you have more than one pair, don't get them mixed up!

If they jump out of the nest when they're only half grown, you can leave them out. Mama will take care of them. Just watch that they don't get snagged on something. They're tougher than they look at that stage, although it's nerve wrecking to go though.

I put the male back when they start becoming self sufficient and start looking like birds. They will be solid gray, and are called gray pates at this stage. By the way, you don't say flock of goldfinches, you say, chorus of goldfinches. I guess when to remove them, but when the female starts becoming interested in the nest again, I try to balance that out, so far with good luck.

There are a number of things which can go wrong, and if they do, I just start over again next time. Thinking of the reward when I succeed. Best of luck, please feel free to email me with any questions or comments of any kind. I welcome it.

The work may be more than with some other finches, but look at what you get!


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  2. Hi is it possible to train a canary to sing like goldfinch ?

  3. I have one question, i have a couple and now 10 days sitted on the nest, the man use not to give food to the mother instead ignoring if she is calling him for food, so the mother goes herself and feed herself regularly. yesterday the man has an accident and broke her legs, so i took him out from the big garden cage and he snap from my hand and flew away... did the mother can handle the eggs until it will be hatch and feed the babies? i have bought 3 of the nursingmother that is mix of goldefinch and canaries...