GETTING STARTED WITH FINCHES
The first thing a new finch enthusiast should do is to find a suitable location in the home for a birdcage. Only after this has been determined should the budding bird hobbyist go out and actually buy the cage and set it up according to the directions provided in this book. Feed and sand should also be purchased when the cage is purchased so that all necessary ingredients are on hand. Grass finches have always been popular as cage birds, particularly for the beginner who lacks experience, since there are a number of suitable species available to him. Of course there are also those that are rather difficult to keep. Only experienced bird hobbyists should attempt to keep the more difficult species; they provide the opportunity to make interesting and useful observations, but they demand specialized care.
Beginners should start out with easy-to-keep species. Sufficient knowledge and experience can be gained without having to spend too much time on them. This also determines whether the newly gained enthusiasm for birds is really a sustaining, lasting interest. Only then should the beginning bird fancier increase his collection of birds, and so any bird hobbyist who has served such an 'apprenticeship' of one to two years, will then be able to handle the more difficult species later on. There is a difference between acclimated and newly imported birds. Birds that have been in captivity for some time and have already adjusted to commercially available seeds and to local conditions are considered as being acclimated.
This category includes, of course, birds that have been bred in captivity. Ideally, the beginner should try to obtain only acclimated birds. Although they are almost always more expensive than newly imported birds, they are easier to keep. Pet shops often have acclimated birds available, many times birds purchased from local breeders. Birds bred in captivity are especially recommended for beginners because all relevant information in regard to age, feed and maintenance are available from the dealer. Such birds can be recognized by their neat and clean plumage; newly imported birds often present a rather scruffy appearance.
Since Australia prohibits the export, on a commercial basis, of live birds, most of the Australian cage birds are now bred in Europe and North America. Some groups are breeding Gouldian finches as well as red-headed parrot finches and many other Australian birds on a commercial scale by using Bengalese or society finches as 'foster parents.' These birds are heavily inbred, which of course has substantially weakened the breeding birds as well as their offspring. Therefore, one has to be cautious. Other grass finches are imported in large numbers from Africa and Southeast Asia; however, these do not belong within the framework of this book. Once again it must be pointed out that due to the rapid air transport and good flight connections, most imported birds arrive in a far better condition than in the early days of ship transport.
Nevertheless, even today one has to expect certain losses. The bird fancier, therefore, is best advised to buy his birds only from those dealers who keep their birds in clean and spacious cages, where the birds can be active and thus give a good indication of their condition. The best indicators for healthy birds are a full, firm chest, active movements and obvious pleasure in taking baths. Newly acquired birds, regardless of whether they have been already acclimated or have been recently imported, should be kept separate from other birds in a special quarantine cage. It is only too easy to transmit diseases from newly arrived birds to established stock. A box cage placed in a warm, draft-free place where it can get sufficient light is ideal as a quarantine facility. Initially, such a cage should be kept in an elevated position, preferably even in a separate room. This makes the newly arrived birds feel secure and guarantees that other birds will not disturb them. All new arrivals should be kept isolated for a month before they are placed together with other birds. All newly imported birds should at first be kept fairly warm (at about 25 °C) before they are gradually, over a period of two weeks or so, acclimated to room temperature. Since grass and parrot finches come from largely tropical countries, temperatures should not be allowed to fall below 18 °C. Newspapers should be placed on the bottom tray of the cage; by removing one sheet daily one can monitor the digestive process of the birds. Solid droppings indicate proper digestion; yellowish and watery feces are usually signs of some gastro-intestinal problem.
Newly imported birds usually have not been getting sand (grit) and minerals. If both of these are suddenly offered in unlimited quantities, the birds have a tendency to overfeed, which then often leads to digestive difficulties. Instead, they have to be started out on these items in small quantities so that their digestive system becomes adjusted gradually. Sand and minerals are given in shallow containers (saucer, etc.), initially placed in the cage for a period of only about half an hour and then slowly increased. After a few weeks, sand and minerals can then be offered in unlimited quantities. Acclimated birds that have no digestion problems can be given sand and minerals immediately. If gastro-intestinal problems appear to be present, however, the sand and minerals must not be offered. Instead, pulverized charcoal should be given. Drinking and bathing water should always be accessible to grass and parrot finches. Newly imported birds should be offered only pre-boiled water during the first few weeks; the water can be gradually mixed with unboiled dechlorihated water in subsequent weeks. Tap water should always be left standing in a covered container for several hours before it is given to the birds. At the time of purchase, the dealer should be asked as to what food the birds have been feeding on (whether it was vegetable food, sprouting seeds, insects or mixed diets) and how the birds can be changed over to other types of food and feeding methods. There is one golden rule in animal keeping which must be adhered to at all times; newly acquired animals must always be changed over gradually to different conditions and different foods.
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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.