Finch Food

Seed is a central element of all finches’ diets, and the most important element for many. Dried and sprouting seeds should, between them, represent at least 50% of the diet for the majority of species kept as pets. A good seed mix is therefore essential. But seed alone does not provide a balanced diet, even taking into consideration the fortified mixes available from pet suppliers. To maintain good health and keep your birds interested in their food, you should provide a mixture of dry seed, sprouting seed, shoots, fresh fruit and veg, and a little animal protein.


bird seed
A good seed mix is a central part of any finch's diet

If the species of finch you are keeping requires anything different to the 'average' finch, your supplier will let you know. Always ask food questions, regardless of which bird you are buying. You can also find more information in Finch Breeds guide on the Omlet website.

Feeding Finches

The range of food choices in the following paragraphs may make finch-feeding sound complicated, but it isn’t really. The basics are very simple: finches get 50% of their dietary requirements from a well-balanced seed mix, including some sprouting seeds, and another 50% from fresh food, with added protein-rich supplements as and when required. That’s all you really need to remember, and as long as your seed is well sourced and your food is fresh, organic, and devoid of the items listed in the Unsuitable Food section below, you’ll do just fine. Variety amongst the fresh foods will prevent your birds from becoming fussy, and will make their lives interesting as they explore, or look forward to, different foods.

In addition to food, pet finches also need a constant water supply. This can be provided in bowls or purpose-made drinkers that clip to the side of cages. The water should be changed every day.

Canary drinking water
All cage birds need a supply of fresh water

How Much Should I Feed My Birds?

There’s no magic “one bird = 10g seed per day” equation here. However, on average a bird eats between a quarter and half its body weight every day. The key is balance – half the body weight in fatty millet seeds will lead to obesity and an early death!

There is also variation, even in birds of the same species. Some will get half their daily rations of food from fresh greens and vegetables, while others will prefer to fill up on dry seed. The guidelines in this section of this guide give you the recommended balance of fresh to dried foods, but as bird owners we also have to use our judgement, based on the birds’ appearance.

If your birds look fat, you need to change their diet. Cut down on the fatty seeds (such as millet) and sugary fruits. Underfeeding is harder to spot, initially, but there are early clues. A bird scrabbling in a tray of seed husks or rooting through the litter on the bottom of the cage or aviary is looking for more food. When you get the balance right, there will be some seed left in the trays after the birds have fed. If all the fresh stuff disappears quickly, start feeding a little more.

Aviary mix
Aviary Mix - a mix of birds, a mix of foods!

In mixed aviaries this is a lot trickier, as you can never be sure who is eating what. It pays to spend a lot of time watching your flock as they eat. You’ll soon see who the greedy, fussy, omnivorous, domineering and bullied ones are.

Aviary mixes can be expensive, but there are ways of saving a little money without reducing the quality of the food you offer. Buy in bulk – the seed will all be used eventually, and a 50kg bag always works out much cheaper gram for gram than a 5kg bag.

Canary and Finch Pellets

Bird pellets are not as popular now as they were a few decades ago, although many breeders (particularly in the US) still use them as the basis of their bird feed. The high-quality ones provide complete nutrition for finches, but unless your birds have been reared on them, they won’t find them as interesting as a standard seed mix, and it’s very hard to wean a finch from seed to pellet.

Another word of warning: some branded pellets have preservatives and/or colouring added, and that’s a chemical addition your finches can do without. It’s best to assume that pellets are not essential, as long as you feed your birds a varied diet, and if you never buy them you won’t be doing the finches any harm, and they certainly won’t miss them.

If you do opt for pellets, they will cover 75% of the finches’ dietary requirements.

Mineral supplements

Your finches should always have a cuttlefish bone in their cage for extra calcium. These are generally sold with a clip for attaching the ‘bone’ to the side of the cage.


Cuttlebone
Cuttlefish bone is a good source of calcium

A mineral block is recommended too. These are marketed for budgies and larger parrots, but finches benefit from the vitamin and mineral top-up. The birds will take as much as they need, which eliminates the need for the dosage calculations necessary when adding a supplement to the birds’ water (which is yet another option). Some breeders feed ground-up chicken eggshells instead of shop-bought mineral supplements. These should be thoroughly cleaned by boiling, to kill bacteria.

Canary Food During Moulting

During the annual moult, a Canary will benefit from extra fatty seeds. Seed mixes will include a proportion of these, but you can offer an extra half-teaspoon in the bird’s mix every second day during moulting. Suitable fatty seeds include millet, flax, niger or hemp (see full list in the Finch Seed Mixes section, below). These will ensure that the new feathers are strong, healthy and shiny.

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