Finches For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
Finches — and canaries are finches, too — have been popular for centuries, with good reason. They’re attractive, active, and fill our world with sound, including the sweet songs canaries are known for.

Well-suited to life in a cage or aviary, these canaries and other finches (shown) are perfect for people who don’t want a lot of physical interaction with their pet birds. If you keep the cage or aviary clean and make sure your pets are healthy and well fed, they’re quite content to keep you on the periphery, sharing their lives with you from afar. These small charmers can also be interesting to breed, without the time-consuming hand-feeding that parrots may require.

canaries and finches Photograph by Kim Campbell Thornton

Canaries and other finches delight with color and song but generally prefer not to be handled.


Relatively inexpensive with a couple of very hardy species in the group, finches make a good first bird, a child’s pet, or charming aviary residents for both experienced or beginner bird keepers. Best bets: society or zebra finches, which are very common and relatively inexpensive (usually starting at around $20). Although small in stature, these little birds do need comfortable housing and a stress-free existence in your home. If you provide a finch with enough enrichment in her enclosure to allow her to choose if she can be seen or not, she’ll feel great comfort and security. Sadly, stress is one of the leading contributors to some of the health problems Brian sees in finches.

Beyond society and zebra finches is a world of exotic and lovely finches, such as the multicolored Gouldians or the Fischer’s, with their long tail plumes. The more unusual finches are much more expensive than the society or zebra finches — they cost up to $250 — and they’re also more difficult to keep. Easily chilled and quickly stressed, many of the more unusual finches are best left in the hands of experienced bird lovers.

Society and zebra finches are the best bet for anyone looking to bring the zest of these little guys into their lives. They’re both easy to keep. A pair or handful of zebras or societies can comfortably keep themselves amused while you’re at work.

The finch’s life span is around 3 to 6 years for a “typical” pet, but a healthy bird from a reputable source, cared for properly, can hit the 20-year mark. Finches can thrive in almost any living situation, from studio apartment to outdoor aviary.


The Sinatras of the pet bird world, canaries have enjoyed a long run of popularity — and a fair amount of fame, too. Consider the classic Warner Brothers cartoon character, Tweety Bird, who has done plenty to promote his real-life counterparts. (We won’t quibble with the fact that Tweety doesn’t seem to sing much at all, since his uncharacteristic gift of conversational skills makes up for the deficit.)

Canaries have been bred for centuries and, as a result, come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and feather patterns. The yellow border fancy is perhaps the one who looks the most like Tweety, a clear, vibrant burst of sunshine in any room. Borders are available in other colors, too, including white, blue, and green. Canaries also come in a dramatic red-orange and a cinnamon color. Fancy feathers were the aim of other breeders, who’ve produced frilled versions with elegant feather puffs or fringes over the eyes.

Red canaries need a little human help to maintain their breathtakingly vibrant color. People who exhibit their birds add special ingredients — color foods — to their red canaries’ diets to help them become just the right hue. A more natural way to bring out the red is to feed foods high in beta-carotene, such as freshly grated carrots, chopped broccoli, or pieces of cooked sweet potato, when the bird is molting — the time when new feathers are coming in.

When it comes to what canaries are best known for — song — the green roller takes the prize. The roller is humble in appearance, perhaps, but eagerly sought out for the complexity and length of his song. (And we do mean “his,” because in canaries, the girls leave the singing to the boys.)

Canaries can start at prices not much higher than the common finches ($60 to $75 for females and $80 to $100 for males, because of their singing ability), but if you’re really looking for great singing or distinctive colors or feather patterns, you can easily shell out $300 to $400 or more in some cases. Ordinary life span for most canaries is roughly 8 to 16 years, but 20- and 30- year-olds who enjoy good care turn up fairly regularly. The canary is another fine bird for any living situation, from small apartment to outdoor aviary.

About This Article

This article can be found in the category: