Basic Information Sheet: Finch


Basic Information Sheet for the Finch

Natural history

Finches are found worldwide. The zebra finch, owl finch and Gouldian finch are originally from Australia where large flocks maybe found, mainly in arid grassland areas. Owl finches are also found in woodlands and scrublands.  The Bengalese or society finch is a cross between the sharp-tailed munia and striata munia and was never found in nature.  Of family Fringillidae, only the red siskin and the yellow siskin are listed inAppendix I and Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listings respectively. Appendix I species are threatened with extinction, and commercial trade is prohibited and importation/exportation for scientific research requires special permits. Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless their trade is strictly regulated.


Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Estrildidae: 140 species

Erythrura gouldiae: Gouldian finch

Lonchura striata: Bengalese or society finch

Taeniopygia bichenovii annulosa: owl finch

Taeniopygia guttata guttata: zebra finch, the most common pet finch sold

Family: Fringillidae: ‘True finches’, more than 125 species

Carduelis cucullata: red siskin

Carduelis xanthogastra: yellow-bellied siskin

Many birds in other families are also called finches.

Physical description

  • Gouldian finch – vivid normal coloration with both accepted and “non accepted” color mutations.
  • Bengalese/Society finch – brown, tan, and white patterns.
  • Zebra finch – Black-and-white tail, red beak with color mutations common.
  • Nestlings have species-specific luminous mouth parts to attract feeding parents.

Sexual dimorphism

  • The Gouldian finch is sexually dimorphic with males much brighter than females.
  • The differences between the male and female of other species like the owl finch are extremely subtle.


Finches are granivores that feed primarily on a variety of seeds in the wild. Captive birds are often fed pellets or seed mixes supplemented with egg food and greens.Only a small amount of grit should be offered.


  • Cages housing active birds should have at least two perches.
  • Cages should be at least 14 inches long and wide for a pair, a longer cage being important for flight ability.  Owl finches should have a cage at least 2×3 feet with access to shade.
  • Perches should be 3/8 – ¾ inches.
  • Cage bar spacing should not be greater than ½ inch.


  • High stress levels in Gouldian finches.
  • Zebra finches adapt well to captivity.
  • Bengalese finches are excellent foster parents to Gouldian finches.
  • Need lots of exercise.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature 108°F 42°C
Resting heart rate (beats/min) Estimated 274
Respiration (breaths/min) 90-110
Body weight (g) Zebra finch 10-16
Mean life span (years) Zebra finch, Society Finch 4-7
Fledgling age (days) Zebra finch, Society Finch 18-22
Weaning age (days) 21-28
Puberty (months) Zebra finch, Society Finch 9-10
Mean number of Incubation days About 14
Average number of eggs laid 3-6 Limit clutches with proliferative species – Bengalese and zebra
Food intake Up to 30% of BW/day Basal metabolic rate 65% higher than non-passerines
Water intake 250-300 ml/kg BW/day Zebra finch and other desert birds are an exception,and some finches can go months without a direct water source.
Target environmental temperature Mimic natural environment.  Generally, household temperatures of 70-80°F (21-27°C) areacceptable. Gouldian finches are less able to withstand extreme temperatures when compared to society finches.
*Routine avian exam does not include takingtemperature

Anatomy and physiology

Canaries share the following Anatomic traits with other members of Order Passeriformes:

  • Very high metabolic rate.
  • 7 air sacs:the cranial thoracic air sacs are fused to the single median clavicular air sac.
  • Neopulmo and paleopulmo divisions of lungs well developed.
  • There is no communication between left and right nasal sinuses
  • An anisodactylous foot well-developed for perching:one toe (the hallux) is behind and the other three toes are in front
  • The spleen is oblong, not spherical.
  • The ceca are rudimentary or vestigial.


“Lights out/perches out”: To catch up a canary, place the cage on the examination table.Turn the lights off and catch up the bird quickly before it acclimates to the darkness. Restrain the canary’s head between the index and middle fingers.Use your thumb and little finger to gently control the body.


  • Using a 27-to 30-gauge needle and 0.5-1.0 mL syringe, draw blood from the right jugular vein.Collection of up to 1% of body weight is acceptable in the healthy patient.
  • The predominate white blood cell in passerine birds is the lymphocyte.

Preventive medicine


Intramuscular (IM) Reasonably safe, most accurate.
Inject middle of muscle mass.
Ideal location–Pectoral muscle mass
Subcutaneous (SQ) Large volumes can be injected, poor absorption. Location: Inguinal or precrural fold
Intravenous Effective, narrow safety range. Right jugular vein

Important medical conditions

  • Avian gastric yeast (M. ornithogaster)
  • Barbering (feather picking of flock members, a manifestation of overcrowding and aggression)
  • Campylobacter fetus (pale, voluminous stool; common in Estrildidae)
  • Cochlosoma (maldigestion, common in Bengalese finches)
  • Colibacillosis
  • Mycoplasmosis (conjunctivitis in free-ranging house finches, Carpodacus mexicanus)
  • Papillomavirus
  • Paramyxovirus-3 (poor condition, CNS signs especially torticollis)
  • Polyomavirus
  • Salmonellosis (granulomatous ingluvitis, European finches)
  • Sternostoma tracheacolum (air sac mites)
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Tuberculosis (red-hooded siskins may be particularly susceptible)

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Brough C. “All About Finches.” World of Exotic Pet Birds. Animal World, 2011. Web site. Available at: Accessed May 1, 2011.

Carpenter J (ed). Exotic Animal Formulary. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO; Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 278-279.

Harrison GJ, Harrison LR. Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery, Appendix 4, Philadelphia; W.B. Saunders; 1986. Pp. 583-585, 879-911.

Lafeber Company. The Finch. Lafeber Pet Birds Web site. Available at: Accessed May 16, 2011.

Mitchell M, Tully TN (eds). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2008. Pp. 251-252, 262, 276.

Morgan D. Bird Care. Neptune City, NJ: TFH Publications; 2005. Pp. 13, 14.

O’Malley B. Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. Edinburgh: Elsevier Saunders; 2005. Pp. 156-157.

Tully TN. Birds. In: Mitchell M, Tully TN (eds). Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2008. Pp. 270-271, 276.

Tully TN, Lawton MPC, Dorrestein GM. Avian Medicine. Oxford; Butterworth-Heinemann; 2000. Pp. 26-34, 43-51.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Finch. January 9, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at