Pros and Cons of Buying a Canary or Other Pet Finch

Canaries and other finches are a very different bird from a parrot. First, canaries are songbirds, and unlike parrots, their bites won’t send you running for a box of bandages. (In fact, my canary has never bitten me, ever.) Parrots are hookbills, identifiable by their hooked beaks for gasping and slicing, while finches have a wedge-shaped beak for hulling seeds.

My canary is a wonderful addition to my flock. Pip is not as demanding, she isn’t half as loud, and she is still extremely cute. She still requires my time and energy, however, and is not quite as low maintenance as these birds are often advertised. However, finches are a delight to own. My experience being mainly with canaries, you can go here to learn more about the adorable zebra finch, for instance, another popular pet.

Cons:

  1. Noise: While my canary is nowhere near as loud as our parrots, she has quite a pair of lungs, and can be very noisy all on her own when singing.
  2. Mess: Parrots may be very messy, but canaries come in at a close second. Ours is capable of flinging seed and vegetables across the room, and while she is tidier than the rest of the birds, it’s only just.
  3. Diet: To live long, healthy lives, finches require a fresh diet, light on the seed. They do NOT need grit. Finches hull their seeds (removing the outer shell). Giving them grit can actually impact them and cause death or extreme sickness.
  4. Still need toys: No living creature should be left without things to do, and while not as intelligent as a hookbill, finches are smart in their own way. For our canary, we buy things she can peel the bark off of, bells she can jingle, rope toys she can preen, and food toys she can peck at.
  5. Space, please! Canaries being territorial bird, they should always be housed singly. Other finches should be kept amongst flocks of their own kind. Every bird requires suitable space – don’t cram them into small (or round) cages. Make sure your pet can fly and generally move around comfortably. The bigger the better, so long as the bar spacing is okay.
  6. They still need your time: Canaries shouldn’t be left without your attention, just as they shouldn’t be left without things to do in their cages. These birds deserve out-of-cage time, too, and you can easily train them to enjoy coming out with you.
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    Fife Canary, Charlie.

Pros:

  1. Their small size makes them much more handleable. They don’t need a 7-foot-tall cage, like an Umbrella Cockatoo, for instance, although they should have a bigger cage than many pet shops sell off the shop floor.
  2. Canaries don’t bite (at least, mine never have), and other finches don’t generally draw blood if they do. My canary prefers not to be within my reach, but even if I have to catch her (to clip her toe nails, for instance), she will not bite.
  3. Canaries sing beautifully. Just don’t count on a quiet house! A singing canary is a happy and healthy bird.
  4. They’re beautiful, coming in many feather mutations and forms.
  5. Some can be hand-tamed, although you shouldn’t necessarily expect it. Pip isn’t really hand-tamed, and I don’t mind. I didn’t buy her expecting a pet that I could, well, pet.
  6. They’re a low-maintenance companion, at least relative to the demands of a hookbill. They may be small and inexpensive, but these wonderful creatures deserve love and compassion. Please, only buy a canary if you can give it a good life. Think how dull it must be to sit forever in a bare cage, with nothing to do but sing.
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Glostershire Canary, Pip.

Remembering Charlie.

It’s been one year since Charlie died.

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This blog is dedicated to helping improve the lives of ‘insignificant’ birds like him (and I know I haven’t been blogging lately; for that I apologise). You see, our Charlie was a very special canary. He was cheeky, clever, and friendly in his own independent way. No, he was not tame, and no, that did not matter. Thanks to him, I know now that canaries deserve far more than most websites and other sources allude to.

They deserve big cages.

They deserve good, fresh food, and shiny new toys.

They deserve your love and companionship, even when most people will assure you that they are solitary birds.

That may be common sense, true, but I don’t see it happening often enough. We know to give parrots these things, so why not our finches too?

We still miss Charlie bird every day. And I am missing the rest of my flock also – unfortunately there are no updates in that department. The other birds will still be joining me when they can, but that could yet be awhile.

In the meantime, here’s to Charlie! (The best canary ever… Except for Pip, of course.)

 

 

 

 

 

Feather Tattoos.

I have had one tattoo for years, a treble/bass heart-shape. It’s not unique or anything, but I think it’s cute (and small, meaningful, yet inoffensive and concealable) and have no regrets about stamping it permanently on my foot!

They say that tattooing is addictive, and maybe it is. I enjoy them as an art form. The act of getting one hurts, of course, and I’m not big on self-inflicted pain. Why suffer it if you can avoid it? So it did kind of surprise me last summer when I decided I wanted another. I think it’s the beauty of the thing that’s most addictive (that, and the endorphin rush after!).

And finally, around six years after my first, and months after I started thinking about a new one, I decided to get…

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Looking a little scabby.

I’m very happy with it. It’s bigger than I originally thought – nearly as big as Ptak, whose flight feather was the model! I also surprised myself by opting not to get black and white. Part of what attracted me to the idea of that particular feather was the boldness and brightness of Ptak combined.

Eventually I might like to get one of everyone’s flight feathers inked on me. I can’t go for anything extravagant or obvious, unfortunately, seeing as I’m a classical violist and performing artist, and tattoos in that industry are generally frowned upon.

On that note, I was careful about placement. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the feather is on a part of my arm that can’t be seen when I’m bowing my instrument, holding my arm at my side, or even extending my hand for a clasp. A suitable tattoo for a musician. It didn’t even hurt that badly. Took half an hour, midway through the area went numb, and I was able to enjoy watching it take shape. It’s a bit tender now, but around the tattoo, and not the actual thing itself, strangely.

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Still in its wrap, but you can see the colours a bit better.

In other news, the birds are doing great. Pip was caught for a toe-trim, joy of all joys, Mavi’s harness came in the post, and Ptak just declared, ‘You’re so pretty, bird.’ When I thanked him, he said loudly, ‘You SILLY, pretty bird.’ Little monster tried to bite my tattoo (wanted to taste it, I think). Fortunately, he missed. He did actually leave a mark, though!

Mishka has been enjoying some hemp seed as a treat. We bought an enormous bag of the stuff. Mavi is absolutely mad about it. I mean, I thought he loved pistachios. He would fly across the room for one.

But he’ll fly across the room to O. for a single teeny, tiny hemp seed.

Mind you, he knows that there is no such thing as ‘one’ hemp seed. Where the humans dispense one, there is a pocketful more to be had…

I’m starting to teach Maverick some commands like ‘Stand tall,’ and ‘Spin,’ things that are incompatible with biting and chewing. I hope this will help for harness training. He can’t bite or chew and do a spin, after all! He also loves training. It’s amazing to see his focus. He notices the treats and the clicker, and his mind is completely on training. Suddenly, he has no time for affection or scritches; it’s all about working out how to get the treat. He hates to stop!

That’s part of why training is so important. Not only does it encourage positive behaviours and stimulate a bird’s mind, it also continues outside of actual training sessions! Parrots learn to look for new, different ways to try and get treats out of you, and when they’re doing this, they’re not getting into trouble. (Note that you shouldn’t reward begging behaviours – rewards come for when you’ve cued it!)

To round up the post, here are some pictures:

Bobo is still looking for a home - click the photo to learn more about him.

Bobo is still looking for a home – click the photo to learn more about him.

Ptak lays claim to my spoon rings!

Ptak lays claim to my spoon rings!

Pip getting her toes done.

Pip has a pedicure.

Mishka helps herself to a bath as I do the dishes.

Mishka helps herself to a bath as I do the dishes.

 

Mavi enjoys a nap on my knee.

Mavi enjoys a nap on my knee.

 

Learning About my Pet Parrots.

I learn something new about the birds each week, if not each day. For instance, this past week, I’ve learnt a number of things about each:

Mishka likes to stare out the bedroom window. She’ll do it for hours on end, singing at anyone who walks past.

Maverick LOVES pistachios. He also has a Yoshi noise?!

Ptak will eat anything if I hold it in the corner of my mouth (no spit!).

Pip can manage to have a bath in her ‘anti-bathing’ water dispenser. Charlie used to do that, too.

I also think I’ve got Mavi at least partially toilet-trained.  If I give the command, well… he does. Clean clothes, yes, please! He’s also been trained to climb out of his cage on his own and go whilst standing on the top.

Oh, lord. It’s happened. I am officially yet another bird blogger who’s written about bird poop.

I’m sorry.

I’ll make up for it by telling you the tale of how Mavi fished for my parrotlet. What, you say? Yes. Ptak was in his round sleeping cage, and Mavi was on top of it whilst I got ready for bed.

Maverick has lately had a fascination with watching the other birds in their cages. I mean, he just hangs off the tops and stares in, captivated. Doesn’t do anything… just watches. Anyway, he became distracted at some point and began to chew on the round cage’s cover, which happens to be an old jumper of mine. Of course, he immediately discovered the hood’s strings. The end of one dangled down along the outside bars of Ptak’s cage as Mavi chewed it.

I have no doubt that it started as a coincidence, but Ptak, whose current favourite toy is just those strings, flew over and began to try and catch it from the safety of his cosy hut. Mavi noticed, and suddenly, he was making the string swing left and right, with Ptak trying desperately to sink his beak in. It may still have been a coincidence, but it looked intentional to me. Mavi was watching every move!

I tried to take a photo, but they both stopped as soon as I got out the phone.

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Guide to buying your first bird.

Let’s assume that you’ve done your research, contemplated the pros and cons, and decided that a bird is for you. Now all that’s left is to buy one.

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Setting up:

First, you will want to have everything set up for your new companion before he or she comes home. Make sure that you’ve bought and assembled a cage with perches and accessories. You can get a play gym or T-stand, too, although these aren’t necessary. They are useful, though.

You’ll also want a bird-safe travel cage, which will depend on the size of the bird you want. This is a must.

To choose a daytime cage, you will want to make sure it’s big enough. Common sense should be your guide – if it looks too small, it is. Bigger is nearly always better. I’m not a believer of housing a bird into a minimum sized cage, but a good rule of thumb is that a bird should be able to comfortably spread his wings without knocking into anything.  Avians of all kinds like corners, as these help them feel safe, so buying a square or rectangular cage is ideal. Longer is usually better than tall, too, as it encourages flight. Extra space so often means a happier bird.

There’s more to consider:

  • Material. Stainless steel is expensive, but will last the longest, and is safest. Although powder-coated metal is okay, it can rust or flake over time.
  • Practicality. Does it have wheels? Space? How large is the door?
  • Bar spacing. Bigger cages often have wider bar spacing – and birds can wedge their skulls through these, possibly breaking their own necks when they try and escape. It is possible to find large cages with small bar spacing.
  • Shape. Round is not a good cage shape for any bird. Square or rectangular are best, as I mentioned.
  • Construction. Don’t doubt your bird’s ability to unscrew screws and open doors. Check the way it’s put together, and the way the door closes. Also have a look for sharp edges and general sturdiness.
  • Grates. These metal grids keep birds off the bottom of the cage, where all their waste falls. Even if you’re very on top of bird chores, a grate is still a good idea.
  • Secondhand? A great way to save money, but make sure you sanitise everything and air it well, first.
  • Access. Finally, how are the food and water bowls accessible? Ones that you can get at from the outside can be a lifesaver.

You can also purchase a smaller sleeping cage that can go into a quiet, dark room. Your bird needs 12 hours of undisturbed sleep per night, so this can really be a lifesaver if the main cage is in a busy place. If you choose to use a sleeping cage, you don’t need anything more in it than perches, as your bird will only be there at night.

Where to place your new cage? The main one needs to be in the hub of activity for your home (hence having a smaller cage set aside for nighttime). Your bird depends on you for its happiness, and being near your activity helps it feel like part of the flock. But the cage should never go in the kitchen. This is one of the most dangerous places for a bird, and they should be kept from that area at (nearly) all times. Birds feel safe in corners, so try putting the cage there, so that it looks out across the room. One half of the cage can be covered by a towel or large piece of cloth.

Inside the new cage, you’ll want to put:

  • Two or three stainless steel bowls. Plastic is is porous, meaning germs can get in and be much harder to scrub away – so you can use these, but be much more diligent about cleaning.
  • Perches: A minimum of three, but more is okay depending in the size of the cage. There are many kinds to choose from – wood is preferable as a main perch, and java branches are great. There are also mineral, leather-padded, cement, plastic, and rope (manila or sisal only, never cotton). Your bird’s foot should wrap 3/4 of the way around.
  • Toys: put some in of all different kinds of material, from wood to plastic to paper. Beware, though, of bits that can be swallowed or catch toes/necks. Cosy Huts (or parrot tents) can be a comfort to baby birds, but can cause hormonal symptoms in older birds. If you choose to put one in, be aware that they can fray over time and catch unwitting necks and toes – so be diligent. Try not to clutter everything up. Your bird should still be able to stretch out comfortably.
  • Newspaper bedding. This is the safest cage liner for your bird. Use a recent issue, so long as it is made with nontoxic material, and cover the floor. It should be changed once daily.
  • UV Light. A UV bird lamp placed near the cage will help your bird build stronger, prettier feathers – and improve the likelihood that he’ll eat well and stay healthy.

Once the cage is set up, make sure you have food and treats all ready. Pellets and a boxed seed mix are a good base diet, and you’ll also be feeding lots of fruit, veg, and protein. You should go ahead and put a bottle of tap water into the fridge to de-chlorinate. Chemicals of any kind really aren’t good for your bird.

At this point, you should locate an avian vet near you and schedule your bird’s first avian-wellness exam. This is your opportunity to ask any questions you may have. The exam is particularly important if you choose to buy from a pet shop.

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Buying your new bird:

When you choose the actual source of your bird, it is important to do your research. Pet shops are not ideal sources for baby birds, as these animals aren’t necessarily going to be the happy, well-adjusted pets you imagine. They’re also much more likely to be sick. Instead, focus on finding a breeder or rescue. These latter options should be a bit cheaper, as well.

It’s important to note that an avian rescue will have many birds that aren’t ‘damaged’ or ‘problematic.’ Sometimes people give these birds up because of finance, a new addition to the family, or a death – or something else. This option is considerably less expensive than buying a new bird, and you should feel good about it, too. Rescues are clogged with birds needing a home. In them, you can find birds that are well-trained and mannerly, which, trust me, is nothing to sneeze at. Raising a baby bird and teaching it the behaviours you want is a daunting task.

But if you choose the way of a new baby bird, any breeder should be willing to answer your questions. He (or she) should let you tour the aviary and see his breeding pairs. He should have questions for you, too, such as what is your living situation like.

Questions to ask a potential breeder:

  • How are the babies raised? Incubator, parent-raised, co-raised hand-raised? There is no right answer. I personally am of the growing opinion that co-raised and parent-raised are actually superior to hand-raised. Babies raised by humans don’t fully realise they’re birds, and will select humans as mates when they grow up. Other birds won’t. Read this about it on http://www.parrots.org.
  • What is your breeding aviary like? Do you give tours? The aviaries should be clean and quiet, and a breeder should be willing to show them off.
  • When are the babies weaned? The answer should always be ‘at their own pace.’
  • Do you clip wings? The answer can vary – if yes, however, it must be after babies fledge. And no is a very good answer.
  • What species do you raise?
  • How are they socialised? Do multiple people handle the babies?

Those are just a few. You’ll also want to inquire what and how the babies are fed, whether they get toys, and if they’ll be introduced to many new foods – especially fruits and veggies. If a breeder is willing to sell you an unhatched egg or un-weaned baby birds, RUN. Only experienced breeders should take on hand-feeding babies, as it’s a very delicate process. You do not need to be personally responsible for hand-feeding your bird to have it bond to you. Just as a reference, my birds are all very strongly bonded, and I had little to nothing to do with them growing up (depending on the bird).

A breeder should never sell un-weaned babies.

The bird itself:

When choosing, a bird should be visibly energetic, vocal, not fluffed, bright-eyed, and alert. Nostrils should be clear, and there should be no discharge around the cere (nose). Feathers should be sleek and not damaged. The vent – butt area – should be clean. The bird should respond to its environment, and should be trained to step-up on command. If a breeder or pet shop staff member has to pick up the bird forcibly, it is likely not hand-tamed.

You can ask breeders to meet the un-weaned baby as it’s growing up.

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Bringing your companion home:

Be aware that, baby or not, your bird will be stressed by moving. When you get him home, put him in his cage (with fresh food, water, and treats), and let him settle. Give him time before you approach the cage, at which point you can sit by him quietly and talk to him. He should look calm – if not, back away. Let him decide. For this first little while, you can go about your daily activities as you would ordinarily, so that he can get used to the bustle of your home.

Then it’s all up to the bird. The next day (after 12 full hours of undisturbed rest), the baby may be looking to come out! Our parrotlet, Ptak, was very excited to come out, so we let him. It’s important to remember that your bird is still so young, so 30 minutes out of cage, then back in for rest and refreshment. If he doesn’t want to come out, don’t force it. Let him decide, and he’ll respect you for respecting him. Push it, and he’ll probably bite.

Let everything go at the baby’s pace.

Be sure, also, to set the standard for later. It’s important not to let him spend all day out while he’s brand-new and exciting, because when the novelty wears off a bit, he’ll demand that same quality of attention in ways you will most definitely notice. Screaming, biting and plucking!

You’ll want to begin training as soon as possible, so once he is out of his cage, practise step ups. Don’t forget to reward with praise and treats! Experiment to see what foods are your new bird’s favourites, and offer them from your own fingers. As an adult, you shouldn’t touch outside your bird’s head/neck and feet – but as a baby, you can get him used to being touched all over. This is a great time to start clicker training, as well! Ignore bites, and set boundaries now.

Never hit or punish a bird. They don’t understand it.

Bath time can come whenever your baby seems ready. Parrots both love and need to shower, and in the summer should have a bath once a day. Showering promotes preening and good feather health, and keeps birdie dust to a minimum. Frequent baths also help prevent plucking. Always let your bird decide: if he rejects a bath, let him. He can waterproof himself quite well, if he wants, but will change the angle of his feathers to get wet if he’s enjoying it.

Finally, enjoy your new bird. Bringing a pet home is a wonderful time for any family. And if your bird is a baby, just as with human children, it will rush past. Make sure to take lots of photos and savour every moment. 😉

Note: If you’re still stuck on what bird to buy, I’ve done an article here that debates the different kinds of birds for first-time owners. Hint – it’s not what you may think.

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The nevers:

I don’t feel that there are many times when the word ‘never’ is appropriate for bird owners to use. But there are some instances:

  • Never feed your new bird avocado (or guacamole), chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, apple seeds, or salt/fatty/sugary foods.
  • Use Teflon in the same household. Same for aerosol sprays and other strongly scented things.
  • Put the cage in the kitchen or toilet, or near a window or radiator.
  • Let your bird chew wires or roam unsupervised.
  • Smoke around your feathered companion.
  • Leave the toilet seat up.
  • Let your bird come into contact with your saliva or your pets’, as the bacteria is very harmful to them.

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Sources:

Bird Channel – buying a new bird.

Doctors Foster and Smith – choosing a new cage.

About.com – living with a bird.

Avian Network – perches.

Parrots Canada – choosing your bird.

Parrots.org – why parent-reared is so important.

Me – on wing clipping.

Cockatiel Cottage – healthy birds.

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Talking Parrot: A Video.

We had another glorious day of sun today, and the birds spent it basking on the couch by the window. The smallest one was particularly enamoured, as you can see in the video. Sunlight is rather flattering to his blues.

Ptak has also, just by the by, mastered Mishka’s song. It’s quite adorable, as he’ll sing along (a couple octaves up) when Mishka starts – but she doesn’t like this, so she stops.

He’ll just keep singing, and Mishka is basically left waiting for a quiet moment to jump in and sing her own song. If Ptak does relent, she will pick up at exactly the same point. It’s like a weird duet.

I find it quite amusing.

Speaking of Mishka, she has decided that she is, er, in love with Pip, and spends most of the day following her around as closely as possible. Cockatiel in love with canary? At least she knows she’s a bird, I suppose. She also adored Charlie, and would spend all day trailing in his footsteps – she was very upset when he died. Maybe it’s displacement or something? Whatever the case, Pip is terribly displeased with all this, and stares at me in horror as Mishka tries to sidle closer.

We humans were inclined to ignore the behaviour at first, but we don’t want it to progress any farther for poor Pip’s sake – she is a he, after all, and a canary at that. Mishka quickly became extremely aggressive and territorial over her perceived ‘friend.’ (The ensuing chase as we try to remove her does at least encourage our fat little canary to fly around a little more.)

Yeah… There’s a new rule in place that Pip and Mishka aren’t allowed out at the same time.

Pip approves.

Canary Singing: A Video.

Gloster Canary Pip loves to sing along to me playing viola. I’m just noodling around in the video… I’m not concentrating on what I’m playing at all, so I mess up Bach a few times, haha. The point is Pip! My canary is cute.