Hand feeding a finch isn't easy for anyone but it's something I really need to consider carefully myself. I am physically disabled with childhood onset Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis which has left me quite crippled. Taking care of myself is not easy, hand feeding a finch is only that much more I have to worry about.
I had tried to hand feed finches before, all were one day old, and they all died within the first 3 days. I was terrified to try again but knew this baby was going to die if I put it back in the nest again. My previous failures had taught me so much. I felt I could do this.
I used a simple shoebox, a thermometer, a wash cloth, a canary nest, a small glass of water, a heating pad, any many Kleenex for my brooder which worked surprisingly well. I had bred finches long enough at this point, and attempted to hand raise before, to make a fairly accurate guess as to what the correct brooder conditions should be.
We all know there is no hand feeding formula on the market for finches, who's crazy enough to hand feed a finch anyway. So I made my own formula. I tried several of the commercial formulas available but the little finch didn't start to really thrive until I tried Lafeber's Nutri-Start. Something is this formula works very well for finches. After a few days the baby was stronger but not gaining enough weight. I talked with a few other finch breeders on the internet and someone suggested I add a little Gerber's baby food to the mix. It shocked me but it actually worked, and the baby seemed more willing to eat it.
Weeks of endless feedings, long nights, no sleep; and constant worry of drafts, bacterial infection, and aspiration, finally paid off. The baby lived. It was about the time she started looking like a bird (feathers, eyes open, etc) that she was given the name DevNull. It's a Unix term. I had a feeling the baby was a female from the start but didn't want to end up with a male bird and a very female name so this is why DevNull was chosen. As it turned out, my hunch was right, I had a girl. :)
My family became very attached to this little finch, she would spend hours just sitting in the palm of my fathers hand as he watched TV or read the newspaper. I, in turn, enjoyed holding her while the family watched moves together. She loved to be held and gently petted until she fell asleep. Yes she was and still is a tad spoiled.
DevNull slowly matured into a lean mean flying machine. Her very first flight took place during her 5am feeding on Christmas Eve. It was a short flight to the top of the curtain. She looked so proud to have gotten all the way up there on her own and yet had absolutely no idea how to come back down. I couldn't possibly climb up after her and she needed to learn to come back on her own, so I waited and called to her for about 5 minutes. It took a great deal of consideration on her part but she finally took the jump and fluttered back down. I caught her before she fell to far; she had yet to learn to use her tail for steering.
Her flights were often very short at first but it didn't take her long to realize she could move around the house faster then we could. She practiced the corners, doorways, and dodging humans; only hitting things a few times. Mirrors were a real enigma to her. She wanted to go meet that other bird but every time she flew up to say hi it would hit her. Needles to say she now totally avoids all contact with the finch that looks like her.
The only complication to flight is landing. For a finch, where do you think is the easiest place to land on the human body; The head. We all agreed that head landings were to dangerous for her, annoying for us, and would freak any visitor to the house out so much they'd never want to come back. The only effective way to discourage this was to move when she came in for a landing. It was never hard to miss DevNull as she aimed for your head, a small finch flying at full speed straight at your face; very hard to miss. Shifting just to the left or right as she slowed down to land would force a shoulder landing. It didn't take long for her to learn we only moved if she was aiming for our heads.
Shortly after she mastered the air she finally started to wean. Hand raised finches wean very slowly. She wouldn't touch seed at first, it made sense she'd want to eat what we ate and she did. So we worked with mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, and toast; slowly working seeds into the mix now and then. It took awhile but she got the point. I have a small cup of seed and a cup of water which are always available to her in my room so she's never without some food even if she'd rather have my hamburger..
DevNulls diet to this day isn't the best but she does eat seed and whatever else I eat. While her diet may not the best she does seem to be a very healthy little finch. She always had no trouble passing eggs, she's always have healthy droppings and her feather condition has always been excellent. She's quite large for a Zebra finch, she has grown to about twice the size of a typical Australian Zebra finch.
Learning to not step on the food but eat from the side of the plate was a challenge for little DevNull, but after being pushed off the plates over and over and over again she figured it was simply easier to keep her feet on the table.
DevNull have never known a caged life. I had a hard enough time keeping her in the brooder, she was always jumping out. Putting her in a cage didn't fair much better. She couldn't get out and knew it, so she simply refused to eat or drink while caged. The cage idea was scrapped and she made herself at home on top a curtain in my bedroom. Yes it's messy but it's confined to one area for the most part.
Her boundless freedom to roam the house (minus the basement which is where the aviary is located) has led to a few sight complications. DevNull is naturally very curious about everything. She has no fear because she was raised with roam of the house, this gets her into trouble. Several of the bedrooms, the office, and bathroom were designated 'no fly zones' from the moment she took to the air. Keeping her out of these rooms was a constant struggle. Closing doors and turning off lights has proven the only effective way to keep her out but don't think for a moment that if she sees someone walk into one of these rooms she won't zip over to your shoulder and hitch a ride.
Being a Zebra finch she's quite at home searching the floor for food. It's an instinct I have tried to suppress in her but in the end I had to give up. A person can only spend so much time chasing a tiny finch around under the kitchen table. She can easily out hop me and is surprisingly quick and agile. I know it wouldn't take more than one miss step by a human and that would be the end of DevNull, so in this case we have adapted to her. Stepping in her droppings isn't a great deal of fun either. When people do visit whom aren't accustom to watching out for a finch she is locked away into a bedroom.
After all the feedings, the learning, and the teaching you are probably wondering what it's like to have a finch for a pet. I can not adequately express the pure joy I have felt watching DevNull develop from a helpless baby to the spunky little lady she is today. She is very independent but still looks to me for guidance and affection.
She isn't, however, in perfect physical condition. DevNull is slightly splay-legged. Meaning her legs aren't directly under her when she stands. This makes walking across a flat slick surface very hard for her. Her leg problem developed very early on because I had her in too large and flat of a nest. I didn't know at the time how important it is to keep the babies body supported at all times. It also didn't help that she quickly became mobile and would jump out of her nest every time I turned my back on her.
DevNull can be moody, especially if she's laying eggs, but the majority of the time she only wants to be with someone. DevNull will spend days on end simply following me around the house; Pecking at the paper as I read, trying to chew the remote control buttons while we watch TV, Watch me as I work at the computer and occasionally pick a fight with the computer mouse. She's often quite clingy which can interfere with my work, and she enjoys beeping very loudly into the phone which isn't very helpful either. When DevNull is feeling extremely lazy but still wants to be with me all day she'll cling to my hand with surprising force, I then end up carrying her around all day in the palm of my hand as I move from room to room and chore to chore.
She also has base instincts and cycles which are normal for zebra finch, and she can not ignore them. When she's getting ready to lay eggs she'll spend several days collecting lint and other fibers from the carpet to build a nest. She has no nest building skills, but she does try. After her eggs are laid she'll return to her more sociable phase.
Like all finches DevNull naps several times during the day. Usually on my lap or in my hand. If I put her aside and move into another room, she'll wake up, fly to me, give a loud beep of discontent and snuggle back in for the rest of her nap. There is so escaping this finch.
Whenever I leave the house I confine her to one room until I return. Once free again she'll race me out to the kitchen just incase I've brought home food. Eating is one of DevNull favorite pastimes. Sleeping and head rubs are her other favorites.
Being that I work nights I like to sleep in until late morning, most days this isn't a problem unless DevNull wants something. I've woken up many mornings only to see a finch face staring at me from a distance of mere inches. That has taken some getting used to. If that fails to get me up, and frequently I'll simply shoo her away and go back to sleep, she'll attack. I admit there isn't much a finch can really do to hurt a human but she does have a sharp beak and will peck at a finger, which ever is closest, until I am forced to deal with her.
She does have a will of her own and she does express it. When she wants to be held and cuddled she'll come looking for that type of attention. When she wants to get in the way and be a pest nothing will stop her from doing so. If I want to hold her and she's in the mood to be playful I can run all over the house after her and she'll happily stay one step a head of me. For her it's a game. When she is hungry, there is no getting between her and food. She can be quite tenacious for a finch.
Whom ever suggested finches aren't smart or don't have much personality should meet DevNull. Not only has she adapted to live in my world and learned most of the rules, she's also learned basic communication. Finches use body language all the time to talk to one another, most movement are quite subtle and quick. This being the case DevNull has changed her body language enough so even we humans can understand. She over exaggerates movement, and will stare with one eye than the other until we figure out what she's looking at. She can express excitement by hopping in one spot and twisting around with each jump. She'll gesture for food, water, and even when she wants her head rubbed. If you have parrots you know most will put their head down when they wish to be rubbed, finches turn their head away from you, cock it slightly and puff all the head feathers out.
DevNull has different toned beeps to express anger and content, as well as a warning call as she flies around corners and doorways. She makes a strange cooing sound if she's doing something she knows isn't allowed, and a 'I need help' call if she's confused or stuck. Our communication isn't always perfect, but for the every day needs it works well.
Verbalizing isn't the only method she has of expressing herself. Granted facial expressions aren't possible to much of a degree but the eyes speak volumes. Every time I move her away from something she shouldn't be getting into she'll give me a look of pure discontent, and she can hold a grudge. I've also seen excitment and happiness in her eyes, usually at the sight of food.
When she's flirting with a male finch she'll use the typical finch dance and tail fan which drives the boys wild. I think she enjoys watching them plaster themselves to the side of the cage while trying to reach her. She can be quite a tease. I did offer her a male to mate with once but as soon as she could have him she didn't want him.
Over all DevNull is extremely personable, loveable, and even somewhat annoying a times.
Now before you even think about grabbing your baby finches from the nest to raise into delightful little pets, let me tell you why it's not a good idea. DevNull requires constant attention and love to keep her tame. She needs to be held and petted every day. Family vacations are only possible when I can find someone to not only take care of all my birds but who is willing to spend a little time with DevNull, and only after she's had time to become accustomed to that person and accept them as friends.
Finches eat and poop all the time. In every room DevNull is allowed to visit she has picked a favorite spot to sit, that area is always in need of cleaning. When guests visit the house she'll often give them the same little messes she gives us. I even have a few friends whom are allergic to or afraid of birds and when they visit DevNull is confined to one room of the house until that person leaves.
Many have asked if DevNull does any tricks. Unless you count pecking endlessly at the TV remote control, I'd say no. All attempts to teach her cute tricks have failed. If the behavior isn't somewhat part of the normal finch behaviorism they will not learn it.
She was also the first chick I successfully hand raised, three others before her all died in the attempt. I never once pulled a chick from it's nest to try and raise one into a pet, all my attempts were made with tossed or injured chicks. Even if you do become very good and hand raising finches, what will you do with the flock, sell them? Many of the tame finches I have had experience with don't handle change well. Where they grow up is where they should stay, selling or moving these finches around can have damaging effects on their minds and health.
I hope you have enjoyed DevNulls story and that you have learned something about the joys and sorrows of hand raising a finch. Always think twice before hand raising a finch, and watch where you step. :)
Article © Myra Markley 2002
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