Of all the birds kept as pets, none are so widely diversified as the finch. As members of the genus Poephilia, finches range across nearly every corner of the globe. They live on all the continents, ranging as far north as the Arctic in Canada. Their size varies from a couple of inches to over a foot long, when you count the tails of some exotic species. As for coloring, a quick glance in your own backyard will show you the variety of finches. From browns and blacks to brilliant blues, yellows, and oranges, finches can put a rainbow to shame.
Most of the commonly kept finches fall into one of these categories: Australian Finches, Parrot Finches, Mannikins, Waxbills, Whydahs, Warbling Finches, and Cardinals.
The group known as Australian finches contains undoubtedly, some of the most beautiful finches in the world. Lady Gouldian finches, owl finches, and star finches are some of the many members of this family. Most people think that Lady Gouldian finches are the most colorful. They come in many color combinations, with black, red or yellow, heads and even more widely colored bodies. It isn’t uncommon for these finches to sport brilliant purple or deep red plumage.
Owl finches, or Bichenos, look like miniature owls. Their mewing calls sound different from most finches. Owls make excellent additions to an aviary.
The Shaftail or Longtailed Grassfinch also hails from Australia. These long, slender finches exhibit the Australian finch trait of striking contrasts in their coloration. With a gray head, orange beak, red feet and bold black barring, these birds look striking.
Star finches come from an environment of long grass stems, upon which they perch to find small seeds on insects. These beautifully colored birds have either red or yellow beaks and heads, an olive back and a yellow chest. White dots on the bird look like a cluster of stars, giving this finch its name.
Finally, the perennially popular zebra finch also belongs in this group. Now found in many color mutations, these birds take little care and are easy to breed. Most pet shops carry the common zebra, identifiable by his orange cheeks and vivid colors. The female birds lack the orange cheeks, making it easy to pick a pair, something that is difficult in other finches.
There are many other varieties of Australian finches available. If you’re interested in them, I urge you to talk to some finch breeders to get a feel for the available species and their care.
Next come the parrot finches. Named for their coloration, which is usually a brilliant green with a red or yellow face, these birds are breathtakingly beautiful. They are also quite pricey. Still, they are worth while birds for an aviary and will provide hours of enjoyment.
The Mannikins are another large group of finches. Mostly from India, Australia, Africa and the Philippines, these birds have less flamboyant coloring than other finches. These birds have the bonus of being inexpensive, easy to care for, and great in an aviary.
Mannikins include the society, or bengalese, finch. This bird is great in an aviary and is often used as foster parents for other, more temperamental finches such as the Owls or Lady Gouldians. Societies come in many patterns, although their main colors are brown and white. These inexpensive, quiet birds make a great pair kept by themselves or intermingled in an aviary.
Bronze Winged Mannikins are native to Africa. These hardy birds have a black head and throat, white abdomen, and brown back. They measure approximately 3 1/2 inches.
Spice finches are another finch that is oftentimes available fairly inexpensively. These birds are native to Java and Bali, easy to keep and good breeders. They are also called the nutmeg finch because their coloring looks like an intermingling of spices.
Native to India, the Three-Colored Mannikin has a white breast, chestnut back and black head. These birds can be difficult to breed. They are also called the Tri-colored Mannikin.
The Cutthroat or Ribbon finch is a large, occasionally aggressive finch. The name for these birds derives from a vivid read streak on the throat of the males.
Waxbill finches mostly hail from Africa. Their beauty, in most cases, comes from a precise pattern and unusual markings, rather than bright colors. Most Waxbills are easy to obtain, but you’ll find some much sought-after breeds in this group as well.
Strawberry finches are cute little birds named for the coloration of their plumage. During breeding season, the male’s color darkens until he has a rich rust-colored head, neck and chest. The female looks drab in comparison, but out of mating season, the two birds look relatively alike.
Cordon Bleu finches have a blue chest, giving them their name. The males sport a red cheek patch. These birds are native to Africa, and may be difficult to breed.
Orange-Cheeked and Red-Eared waxbills are named for their coloration. Both birds are native to Africa. The Orange-Cheeked waxbills breeds better than his red-eared cousin; although both birds work well in an aviary.
When in mating season, Whydahs look little like finches. The Paradise Whydah grows a fourteen inch tail. When out of breeding season, these birds are three inches long and the male looks like the female. It is said that Whydahs can be finger trained and some even learn to talk. These birds will be at home in an aviary with lots of open space.
Warbling finches compose the genus Poospiza. These South American birds are larger and more aggressive than the Australian or Waxbill finches. However, their song is truly beautiful.
You might not think of cardinals when you think of finches. However, the bright thin-beaked cardinals from South America can be kept in an aviary with finches. The cardinal bridges the gap between soft and hardbills because they can and will eat almost anything. It is illegal to keep birds native to the United States in captivity, so that beautiful cardinal in your back yard will need to remain there.
There are many other varieties of finches, in fact, too many to cover here. The best thing to do if you’re interested in finches is to speak with as many breeders and hobbyists as you can. These people will show you their collections, tell you which bird they enjoy, and then you can make your decision on which finches to keep.