As a rule of thumb, seed should make up 50% of your finches' food (the remaining 50% being fresh food of various sorts). This should be a mixture of grass, herb, oily and sprouting seeds.
Different species of finch prefer slightly different seed mixes. You should buy according to the birds you’re keeping. The trick is twofold – to ensure that you are covering everyone’s nutritional needs, and to make sure there is minimal waste. A Java sparrow, for example, will leave all the small seeds from a standard finch mix in his food tray and opt for the tougher-husked stuff such as oat grains. These large-beaked finches do well on a Budgerigar seed mix, with its chunkier makeup.
Premixed seeds are readily available, and if you only keep one species of bird (a Canary or a pair of Zebra finches, for example), this is by far the easiest way of catering for the basics of their diet. You may, however, wish to prepare your own seed mixes. This lets you fine-tune the food to minimise wastage; but you must always make sure you are covering all the nutritional ground.
A suitable seed mix for a Canary
If you opt to buy premixed seed, it will need to be developed specifically for finches. Parrot or wild bird food is not a good substitute, and Java sparrows are one of the few pet finches that will thrive on a Budgie seed mix. Cheap bags of seed need to be treated with caution too – they may not contain a good range of seeds, and the contents may be old, which means essential vitamins will have disappeared. Sourcing fresh seed is vital, even when the seed in question is dry. If in doubt, question your supplier about the product; and if they seem uncertain, choose a different outlet.
You can test the seed at home, too. Sprinkle a little onto soaked tissue paper in a dish, and after three days it should have sprouted (as long as you keep the paper wet all the time). Anything that doesn’t sprout is nutritionally ‘dead’.
Seed will need to be replenished regularly. If you fill a deep seed tray, the finches will only eat the top layer, unaware of the extra centimetres of seed beneath. Blow away the husks and top up as required.
Seed Mix Recipe
You can make a well-balanced dry seed mix by combining the following ingredients:
Canary seed - Many commercial seed mixes for pet finches are 50% Canary seed. The seed was named after the bird. This is an essential base for your mix and can, indeed, make up half the bulk.
Other grains and grass seeds - These should form 25% of the mix. You don’t need to feed a great variety of these seeds, just two or three from the following:
- Sweetcorn kernels
These are all members of the grass family, and the 25% can be supplemented with the following wild grasses, if you can successfully identify and harvest them:
- Annual meadow-grass (Poa annua)
- Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)
- Orchard grass, aka cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerata)
- Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
- Poverty brome, aka barren or sterile brome (Bromus sterilis)
- Rough bluegrass (Poa trivialis)
- Soft brome, or soft chess (Bromus hordeaceus)
- Velvet grass (Holcus lanatus)
- Timothy grass (Phleum pratense)
- Yorkshire Grass, aka Meadow soft grass, velvet grass or tufted grass (Holcus lanatus)
Finches enjoy a range of seeds as part of a balanced diet
Herb seeds should make up 12.5% of the seed mix. Suitable ones include:
- Mustard (yellow, red, and black)
- Red Clover
Oily seeds should constitute the other 12.5% of the daily dry seed mix. As noted elsewhere in this guide, this percentage should be upped during breeding and moulting.
Millet, hemp, niger and rape are actually grains, strictly speaking, but they’re included here due to their high fat content.
- Hemp (bashed about a bit, to crack the tough husks)
- Niger (sometimes spelled Nyjer)
- Pumpkin (soaked and allowed to germinate first)
When seeds germinate they are transformed, nutritionally speaking. As they sprout they produce a rich supply of vitamins and nutrients lacking in dry seed. The sprouted seed is easy to produce at home, and you should be able to find a supplier too, if you don’t fancy DIY sprouting. This type of seed soon goes mouldy, so don’t store it for more than three days. If you only sprout or buy in small amounts, you can serve it as and when it’s ready and not have to worry about wastage.
Many of the seeds in the lists above are suitable for sprouting. In the summer and autumn Nature does some of the hard work for you, offering a ready supply of seeding grasses. Don’t try sprouting grains, especially oats, as these soon go mouldy. Another one to avoid is flax, which goes slimy as part of the germination process.
Sprouting seeds are a good source of nutrients for finches
To get the DIY germination going, rinse a small batch of seeds under a tap in a plastic sieve and then soak in a bowl in fresh cold water for no more than 8 hours. Any longer than this and they will begin to ferment. Rinse the seeds again in a sieve, and then suspend it over the bowl and cover it. Between 24 and 48 hours later the seeds will start to sprout. Rinse them every 8 hours or so to prevent mildew forming.
Once sprouted, dry the seeds on a tea towel before giving them to the finches. Never offer them too cold (i.e. from the fridge). The most palatable seeds for birds are ones that have only just germinated. Serving them ones that have sprouted a little more is good for them nutritionally, however, so you should offer a portion of your DIY sprouts over a three day period.
Marcy, 24 June 2021