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Cross-Fostering Chicks Using Society Finches

If your rare finches are not able to raise their babies properly, consider using society finches to cross-foster and help rasie the finch chicks.

By Karl Lieberman

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Q: I have a pair of purple grenadiers that have built a domed nest, laid four eggs and are taking turn sitting tight so far. I’m trying to get my society finches to settle down and begin nesting so that I have foster parents available just in case. Is there anything special I should do to get them to raise grenadiers?  

A: Purple grenadiers are not among the most reliable breeders in aviculture, so it’s very encouraging that yours have gone this far for you. A friend of mine proudly showed me five parent-raised young grenadiers. In addition to a roomy, planted 2-feet by 2-feet by 4-feet flight cage with plenty of privacy, she credits her success to the diet she has worked out over the years, which consists of a quality finch mix, germinated Japanese millet, daily greens, fresh eggfood and live 3- to 4-week old crickets.

Society finches can be used to rear many species of finch but given proper diet, accommodations and time, the natural parents usually succeed. Often it takes several attempts and a few disappointments before they get it right, but I believe the natural parents should always be offered at least three opportunities to raise their own young before intervening.

Contrary to popular belief, not all society finches make good foster parents. If it becomes necessary to attempt fostering, the potential fosters must be converted to a nutritious diet that is high in protein well in advance of giving them a foster clutch. Live foods are not necessary for successful fostering, but fresh eggfood is. I also recommend offering soaked, germinated seed. Some breeders even convert potential fosters from a seed-based diet to a high-protein game bird crumble to prepare them for fostering. This can be a delicate process and requires very careful observation on the part of the bird keeper.

Society Finch Parenting Finch Chicks
Society finches must be in a nesting cycle themselves before they take on parenting duties. There are exceptions, and some individuals, pairs or even trios begin to set and incubate properly upon offering them a clutch of eggs. Societies can be coaxed into nesting behavior by offering them a clutch of artificial canary eggs. If they begin to sit tightly, it’s usually safe to switch them out for real eggs. The best odds of success in fostering come from beginning with eggs rather than already hatched chicks.

When cross fostering bird eggs, use a permanent marker to put a tiny dot on all fostered eggs so that if the fosters lay their own eggs, they can be readily identified and removed. This helps ensure that the fostered eggs will be incubated properly. Otherwise, there may be far too many eggs to set correctly and if two different species hatch out simultaneously, the parent birds will most often instinctively feed their own offspring and ignore any fostered chicks. Some breeders avoid the problem of too many eggs by using male pairs or even trios for fostering.

When exotic waxbills have been foster-raised, it is generally a good idea to separate them from their surrogate parents as soon as they are completely weaned. In most cases, 30 days after fledgling is safe time to remove the young birds to their own quarters. Use careful observation to be absolutely sure the babies are reliably self feeding before moving them. Continue to offer eggfood, greens and plenty of spray millet along with occasional live foods to the newly independent babies.

Place the young birds well away from the foster parents and in visual and hearing range of their actual parents so they can learn appropriate vocalizations and behavior by listening to and watching them. It’s not a good idea to put the weaned young directly with their parents, as the adult male may become aggressive toward them. It may also cause disruption if the adult pair attempts to nest again.

These second generation youngsters will be a valuable addition to your breeding pairs because they will have been raised under captive conditions. Captive-bred birds are much more likely to successfully raise their future babies without the need for foster parents. 

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