Generally, the only finch that can be hand tamed properly is the Canary. You may be able to persuade a very settled in Zebra finch to use your hand as a perch, but this is the limit. Even training a canary can be a bit touch and go (unlike budgies, who enjoy human interaction after a while). If you feel as if you and your Canary are up for the challenge, follow the tips below:
Canaries enjoy interaction with humans
- Before you can even attempt to train your canary, you must let them settle in first. This means being completely used to the surroundings, noises and people that are around them. Training will also only work if you have a single bird in the cage, sex here doesn’t matter. If there are any disturbances in the room such as children playing, dogs barking, cats, etc, you’re not going to get very far with the training either. The bird's cage will also need to be kept at eye level so that they don’t have to worry about things looming over them.
- Let the bird get used to you. All the training will take place between you and the bird, so it is important that you form a bond with your Canary. They need to be able to trust you and mustn’t be at all afraid of you. The first step in forming this relationship with your birds is to let them get used to your voice. Sit by the cage and talk to the birds. Adopting a signature sound by which your canary will recognize you by, such as a whistle or a gentle “Hell-o” or whatever else may suit you, is also a good way to get the bird to come to know you and trust you. As long as it’s gentle and distinctive, you can choose any sound.
- Let your bird choose the training times. If your canary isn’t feeling 100% up to a training session, it is no use trying to force them into one. The ideal time is when your bird is settled on a perch. Don’t stare at your bird as they are wired to detect direct eye contact with other animals and perceive it as a threat.
- Keep the sessions short. Two daily sessions, each 10-15 minutes long, will do the trick. Anything longer than this can cause the birds stress, which can kill a bird at an alarming speed. These sessions will get your bird used to your voice and presence. Whilst near the birds, talk to them in a soft voice to reassure them that you are no threat.
- Once your birds are happy with your presence, you can start introducing your hand. Start by holding your hand up still, and as time goes on start to move it around, and gently touch the bars of the cage
- Once the canary has gotten used to your hand, you can start to offer them treats inside the cage. It is unlikely that a bird will go for the food straight away, but after a while, they’ll be unable to resist. It is a good idea to give them treats that can be easily gripped while holding out a finger for your bird to perch on - broccoli, carrot, or zucchini all work well. Once your bird has taken a small nibble of the treat, they’ll come to associate your hand with the treat.
- Wait for the first contact. There is no point in forcing your bird onto your finger, as this will most likely only stress them out and slow down the process.
- Once your bird has become totally comfortable with the presence of your hand and is happily sitting on your finger inside the cage, you can try to move things up a notch. Unlike a budgie, canaries won’t stay on your finger as you take it out of the cage. Try gently holding your bird and slowly take them out of the cage. If your bird is fine with your presence and their surroundings, this shouldn’t cause them any stress. Bear in mind that it will take 6-8 weeks of consistent training before you can consider this stage, you are the judge on whether or not your bird is ready for this, but doing it prematurely will only cause setbacks.
- Once your canary has been outside of their cage a few times, you can start to coax them out by offering a perch. The room your canary is in will need to be sealed and any dangers such as dogs, cats, or open windows will need to be rid of. The perch you offer your birds should be at least 30cm long. Insert it through the bars next to the open cage door and make sure it is at an angle from which your bird can see it. Use treats as a lure. You will need another prominent perch for your bird to fly to once they have made the initial step of getting out of the cage. Never pursue the canary with either a perch or your hand, as this will stress them out and make them feel as if they are being chased.
- Once your canary has been outside the cage a few times, you can try to lure them out using your finger. They will be used to your hand from all the in-cage training and once your birds have gotten used to the idea of using perches outside of the cage, they will be inclined to use your finger as one too. At this point, it will still be necessary to use treats as a lure, along with the usual soothing sounds. Eventually, you will reach a point at which your bird will come out of the cage and sit on your finger without the treats as a lure. Some birds will take to sitting on your shoulder instead as it can provide a feeling of safety for them.
- Wait for your bird to return to the cage. In the early stages of your canaries’ out-of-cage adventures, they will not be using you as a perch and will need to get back into the cage on their own. Never chase or net the birds in an attempt to get them back inside. After a while, they will get hungry and return to the cage for some food. It may take a while for them to make a connection between the perch next to the door and the hole that admits them back into the cage, but they’ll get there soon enough. Treats can help them make the connection faster, but patience will be needed from all sides here.
- If, after a few hours, your bird shows no signs of returning, you may need to intervene. It could be bedtime, time for work or the small, scary children/pets may be due to arrive. In these situations, you will need to take drastic measures. Darken the room and resort to a net (see Netting a Bird in the Keeping a Pet Finch section of this guide). This should only ever be done when absolutely necessary and is best avoided altogether.
Training Java Sparrows and other finches takes time, and there's no guarantee of success
Training Other Finches
The same techniques destined above can be used on Zebra Finches, Java Sparrows, Society Finches and other species too. There is absolutely no guarantee of success with these birds, though. If you want to give it a shot, make sure that the birds you are training are very young when you start. Hand-reared birds will have a much higher success rate. Training will take a long time - we’re talking months here, so keep this in mind before you embark on the training adventure.