For mixed finch combinations it would be best to speak to the breeder who will be supplying your birds. With plenty of space, most of the species mentioned in this guide can cohabit, but there will always be individual birds that break the mould by being more aggressive or more timid than a typical member of their tribe. And there are a few commonly kept species that are usually too aggressive to intermingle in anything but the biggest of aviaries.
Zebra and Bengalese finches can intermingle, as long as they have lots of room
A good rule of thumb is to keep timid birds with other timid birds, pushy ones with other pushy ones, and to avoid bringing aggressive species into a generally ‘passive’ aviary. Use the following as a general guide, and always ask for advice from the person providing your birds (i.e. these bullets only list the species mentioned specifically in this guide):
- Generally speaking, the following can live together happily: Gouldian finch, Double-Barred (Owl) finch, Bengalese (Society) finch, Plum-headed finch, Red-headed parrotfinch, Chestnut and Scaly-breasted munia.
- The Star finch needs extra space and cover, due to its timidity. They are generally happier in flocks of their own kind.
- Canaries need big aviaries if they are to successfully cohabit. Living singly or in pairs is their preferred domestic setup.
- The following finches can cohabit if there’s plenty of space, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on the bullies: Zebra finch, Java sparrow, Strawberry finch, Lavender waxbill.
- These are the real bullies in the pack: Diamond firetail, Cut-throat finch.
Keeping a Single Finch
With the exception of Canaries, it is not possible to keep a pet finch healthy and happy if it is alone. All pet species will be happy in a pair, and for many this is the ideal permanent setup; but some only really thrive with the full interaction of a flock. If a shop or dealer is offering to sell single birds with no questions asked, you should question their competence - a good seller knows that a single finch is an unhappy and unfulfilled bird.
Keeping Finch Males or Females Together
Finches are best kept in cock-hen pairs. Single birds will be fine together in a larger flock (at least three pairs), and juveniles will perch and feed together happily, until that moment when the hormones kick in (after about nine weeks) and they have the urge to pair up. At this point, male-male or female-female pairs will begin to fight, if they are being kept together with no other birds.
Pairs or flocks - the usual set up for most finch communities
Any unpaired birds will tend to live alone, rather than with their fellow singletons. In the case of cock birds, they can cause confrontation in a cage by vying for the attention of a hen who has already chosen her mate. Zebra finches, and many other species, are usually monogamous, so a single bird will have a long wait unless new blood is introduced into the aviary.
Keeping Canaries with Other Birds
Canaries are good natured birds. Two males or two females together will squabble; but any other combination usually works very well. Three or four males, for example, should be able to cohabit without going head to head. This easy-going nature also makes Canaries good mixers, and they are highly unlikely to intimidate any other species.
But there are two sides to the coin, and the problems with Canary cohabitation in an aviary come from the other species. Many finches are territorial and will bully a less aggressive bird such as a Canary. A mixed aviary will always have a detrimental effect on Canaries’ breeding prospects, as they need peace and quiet to successfully fledge their young.
Although Canaries prefer their own company, they can still thrive in a mixed aviary
Establishing a harmonious community of birds depends on two factors - space and species. If your aviary or bird house is big, the potential bullies and their potential victims will be able to stay away from each other - the dominant bird’s aggressive body language will be enough to keep other birds away, without resorting to physical attacks. Keeping at least two separate feeding stations is necessary, otherwise a bully might establish himself on the food tray and not let anyone else get near. You also need lots of roosting perches high up in the aviary. The birds will compete for the high perches, so making sure there are plenty eases a lot of tension in the daily settling-down routine.
As a bird keeper, one of your jobs is to watch the aviary and assess the situation. The occasional peck and half-hearted chase is nothing to worry about. It’s only when these things become persistent and prolonged that you need to intervene (usually by netting and isolating the bully).
Canaries and Other Finches
Of the finch species mentioned in this guide, the most easygoing ones to house with Canaries are the Star finch and Bengalese finch. The Zebra finch may sometimes seem like the more obvious choice because of its wide availability and popularity, but it’s more aggressive than the Star or Bengalese (and indeed many other finches available in the pet trade), and you’ll need a very big aviary if the mix is to be successful.
Canaries and Zebra finches can only live together if there's lots of space
Even with a mix of docile birds you need a cage at least 120cm wide. In a space of these limited dimensions you can house Canaries with Bengalese, Star, Gouldian, Double-barred and Plum-headed finches, Chestnut munias and Parrot finches.
Canaries and Budgies
Lots of space is the key if you want to keep Canaries and Budgies together. A 10-metre wide aviary is a minimum requirement. Budgies don’t persecute Canaries as such, but they’ll defend their perch or feeding station with a hefty peck - budgies have relatively powerful, hooked beaks - which can cause a lot of damage to a creature as fragile as a Canary (or any other small finch). Budgies and other parrots tend to peck at other birds’ legs, and can snap a Canary leg like a twig. If cohabiting, the Canaries will need their own dedicated space in the aviary.
Canaries and budgies need lots of space, including separate feeding and roosting areas
The setup can work, and you will sometimes see aviaries with even more ‘dangerous’ finch cohabitees such as cockatiels, parakeets and lorikeets. But these arrangements only work in very big aviaries of the sort of scale you find in parks and zoos. For anything smaller than 10 metres in width, the simple rule is to avoid mixing finches and members of the parrot family.
Keeping Zebra Finches and Budgies Together
As Canaries, Zebra finches and Budgerigars are the three most popular cage birds in the world, it is not unreasonable to assume that they will all get on well together. Zebras actually do a lot better with Budgies than the more nervous Canaries, and in an aviary or birdhouse the two unrelated species will go about their business without taking much notice of each other.
Zebra Finches and Budgies, both natives of Australia, thrive together in a large, mixed aviary
Keeping Finches and Quail Together
If you’re keeping finches in spacious outdoor quarters, they can share their aviary or birdhouse space with quail. The commonest types available in Europe are the tiny Chinese painted quail, aka the Button quail or King quail (Coturnix chinensii), and the Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica). These will scuttle about on the aviary floor in a separate little world of their own, and will be unfazed by all the finch fuss and noise going on above them.
Keeping Finches and Doves Together
Doves are not a common mixed aviary bird (in spite of the popularity of free-flying fancy doves and pigeons). Some keepers mix them in with their finches and parakeets, though, and they are placid - and large - enough to get along in most setups.
Finches and doves mix well in an aviary, each respectfully ignoring the other
Common pet trade species include the Ring-necked dove (Streptopelia capicola) and the Diamond dove (Geopelia cuneata). The latter is popular due to its diminutive size (for a pigeon) of 20cm, whereas the Ring-necked is a sleek but substantial 30cm. Both birds (like all members of the pigeon family) need lots of grain in their diets, so a standard finch or parakeet mix will not provide them with what they need.