'Basic' Finch Maintenance!!

In this short article I propose to look at a number of possible problem areas that you might encounter when keeping and breeding your finches.
Namely developing a realistic and effective Quarantine Program.

Let's see if this scenario rings a bell with you. You've just dropped in for a 'look' at your local bird shop - just in case they have that elusive mate for those single finches of yours! There she is (no sexism implied here, but chances are it IS a hen you're looking for!!) a perfect specimen, tight feathered and 'healthy'. Home she goes and that niggling voice in your head starts up! "Look at her, she's perfect. Go on, put her straight in with your male - look, he hasn't seen a female for 8 months so imagine how keen they'll be to breed." So, labouring under this intense mental torment you succumb and take your new purchase out into the aviary and release her.
They are quick to pair up and nesting commences on cue and then 'things' start to go wrong. Your new hen dies and the cock bird follows suit and then a number of other finches are looking ill and a few more 'unexplained' deaths occur. Just a coincidence? "Hey, if you've got live finches you've got dead
ones too, right?!!" Well maybe, but what if it WAS that bird that wasn't put through your quarantine program that caused these deaths?

Regardless of what you believe to be the problem the next stop for some of your deceased finches SHOULD/MUST be the avian veterinarian. OK, so you're not as stupid as our 'hypothetical birdman' and your new purchase goes into your isolation cage, what now? Firstly your isolation cage should be just that and not a holding flight with other occupants that have been in it for various
periods of time.
So, here goes, a quarantine program that has been used and fine-tuned by us for a number of years. We are not vets and the medications and treatments are ones that we use and, no doubt, people will disagree and have 'better schemes and more effective drugs' and all I can say is write it down and share it with all of us! Our quarantine lasts for at least 40 days and aims to cover most commoner internal and protozoal parasites as we have found that these are the biggest killers of finches down here. I would imagine that some fungal treatment would be prudent for the more tropical/humid areas of Australia.

     Wormers-a selection of those about!     Essentials- Glucodin & Vitamin B

Day 1:
Your birds arrive and are placed in isolation and over the next 4 days you observe them and try to discern any obvious health problems… droopy wings, soiled vents, 'fluffy appearance'………….

Any birds that exhibit these 'danger signs' are placed in a hospital cage and we administer antibiotics and send a fecal sample to an avian vet for analysis.
 These ill birds are placed on antibiotics for 8-10 days in order to reduce the creation of resistant strains of bacteria. If, like me, you know of people that give their birds antibiotics for 2-3 days or until 'they look better' then steer well clear of buying birds from them!!! Antibiotics are ONLY given to obviously sick birds and NOT to all new arrivals. Remember that antibiotics don't distinguish between 'good and bad' bacteria so you can often create more problems than you cure. (OK, a little simplistic, but you get the general idea!)

Just as an aside here, not all scours and dirty vents are a sign of severe internal disorders as many finches scour from the stress of being moved - the Diamond Sparrow and members of the Longtail family in particular. Usually this responds rapidly to electrolyte treatment BUT if it doesn't then you have a more serious problem.

    Recovery Cage with Red Lamp.   Supplements- Calcium & Vitamins.

During these four days the birds are given Vita-B powder (or an electrolyte replacer) and glucodin in their water in order to offset the stress of moving.
If you observe a finch under stress then you will notice that its droppings are very watery and, I feel, you need to use some form of electrolyte replacer to offset this before the finch looses too much of its body fluids. The Painted Firetail is particularly prone to this excessive water loss and a Sydney bird
dealer suggested that I put them on glucodin after moving them with excellent results.
Throughout the quarantine period all birds are given Peppers quality finch mix and greens n' grains plus a fine shell grit.
Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Day 5: If the birds are still looking sharp then they are placed on BAYCOX at the dose rate of 2mls/litre for 3 days- active ingredient 25g/litre Toltrazuril.
This is an anticoccidial drug and the birds appear to take little notice of the drug in their water and will bathe in it!
This is the drug that is presently highly favoured among the poultry fraternity and is, apparently, a superior treatment to the once popular Amprolium. If you know the birds are coming from a wet/humid area then a treatment for coccidia would seem to be essential.
Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Day 8:
Three further days on Vita-B/Electrolyte Replacer and glucodin to give birds a break between treatments.
Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Day 11:
Onto the wormers. There are several types on the market and, no doubt, everybody has their 'favourites' and some will think our choices are 'garbage', so be it!! The first choice is CYDECTIN, active ingredient Moxidectin, to treat for gizzard worm, roundworm and any internal mites. Since a vet
recommended this product we have been glowing in our praise of it. The recommended dose is 5mls/litre for a 5-day period. Birds appear to vary in their reaction to it but most will drink it unsweetened. You may suffer some deaths about 2 days into treatment but, upon autopsy, you should find that the bird died of worm impaction. This is in the case of heavy worm infestation where the wormer has killed the worms and they have formed a blockage in the digestive system. More commonly seen in roundworm infestations in parrot-like birds.
Change wormer solution and paper each day.

Day 16:
A three-day break back onto the Vita-B/Electrolyte Replacer and
glucodin to give birds a further break before the next treatment.
    Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Day 19:
From roundworms we now turn our attention to protozoal parasites that inhabit the digestive system. If your bird has been sent from an area of dubious water quality, a drought affected area or one that has been subjected to excessive flooding then you should make such a program a must. The
preferred drug (again by us!!) is Ronidazole. Ronivet-S (an antiprotozoal drug from the nitroimidasole group with Ronidazole at 60mg/litre) is used at a dose rate of 4grams/litre in the water for 7 days. This is effective against motile protozoa such as Trichomonas, Hexamita, Giardia, and Cochlosoma. At the
manufacturers prescribed dose rate the drug is effective in removing the protozoans from the gut BUT if your birds are diagnosed by your vet with a heavy infestation then a higher dose rate is essential. (This will be dealt with in detail in a future article.) For this we recommend a product called TURBOSOLE
(Ronidazole at 100mg/litre), which is strong enough to also remove the parasites that have embedded themselves in the gut wall.
Birds seem to show no aversion to this drug and will readily bathe in it - our 'yardstick' for avian tolerance!! We have not found it necessary to introduce a sweetening agent with the Ronivet-S, but the Turbosole will require the
addition of a something to make it more palatable. Taste it, you will get my gist- rapidly!

Day 26:
Back to our by now well established recovery period of three days onto the Vita-B/Electrolyte Replacer and glucodin, again!!! After this stage of the quarantine I feel they probably REALLY look forward to these three days!
Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Day 29:
Having rid your birds of most of its component of unwanted guests we move onto a tapeworm treatment. We consider this stage of quarantine to be essential as tapeworms are one of the biggest killers of finches whether you live in Hobart or Cairns, Perth or Eden! For this we use Prazivet at 5mls/litre (contains Praziquantel at 25mg/ml) and is given for two days or else Avitrol Plus is given for one day. The advantage with Avitrol Plus is that it also serves as a follow up treatment for roundworm and gizzard worm as it contains Praziquantel at 2mg/ml and Levamisole hydrochloride at 10mg/ml. The one draw back is that several finch species appear to demonstrate a marked adverse reaction to Avitrol Plus. Having witnessed this first hand on two separate occasions I can verify this statement! However, if it is used following an initial treatment with Cydectin there appears not to be any problems -so far at any rate! User beware!
    Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Pictured is Lebanese Cucumber,
a good source of vitaminC following period of

Days 31 - 40: If your birds have come through their quarantine program without any problems these last few days can be used to prepare them for their introduction into your aviary. In my 'neck of the woods' we have cold winters and mild summers so I use these last few days to 'top my birds up' with a Calcium/Vitamin D3 Syrup (from the Australian Pigeon Company) to, hopefully, reduce the incidence of egg binding. This is water-soluble and is given at the rate of 10mls/litre for 2-3 days each week. This
product is also given to the finches in the aviaries. A number of people administer some type of probotic solution to their birds during this period but I have experienced several problems when using these so I no longer include it in my program.
Change paper in cages and solution each day.

Following the treatment of your new arrivals I would suggest that you wash all cages, food/water bowls, perches.etc..with a hypochlorite or chlorhexidine solution to remove any traces of the previous inhabitants. During quarantine I use plastic food dip bowls and coffee jar lids to supply food, water and shellgrit and these are thrown away after the quarantine is complete - just means you hope you have a lot of friends that eat dips and drink coffee! You should also give some thought to a follow up worming treatment 14 days after your initial dose to kill any eggs that may have hatched since you wormed the birds.
    Hopefully your birds will come through these treatments with no ill effects and we have been using this regime for a number of years.
Given the number of products that are starting to filter through to birdkeepers it should be relatively 'easy' to access all of the drugs mentioned. Once again, these are what we use and there are a number of alternative products on the market that I know other aviculturists use but I suggest you check out all the products (yes, even the ones in this article!!) before you administer them to your birds.
    Unfortunately we are in the unenviable position of not having a recognised bird vet in Hobart so we must try to 'cover all bases' when importing new stock - as a post script to this we now are VERY lucky to have Dr. James Harris arrive and put out his shingle at the Mayfair Veterinary Clinic, 2 Russell Crescent, Sandy Bay. So the phrase "if you can't diagnose/treat it yourself you may as well forget it!!" is now a thing of the past! We look with envy upon mainlander's easy access to the likes of Dr Colin Walker, Dr Pat Macwhirter and Dr. Rob Marshall for all our diagnosis work must be done on the mainland and while we wait for results…well, you can imagine the rest!
    I am sure that many of you think I must be exaggerating so I will relate a tale of our degree of service here. I rang a large Hobart veterinarian clinic to arrange for a workmate to deliver a faeces sample for analysis. When he did so it was still warm! I rang the following day to receive the good/bad news to be told that: "It's sitting here in front of me on the counter. I'll just get a vet to look at it." When I started gagging on the phone and suggested it would be useless by now she retorted: "Anyway, I don't know why you're getting so upset it was ONLY A FINCH!" Finch it may have been but when I last looked I don't recall Himalayan Greenfinches being exactly cheap!! Thanks to Dr. Harris I am sure that attitudes of this nature will soon be a thing of the past!
    If you have access to good bird vets then thank your lucky stars because the money you spend there on autopsies and fecal smears will allow you to develop a preventative regime that will save plenty of birds 'down the track'.
    Perhaps the final word of warning is that there is little point in having a fantastic quarantine program if you then forget to treat your birds in the aviary on a regular follow up basis - especially where your aviary is open to wild birds and animals.


         Antiprotozoal Drugs & Antibiotics.  

NB. Although most of the drugs that are used during this quarantine program are reputed NOT to affect the fertility of the treated birds there may be some problems with breeding results immediately following quarantine. For this reason it is advised that your birds be placed on some of the many available products to 'build them up' before they are placed into your breeding program.

Written by Marcus Pollard - Copyright remains with the author.