A Mugs Guide to Worming Finches!!


After a number of conversations on this subject with a number of different people I decided to write a little on the topic of worms and worming. The problem was WHAT to write? Would readers be interested in an article riddled with terms like proglottids, Syngamous, Ascarides, proventriculus, antihelminithes, cyclophyllidea...the list goes on. Just researching them put me into a near coma!!
    So what would the average bird person want to know, or need to know about these little killers? I settled for an approach that works around the ways of controlling them rather than merely a dissertation on their taxonomic arrangement. So, if you are after lavish descriptions of life histories and gross anatomy consult a Parasitology textbook! What follows is a ‘simplified’ guide to controlling these internal worms in your birds and aviaries.
    Perhaps the biggest single killer among finch collections would be the parasitic worms that inhabit the alimentary canal, gizzard and crop of many of our avian inhabitants. Very few people have a real idea of just how prolific these worms are. The sole purpose of the parasitic worm is to reproduce. They don't need to find a 'mate' to breed with as most are provided with both sets of male and female equipment. As an example take the tapeworm: a small head which is buried in the wall of some piece of the unfortunates anatomy, the rest is composed of a multitude of small sacs which are full of eggs which are shed in the faeces-as one is shed another begins to develop.
    They are simply egg producing organisms and usually cause the death of the host (bird they live in). Of course this death is usually slow so as to ensure the worm has a chance to produce as many eggs as possible before the host is so weakened that it dies. Ever thought how cute it was that some of your finches sweat on you when you enter the aviary with their soft or egg food? Sorry, but more than likely, the poor bird has gizzard worm so bad that it can no longer digest hard seed. Next step from cute is usually the trashcan!
    Ever heard this profound statement. "I've never wormed my birds and I've never had a bird die of worms!" If you ever encounter anyone with this attitude I suggest that you regard him or her with the same wonder that you reserve for members of the flat earth society! In the majority of cases the evidence to prove/disprove this statement ends up in the trash can or the incinerator rather than under the vets microscope. The organisms that they regard with such indifference are the ultimate evolutionary survivors and have devised many strategies for entering your collection. Perhaps we should help them modify their statement to "I've never had any of my birds diagnosed with worms 'cause I'm too tight to visit the vet. Anyway, it costs $30 and the birds only worth $15!" Be honest and think of how many times you have heard this comment.

CASE HISTORY: One Longtail Grassfinch expires looking extremely fit and healthy (Ok, apart from his inability to move!) and is taken to the vet. He charges $25 and tells me that it died of gizzard worm. The aviary is drenched for this worm and 28 other Longtails DON'T end up at the vets, or worse!
    Remember, one day you will purchase birds from someone who doesn't believe in worming and you will transport their problem into your flock. Think you will be lucky? Suggest a game of Russian roulette is far safer and has better odds!!! Every respected author that you consult will always stress that QUARANTINE period is essential before any new arrival joins your flock. Forty days seems to crop up in a number of books and this should enable you ample time to 'test' your new stock.
    Your quarantine should include a treatment for coccidia, protozoans (single-celled organisms like Giardia and cochlosoma) and for gizzard and tapeworm (roundworms are not such a huge problem for finches). "But the birds looked terrific when I got them-so why bother with potentially dangerous worming agents?"

A large number of Blue-faced Parrotfinches are purchased. They look terrific-sleek, fat and energetic. They are treated for protozoans and coccidia and not a bird is ill. They are then given a mild worming agent (no, not the 'red' one!!) and all is well until the second day. 80% are dead. Upon autopsy they are found to have worms impacted in their digestive system - the wormer kills the worms and allows the bird to pass them naturally. Unless, of course, there are so many worms that they form a blockage in the gut that leads to death. The 20% are ill but all survive. It may have been an expensive exercise but what if those infected birds were to be let loose among your other finches?

Starting to have a few misgivings about your indifference to worms yet?

How does worm infestation manifest itself? A very tricky question! In many cases there is no outward sign that your birds even have a worm problem but many birds often die during periods of unseasonable weather (the cold here!!) as the malabsorption of food caused by the worms will predispose the finch to weakness. Often the first sign is a reasonably healthy finch that dies for no apparent reason and the vet tells you it is infested. After canvassing a few friends the only ‘symptom’ that we have seen is the phenomena of the finch that sits there ‘shivering’ with drooping wings. This was caused by tapeworm infestation and we have seen it in Red Strawberries and Red-faced Parrotfinches. However, pneumonia often has the same symptoms just to confuse matters – only worms don’t respond to antibiotics and the heat of the hospital cage!!

A number of finch breeders have completely roofed aviaries. Why? The main reason is to eliminate the worm eggs that could find their way into the aviary from wild birds.
    They also try to keep the aviary floor as dry as possible. Why? Because the worm eggs love to live in areas where there is constant damp as does the coccidia eggs. Worm eggs have very tough 'coats' surrounding them, which enable them to live on the ground for long periods before they desiccate. Down here it is relatively dry but up in more humid areas the problem is compounded by that extra source of moisture.
    Others try to eliminate all insect life from their aviaries-apart from those that they culture for their birds. Why? Well, this is probably the KEY point in solving the problem. But in order to answer it fully we need to don our parasitologist hat for a moment. Most, not all, parasitic worms require what is known as an intermediate host. This is an organism that the parasite requires to act as an 'incubator' BEFORE it can reinfest its bird host.
    Lost you? Well, let's use our tapeworm as an example. It is in the small intestine of our Violet-eared Waxbill. She passes heaps of eggs along with her droppings. These eggs need to be eaten by some other organism, for example a Slater or ant. Our little ant moseys along and is attracted to this steaming pile of violet-ear poo because of its moisture content or maybe it's just a good judge of bird poo! It consumes the poo AND some of the tapeworm eggs along with it. The eggs hatch in the gut of the insect and the larvae are ready to re-enter our birds. If left alone the larvae are harmless BUT along comes our Violet-ear and eats the ant full of larvae, thus re-infecting itself. A vicious circle. BUT remove the intermediate host and you eradicate much of your problems.
    Hold on. Before you empty the stores of surface insecticide, there are reputed to be some forms of tapeworm that hatch directly into the gut of the finch without an intermediate host. How can we win!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Perhaps that well-worn phrase about ‘eternal vigilance’ should be the finch keeper’s motto! And also try to sweep up as many of those dead ants as possible because some deaths have been reported from birds eating these dead insects with their cargo of insecticides.
    Ever notice that the people with the covered roof, the dry floor and the cans of surface spray STILL worm their birds on a regular basis. Why do they bother? Because parasitic worm eggs will adhere to just about anything that enters your aviary. The seeding grass that you placed in the aviary this morning could have received a direct hit from a passing sparrow. The clump of winter grass that you placed on the floor could harbour a regiment of insect loaded with eggs and developing larvae. That fellow aviculturist from down the road could have tramped eggs through your flights on the soles of his shoes.
    Ever seen an ant proof aviary!!!! After presenting all this as a talk at a Tasmanian bird Society I was amazed to have someone come up to me and state that he didn't need to worm his birds because his aviaries were covered in. So I asked him whether he took people through his aviary, he said yes. I asked whether he fed fresh seed heads from his garden and collected shell grit from the beach, he said yes, of course. After this I simply looked at him, shook my head and walked away. Hopefully most bird keepers are more prepared to exercise their gray matter than this individual!! Oh well, perhaps SOMEONE got something out of that 45 minutes!
    So, you see my friends, to say your birds could not contain worms and have never died from worms is a little dangerous. And if you don't think finches eat ants then watch them closely and prepare to be amazed! Also there is nothing like a bit of formic acid to make the feathers sparkle-just take one small ant and squeeze! I once thought this way until I saw several Mask Finches picking ants off the wall and eating them - don't they know the dangers!! Guess not - they're more the "if it moves I'll eat it " mentality, like ALL finches.
    I guess if you haven't dismissed me as a panic monger by now you are waiting for the bit where I tell you how to treat them. Well, you made it!!

BUT first a warning. All wormers are poisons and most are not specifically designed for use in birds. I am NOT a vet but vets and knowledgeable aviculturists have recommended the majority of the products that I will mention. In plain terms USER BEWARE!! Some species are VERY sensitive to certain wormers-especially the Parrotfinches, Jacarinis and Red-headed Pytilias.
    Personally I will only worm finches for one other breeder who fully appreciates the risks involved. That is how serious worming can be.

One final no-no. NEVER give wormers at strengths other than what is determined by your vet or the manufacturers. Why? Because the recommended dose is calculated to kill the majority of the target parasite and if you dilute this more parasites will survive and they will develop IMMUNITY to the drugs that you are using. For example, if a wormer is designed to be used at 25mls/litre then that is the dose that the manufacturers have calculated will achieve the maximum impact upon the target species. If you decide to halve the dose rate you run the risk of significantly reducing the ‘killing potential’ of the drug. In the long run you are probably, unwittingly, creating a larger, more resistant population of parasites in your flock. Also try to vary the wormers that you use to again reduce the chance of resistant strains of worms developing.

OH NO! not again! I had some two weeks ago.



Crush one 50mg tablet and mix with small quantity of edible oil and add to 3kg of seed. Leave overnight to be fully absorbed. Feed as ONLY source of seed. Repeat treatment 2 weeks after initial treatment. Treats for tapeworm ONLY. Active agent praziquental. Make sure you get DRONCIT and not DRONTAL.

Add 3mls to any food oil and mix with 1kg of seed, soak over night before feeding to finches. Use as only source of seed. Repeat 2 weeks later. Sold as Ivomec (sheep drench ONLY) Effective against most gape, gizzard and roundworms plus scaly and air-sac mites. From A.Benson (1993) in FINCH NEWS June p.146. Can also be mixed with alcohol (not water!) and added to the back of the neck to control air sac mite. Use only a single drop or you will end up with inebriated birds!


Add 5mls to a litre of water and dose for 5 days. Repeat 2 weeks later. Active ingredient Moxidectin, Sheep strength ONLY. Effective against roundworm, gizzard worm, scaly face and air-sac mites. A favourite wormer ESPECIALLY if the 'Red Wormer' is to be used as the follow-up wormer.


Available as Big L, Nilverm and Avitrol plus. Dose rate for Big L & Nilverm is 40mls/litre for 24hrs. Repeat each week for 3 weeks. Reduction may be necessary for Parrotfinches. Avitrol plus - 25mls/litre for 24hrs. Repeat as for others. Effective against round & gizzard worms. No matter which coloured solution you use most birds detest the taste. (Try it!!!) A sweetener should be used and remove all other sources of moisture. One of these 3 has been associated with deaths when used. Use caution when administering. I prefer to use these as a back up after initial doses of Cydectin.


Sold as Synanthic, Systemex & Oxfen. We have used Oxfen (sheep & goat ONLY) & found that it partially dissolves in water & is tasteless (well, to us at any rate!!) Effective (ish) against roundworm and partially against tapeworm if given for 5 days. Dose at 5mls/litre.


Another wormer that has fenbendazole as its main ingredient. I have always used Panacur 25 when crop needling parrot species but had not, until recently, used the full-strength Panacur 100. This was recommended for use against a nematode (roundworm, hairworm & gizzardworm) worm infestation and the results were excellent. Recommended by Dr. James Harris. The dose rate supplied was 0.5mls/litre for 5 days. All finches appeared not to object to it too much. One point is when replacing daily (as for ALL wormers of course!!) make sure you scrub out the bowls as the Panacur will settle out a bit - this ensures your birds don't get overdosed if the water level falls significantly.


Ingredients praziquental & oxfendazole. Treats for caecal, thread, round, hook & tape worms. Dose is 2ml/160mls of water for 2 days. Suggested treatment 4 times per year. Sounds great, but good luck getting your birds to drink it in an aviary situation! They really hate this one and when you smell it you can understand why (OK I know a birds sense of smell is not great but really!!) !! Some sweetening agent essential. Does treat for most problem species. Suggest dissolving concentrated wormer in small amount of warm water the night before you intend to use it and then making up to desired amount. Not a favourite as most finches would seem to prefer to die of worms rather than drink it!


Contains abamectin and praziquental. This one was sent to me by Jeff Challacombe from Queensland and he states that it is a staple wormer up there, especially around the Bundaberg area I believe. He states that the recommended dose from their vet was 2mls/litre for 2 days or 3mls/litre for 1 day. He felt, as do I, that the two day dose probably ensures that all finches are well dosed. He has used this wormer with young in the nest and has not experienced problems. I have obtained some and will let you know!!! Both ingredients appear to be excellent.


Save your money and go and buy yourself a lager instead!!

That is a wrap up of several worming products. No doubt I have left out a few favourites, probably because I’ve been told that they don't work as well as some of the others on the list or I haven't heard of them yet!

It is also VERY important to investigate the ‘pedigree’ of the drugs that you intend to use in your finches (yes, even the ones in this article!!). To illustrate this point I recently had the virtues of Valbazen as an ‘all-purpose’ wormer pointed out to me. Upon investigation of the active ingredient ‘albendazole’ it was found that it had been linked to birth defects in rats – well, one wag put me in my place by stating that he’d start to worry when he started breeding rats instead of finches – that’ll teach me!! However, further e-mails to a well-known Queensland veterinarian also indicated that it had been linked to similar birth defects in cats and dogs. Still not convinced? How about 6 pairs of finches from a breeder that worms with Valbazen and after 3 round of nests (from each pair) not one fertile egg. Could it be that the birds weren’t as young as they were supposed to be!! Or, Maybe…???? To me this points to the dangers of using products that are not specifically designed for use in finches, a great product for sheep but in finches – I reiterate, user beware!

A final word:
ALWAYS repeat the worming program 2 weeks later to destroy any eggs that may be in your birds (they will hatch in this time).

NEVER worm your birds during periods of very hot weather and when they are breeding if you can help it.

CHECK just what is in the product you intend to dose your flock with.

CANVAS other finch breeders as to their worming regime then make your OWN decisions based on your research – then you can’t, totally, blame me!

REMOVE all favoured sources of moisture (cover roof, out with cucumber, oranges and apples....) to force your birds to drink the wormers you are using.

Click here to view 'wee nasty worm pics!!