Santa Clara Finch Club

Setting Up Your First Finch Cage

Getting Started  |  Setting Up Your First Cage  | Cages | Cleaning |  Food | Heat Health | Light | Record-keeping  |  Routine |  What's Next

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A Sample 30"x18"18" cage setup

This one for Black and White Mannikins (with heat rock) - when setting a cage up for Finches you can either omit or include the heat rock - depending on how chilly the room is where you keep your cage or cages. 


Sample cage setup illustration

Divide and Conquer (for cleaning)

This cage has a removable center divider - helpful for cleaning the cage - just shoo the birds into one side, slide in the divider and clean the empty side of the cage, remove the divider, shoo them into the cleaned side of the cage, replace the divider and clean the other side of the cage.

Cage papers

Whether you have a metal or plastic cage tray in the bottom or your cage, lining it with papers is a good idea to make it easier to clean and make the tray last longer. Newspapers work well and absorb someof the water splashed in bathing and will dry out during the day after bathtime, but any papers you have will work ok. We use recycled papers that were used for work or school (generally nothing with waterbased felt pens) and junkmail flyers work well.  Don't buy cage lining papers, look around and see what you can use from around the house.  Just layer as many pages as it takes to cover the tray sufficiently. Even if you cannot thoroughly clean your cages as frequently as you'd like, it takes just a moment to change the papers in the cage bottom. Aim to clean your cages inside and out, at least weekly, food and water dishes daily, or every other day, and nests monthly (unless during breeding season). (See nesting section below)

Do not use chemical cleaners for your cages and everything that goes inside of them. Use simple unscented dishwashing-soap and water, or apple-cider vinegar and water. Occasionally if you need to really sterilze something for birdcare, use chlorox unscented bleach diluted in water. No need to invest in "poop-off" type products - they work well but are costly and don't work better than just apple-cider vinegar diluted in water and a good spray bottle and scrubby-sponge.

The next time your family gets a plastic take out tray with leftovers from dinner, save the plastic tray. This is perfect for keeping your "cage-sponge" in when not using it.  Eventually when the take-out tray wears out, you can always get another one. We have a dedicated set of cleaning tools (sponges, spraybottles etc.) for bird-related use, and keep all our cleaning tools for cages separate from "human-use" cleaning tools.

High and Low Perches

Offer both high and low perching places, put the food and water dishes down lower so they have to fly up and down to get between nest and food/water. When we use wicker finch nests - we choose the largest size available and mount them in the top and back corner of the cage SIDEWAYS - this affords the pair of birds easier in and out access. We always provide at least one perch near the water dish so they have a close place to preen after bathing if they choose.

Two Water Sources and Why

We always offer both type of water choices: an open dish (the type that comes with the cage) and a clear drinker and we keep them both clean and full as much as possible. This encourages finches to learn to use both types of water sources which is important if you ever give or sell them to someone else.  If your birds are trained to be able to use both sources of water - whatever type water-source they are provided with in the future will assure their ability to get to it and use it. 

Why is this important? Some folks do not teach their birds to use one or the other type of water source. Then when a bird changes to a new home, they can die from dehydration because the former owner forget to tell the new owner what type of waterer to which the birds were acclimated.

Mounting a Finch Nest in your cage

Finch NestMake sure to secure the nest tightly to the top bars of the cage and do not leave enough space between the nest and the corner for a bird to accidentally wedge itself there and get stuck when you are not home to rescue it.  We mount these nests sideways as pictured at left, to allow for easier access by parents feeding chicks. We mount the closed end of the nest next to the top rear corner of the cag. This provides enough privacy for the birds and shelter from drafts when there are eggs inside.  We do not use the metal paperclip-type mounting that came with the nest, we always use reusable cable ties instead. These can be carefully threaded through the wicker and cinched very snugly to the top bars of the cage.  These cages can be cleaned with regular soap and water (no chemicals) then dipped briefly in a bleach solution before air drying on papertowels or hang dry. Nest cleaning time is another great reason to buy a cage with a divider in it - it makes it easy to get the nest out with the birds in the other half of the cage.

Note:  Because the beaded-cable ties are reusable, the nest can be easily removed for occasional cleaning.  Remember - do not clean a nest when your birds are sitting on eggs or after they have hatched babies - wait until your hatchlings are about a month old to remove the nest for cleaning. Yes - it does get a bit messy and yucky - but leave it. This will ensure that you do not disturb the new family while they are getting off to a good start.


To Nest or Not To Nest? 

Finches do not need to have a "finch" nest. 

They do not need to have a nestbox. 

They can and will adapt to whatever "shelter" options they are offered. 

Ask the question on any of the online finch discussion groups and any number of "experts" will insist that finches must have one or other type of nest or nestbox.

News Flash:  Finches were proliferating long before we humans invented our versions of their nests.

When you are BREEDING finches, providing a nest or a nestbox helps them be more much more successful for all kinds of reasons. But when they are not breeding, or particularly if you do not want them to breed, do not provide them with a ready made opportunity. See more on preventing your birds from breeding here.

Finches will breed in the bllink of an eye

If you provide them with a typical finch nest such as the one in the sample cage picture above. Just put the empty wicker nest up and secure it well.  Offer nesting materials either in a hopper type basket anywhere away from the water dish on the side of the cage in an open dish or saucer in the middle of the bottom inside the cage. They will prefer to feather their own nest - building it from whatever materials are available. They will use carrot tops, grasses, threads, coco-fiber matting, pretty much anything they can get their little feet and beaks to hoist up there themselves. They always prefer to have a nest as high as possible and some privacy with plants or fake leaves is usually welcome. We use fake and washable Pothos garlands from Michael's or JoAnn craft stores and secure them about and around the top of the nest with reusable cable ties instead of florist's wire or string which can catch a bird's toe and break it or ensnare their toe. Adding fake plants to the outside of the nest is not taken as an insult by the birds -   just don't mess with the interior - that is what they want to do themselves.

It usually takes our finches about 1 day to build the interior of a wicker nest to their own satisfaction. Once the nest is complete by their judgment, they will begin laying eggs without any encouragement if you have a male and a female in the same cage.  Sometimes they will lay an egg in their food dish if it a bird's first time ever laying an egg. Sometimes with a first time hen, she will even drop her first egg when sitting on a perch and it will break on the bottom of the cage drawer. Do not be distressed if that happens. Just give your birds lots of loose nesting materials and a Finch nest and they will run with it from there.

If you are trying to raise more finches and you find a single egg laid somewhere other than a nest, if you just provide the building materials, the birds will make their own nest fairly quickly after you find an egg.  Finch eggs are really delicate and if you have to remove one: use a teaspoon. This will result in much less chances of breaking it, or making a mess inside the cage. See more about finch eggs and viability here

Lamp Timers & Rope Lights

These are a great way to control the lighting needs in your cage area unless you are fortunate enough to have space by a window that allows your birds to live by the daylight schedule set by Mother Nature. We adjust our timers to work along with the natural sunrise sunset timings of the arc of the sun through the day at the various seasons of the year.  Read more about Lighting your cages

We use 2 separate lamp timers

  • One for the main light which is set to simulate the real sun's schedule
  • The second timer set on a schedule to simulate dawn and dusk times with the rope-light plugged into the second timer on that dawn and dusk schedule. We use a manual switch dimmer on the rope lights so if need be, we can turn it up to survey the situation without screwing up the timer setups.


Check your local sunrise and sunset times and adjust your lamp timers at least 4 times per year on evenly spaced dates such as Jan 1 / Apr 1 / Jul 1 / Oct 1 on the official time keeping site for the United States   Enter your own State first, then City and press the calculate table. Once you have calculated your local sunrise and sunset times, print out your yearly chart and put it in your Bird Journal for easy reference. 


Some folks also use a night light or a blue colored rope light in the room where the bird cage is kept - this is not neccessary with Society Finches - but Lady Gouldian Finches sometimes get "night-frights" if any unusual noises or motions occur in their room/area and it is totally dark.  Roy Beckham has a nice picture of his night light setup here

Where to get items mentioned in this article:

  • Lamp Timers - we usually get these at Home Depot or Lowes
  • Manual Dimmer - Lowes
  • Rope light - 2 ft string - Lowes  usually about $3.00 each
  • 3" Bulldog clips for mounting rope light to top front edge of cage - any office supply store OR
  • Reusuable cable ties for mounting rope light strands to top front edge of cage Fry'
  • Reusuable cable ties for finch nests top rear corner of cage Fry' These are usually available in white or black color, 25 pack or 100 pack. These are Make sure to choose "beaded reusuable cable ties" not the single use "zip ties".
  • 5 watt reptile Heat rock from ZooMed made of washable plaster of paris - Petco or PetSmart or online from ZooMed directly. 
  • Chrome cage shelf - Petco or PetSmart or your local bird mart.Fits the heat rock perfectly.


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