Hygiene & Care in Finch Aviculture
by Barry Pollock MSc, PhD (Zoology)
Legal and Ethical Aspects of Caring for Finches in Queensland
People who keep birds including finches have an obligation to care for them. The Queensland Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 administered by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries in partnership with the Queensland RSPCA provides the legal framework for caring for birds. In fact not providing proper care for your birds in extreme cases can constitute an offence under the Act. In brief as an animal keeper you have a “duty of care”, which means you are legally obliged to care for your birds by providing for their needs in a reasonable way for:
- food and water
- accommodation or living conditions
- the display of normal behavioural patterns
- treatment of disease and injury
The Queensland Council of Bird Societies has cooperated with the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in producing the Qld Code of Practice for Aviculture. The code applies to the keeping of native birds, transporting them and displaying them. This code can be viewed at the EPA website: www.epa.qld.gov.au/publications/p00055aa.pdf/Aviculture.pdf.The Queensland Finch Society has a code of conduct for those wishing to display, sell or buy finches at QFS sales and other functions. This code can be viewed at the QFS website: www.qfs.org.au/Downloads/QFS%20Code%20of%20Conduct%20final.pdf.
Practical Aspects of Finch Care
The following is a summary of the Code of Practice published by the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency as it pertains top finch keeping.
Finch keepers, and any person who wishes to become involved in aviculture, are encouraged to contact their local aviculture society to learn more about the practice of aviculture, including obtaining specialist advice about the breeding of birds.
Diet. A varied diet should be supplied, given the limitations of seasonal availability, and appropriate to the bird species being fed. Where a specific species requires a special diet, the bird should be provided with an appropriate diet when seasonally available or for breeding purposes. Food and supplies should be stored in a manner that prevents deterioration or spoilage. Grit, egg shell and cuttlefish should be provided regularly to those species that may require it. Food containers must be constructed in such a manner as to avoid injury to the birds, and placed in a position to avoid contamination.
Water. Clean water must be available at all times with the containers where possible placed away from direct sunlight. Water containers must be kept clean and must not be placed under perches or in areas where they could become contaminated with faeces (droppings).
Acquiring Finches and their Quarantine.Ensure the best avian health and quarantine practices are implemented. It is recommended that any person wishing to acquire birds for the first time should learn as much as possible about the species before acquiring one. Relevant information can be sought from local bird clubs or experienced bird keepers. Newly acquired birds should be quarantined for a period of 21 days before release into aviaries or cages. It is important to seek advice from an experienced bird keeper or veterinarian if a bird appears to be sick. Birds should be released into aviaries or cages in the early part of the day to allow time for the bird to adjust to its new environment.
Bird Health Ill health or stress may affect birds in a variety of ways. Indications that may require urgent attention include:
– changes in appearance of droppings;
– marked changes in food or water consumption;
– changes in behaviour;
– absence of preening;
– changes in appearance or posture;
– raised, ruffled feathers;
– changes in weight;
– enlargement of organs or swellings;
– vomiting, injury or bleeding;
– dull and lacklustre eyes;
– discharge from nostrils, eyes or beak.
Finch keepers are urged to know the differences between healthy and unwell behaviour of the species being kept. The advice of a veterinary surgeon should be obtained if an illness persists or if several birds become ill in a short time. Sick or injured birds must be isolated to facilitate observation and treatment and prevent further damage or spread of infection. Finches affected by internal and external parasites causing health problems must be treated appropriately. Seek advice from an experienced bird keeper or veterinarian for treatment.
Housing. The individual requirements of the species need to be met by providing shelter sites, perches, feeding areas and access to water within the cage. Common to all good cage design is the recognition that access to all parts of the cage is necessary for cleaning. Good visibility also contributes to good husbandry as it allows the health of occupants to be regularly assessed and any problems recognised early. Appropriate cage “furniture” is vital to the wellbeing of birds and providing suitable furniture requires the keeper to have a good knowledge of the species’ particular requirements. Cages must be escape-proof and exclude predators. The requirements for indoor and outdoor cages vary. However, generally cages or enclosures must provide the following things:
– Protection from the weather. All cages must be constructed in such a way that every bird contained in the aviary/cage is able at all times to perch or roost in a place which is sheltered from the wind, rain and direct sunlight;
– Protection from predators (whether native or exotic);
– Opportunity for all birds to minimise stress caused by other birds, other animals and people;
– Sufficient space, perches, nesting areas and nesting material;
– Feed and water stations;
– Perches of varied size and shape made from natural products;
– A non-toxic environment. Aviaries must be constructed of non-toxic materials, or be treated in such a way that the materials are rendered non-toxic;
– Aviary/cage interiors that are free from obstacles that pose a high risk of injury and free from sharp edges and points.
Types of housing recognised as suitable for birds are:
- a) Permanent:
- i) outdoor aviaries/cages;
- ii) indoor aviaries/cages;
iii) breeding cabinets;
- iv) suspended aviaries;
- b) Temporary:
- i) transportation cages;
- ii) show cages;
iii) display cages.
Avian Diseases Transmissible to Humans
Finch keepers should be aware that some diseases of finches can be transmitted to humans. However such transmissions are uncommon and should not be the basis for undue concern. If any person suspects they have health issues associated with the keeping of birds, they should seek medical advice and assistance immediately. Microorganisms that can be transmitted from birds to humans cover the range of biotypes, protozoal, fungal, bacterial and viral.
According to the scientific and medical literature, the most common or likely medical issues are associated with Chlamydophila organisms (causing psittacosis and ornithosis), Salmonella, and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Psittacosis is more commonly associated with parrots. Most bird pathogens are often present within or on the birds all of the time, and the immune systems of the bird are capable of preventing the outbreak of the disease. Similarly the human immune systems can for the most part deal with acquired pathogens. The medical literature advises that it is those people who have weaker immune systems that are more at risk. These include the very young, sick people and the elderly. The symptoms associated with diseases transmitted to humans include: chills, muscle and joint pains, headache, cough, loss of appetite, chest pains, fever, weakness, and diarrhoea. Allergic reactions especially associated with inhaling dusts from cages and aviaries are common.
For those who seek further information on specific diseases there is much available on the internet. One good source is the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Service.
The ways of reducing the chances of being infected with diseases from finches and reducing the possibility of allergic reactions are simple. Always wash your hands after contact with your birds as faecal contamination and discharges (from eyes, mouth or nostrils) are prime ways of transmission. After major activities in your aviaries or bird rooms have a shower and change to clean clothes. It is highly desirable to wear a mask to minimise allergic reactions or transmission of pathogens due to inhalation.
Pests, Pathogens and Diseases of Finches
Many small and microscopic organisms can compromise the health and wellbeing of finches. These organisms include lice, mites, round worms, tape worms, gizzard worms, gapeworms, protozoans, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Some are transmitted directly from one bird to another, while others (most of the worms) have intermediate insect hosts. Individual finches and finch colonies always carry loads of various organisms including potential pathogens. Healthy finches are able to cope with potential pathogens by being healthy and having inherent methods such as immune systems to suppress potential disease organisms. It is important to note that finches that are stressed in any way are more susceptible to attack by pests and pathogens; so all must be done to ensure that finches are provided with good conditions to reduce stress.
It is not my aim to describe in detail the common finch diseases. However if you are faced with sick finches you should immediately seek advice from experienced finch keepers or from an experienced avian veterinarian.
There are some simple but important preventative measures that should be taken to reduce the risk of diseases:
- Reduce stress by not overcrowding, by providing a good, clean environment, and by catering for the specific needs of the finch species you are keeping.
- Keep your aviary dry, especially by having good floor drainage.
- Water and food containers must be cleaned regularly, daily in most cases.
- Stop ants and mites living in your aviaries or cages. Spraying with pyrethroid based insecticides such as Coopex (active ingredient Permethrin) will control ants.
- Regular treatments with Moxydectin or Ivermectin will control lice and mites (including air-sac mite) and a number of worms (roundworms, gizzard worms, gapeworms), but not tapeworms. There are many wormers available. Several have the disadvantage that birds do not like to drink them. A product containing Praziquantel is needed for tapeworms. A good rule of thumb is that finches in open flight aviaries should be wormed and treated for lice and mites about every three months.
- In damp, cold conditions a regular treatment for coccidiosis, using a product such as Baycox,couldalso be done. In damp conditions finch may also suffer from fungal or yeast infections – candidiasis – requiring specific treatments.
Before undertaking any of these treatments the advice of an experienced finch keeper or veterinarian should be sought. My final suggestion is to take extreme care with the use of antibiotics. Routine use should be absolutely avoided. I personally rarely use them and if so only on the advice of a veterinarian
Acknowledgements. Thanks to Sheena de Jager Miles, Dr Gary Fitt and Dr Peter Stanley for suggesting improvements to this article.
Figure 1. Healthy Stress-free Finches in Clean Surroundings
Figure 2. Clean, Dry Floors are Essential.