Guide to Starting Bird-Keeping

Guide to Starting Bird-Keeping

Deciding to take home a pet of any description is never a choice to make lightly and just because a bird is smaller than a cat or a dog, does not make this any less so. Birds have needs and requirements, likes and dislikes, just like any other animal and these can vary from species to species or even from bird to bird. Here is a little guide to a few start-up species that might be ideal if you want to take up bird-keeping.


Zebra Finch

Zebra finches are a common small Australian finch from the family called Estrildid, which features most of the exotic finches kept in this country. They are one of the easiest birds to keep with straight forward needs and likes but have a huge personality in a tiny body.

The wild form of the zebra finch has chestnut brown cheeks, a grey body, black and white striped throat and white spotted chestnut lines along its side. They also have a black and white striped central tail feather, which is where their name comes from. There are also a wide variety of colours of zebras, from nearly all white birds to bird with fawn bodies instead of grey and a range of others.

Feeding zebras is fairly uncomplicated. Nearly all pet shops stock a seed mix suitable for them, usually called Foreign Finch, which is a mix of millet, canary seed and a few other seeds. Added to this is egg food, which is again usually available at a pet shop and greens. They will eat most all greens such as kale, spinach, cabbage as well as fruit such as apples or vegetables like grated carrot.

It is always advisable to give your bird the biggest cage possible as the more room they have, the more fun they have, but zebra finches can live happily in some of the smallest cages available. The main thing to check is that the space between the bars is not too wide that they can squeeze through. A loose zebra can be a challenge to catch!

Bengalese/Society Finch

The Bengalese finch, also known as the Society Finch, is a cousin of the Zebra finch. However, these are not a wild bird which has been domesticated, the Bengalese are an off-shoot of a bird called the White-rumped Mannikin and has never been a wild bird. Some sources say they were originally bred in China, but their heritage is as mixed as their colour variations.

Bengalese often are called Social Finches and this applies as a name and a description. These little finches are amongst the friendliest finches and when kept as a colony, even three or four birds, will cram into a nest box together to sleep at night. They will also accept any other finches which come for a sleep over and sometimes bigger birds as well. Bengalese are accepting of other birds in their home so are ideal if you would like to keep a couple of species or more.

Like their zebra cousins, they come in a range of colours. These include chocolate brown, chestnut brown, fawn, white, pearl (grey) and mixtures between. They will eat the same type of food as zebra finches and love a good, vigorous bath.

Many bird-keepers are fond of the Bengalese for their foster parent skills. If you want to keep and breed your birds, which with finches is almost inevitable if you have a male and female, then sometimes the unfortunate happens, and the birds abandon the nest at some stage. Be it eggs or chicks, Bengalese will take on these young and raise them as their own as long as they can recognise the basic anatomy of the chick (in other words, it is another finch species not, say, a parrot species).

So in addition to being wonderful pets with a great sense of curiosity, a fine finch song and easy-going personality, they can be little avian helpers around the bird-cage.


The canary is one of the more recognisable birds kept in homes across the world and the phrase ‘sing like a canary’ really does apply. These little birds have the biggest voice possible and the most wonderful range to their melodic song. They are finches, though are a different branch of the finch family tree to Zebras and Bengalese, and are closer related to our garden birds such as the greenfinch and goldfinch.

Canaries are happy as solo birds, so ideal if you want to start with a single bird. The male birds are the ones who sing, though females do have a pleasant range of chatter, as well. Outside breeding season, canaries are actually not that sociable with each other, so keeping two birds apart can be a good idea.

Seed mixes are available which are actually called canary seed or the foreign finch mix mentioned above can also easily be fed to canaries. They are keen eaters and enjoy greens and fruit, vegetables and egg food and the offering of food can lead them to be quite tame. It’s a motivation thing!



The budgie is one of the most recognisable birds the world over, the little Australian parrot which has conquered the world in its own way. Budgies are cheerful characters who are usually busy and full of their characteristic chatter. They are intelligent birds for their size and can learn to mimic sounds and voices. They also bond well with their owners, especially if used to being handled by people from a young age so make an ideal pet.

Feeding a budgie is nearly as simple as a finch; there are a multitude of budgie seed mixtures including ones available at even a supermarket. They are sometimes a little more fussy with greens and other fresh foods but if tempted, will enjoy the change. They also enjoy egg food occasionally and like a bit of bird grit that helps them break the seed up in their stomach and digest it.

Budgies will live alone or in pairs of groups but with any bird, when more than one, keep an eye on things. There will always be dominance contests where the birds get to know each other and as long as this doesn’t escalate, is just a natural process. You should always remember, however, that birds are characters and just like any other species, sometimes they don’t hit it off.


The Cockatiel is easily recognisable with their bold colours and expressive crests and is another very common Australian aviculture bird. There is a variety of colours available from the typical wild form to white birds and even albinos, but all have the crest.

The crest is very useful when getting to know your bird as it is like an emotional signpost. It portrays outwardly what the bird is feeling, for instance raise right up in the air to the maximum can mean fear or anger, while flat against the head can mean happy or relaxed. This is not set in stone, and you should learn from your bird what his individual reactions mean.

Cockatiels are easy to feed with a good parakeet mix and enjoy snacks such as green foods and fruit. They have a good beak strength so enjoy chewing things that are a little tougher which means toys too. There is an array of bird toys available but don’t be upset if the cockatiel pulls it apart and chews it to bits. This is a sign the bird is enjoying itself!

The only thing to remember with cockatiels is they are larger birds than budgies so need more room, or time out of the cage to exercise. And with the larger size comes larger noise! They can be vocal, and this may not make them an ideal choice if you live in, say, an apartment.


Lovebirds are the romantic’s favourite birds, but there is much more to them than simply cuddling up together. These little parrots are quite boisterous characters and sometimes cannot be kept more than one pair to a cage. They are not naturally solo birds and need their mate, so if one bird is lost, another mate can often be introduced carefully.

When used to being handled, they make excellent pets and can be as affectionate with owners as with each other. However, if you are looking for a pet bird, make sure that the bird is tamed as aviary-bred birds who have had little human contact can be uptight and nervous.

Another thing to remember with lovebirds is they are real chewers. They can chew through wood quite easily so selecting their home should take this into account to avoid escapee birds. They are also surprisingly loud in their calls, so again may not be suitable depending on where you live.


These are just a few very basic pointers about choosing your first bird and not every fact will apply to every bird. The best thing to remember when buying a bird is make sure it is in good health, talk to the person who are buying it from to find out the most about the bird and watch it! Observation is the best way to get to know your new pet and for you both to be as happy as possible.



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