Letter 15: How old to be separated?

Problem One of our neighbors was given a couple of finches who were living in an indoor aviary. They mated almost immediately and they now have four one-month old babies. He wants to give us two of them (a male and a female).

I would appreciate it if you can answer a few questions for us before we undertake this responsibility:

  1. How old should the babies be before they can be separated from the parents?
  2. Should we keep the brother and the sister together? Or should we separate them?
  3. If possible, we would like them to have a lot of space and we were considering the possibility of building an outdoor aviary for them. Would these bird survive outside? We live in Phoenix, Arizona and the temperatures can go up to 120F in the summer and as low as 30F in the winter. We have big trees in the back yard and we were thinking of building the aviary under them. What would you recommend? We do not like to see birds in little cages. Thank you very much, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Damarys Lacayo-Salas.

Comment Dear Dr. Salas,

  1. They should be old enough to care for themselves and separated from their parents as soon as these start to fiercely attack them. In their sixth week from birth (which is almost three weeks after their leaving the nest) the bill begins to change from black to red, two weeks later it is red and the juvenile molt begins; it is finished at the age of about three months. When the bill is red and the marking on the male plumage gradually become visible you can expect the parents, especially the male, to attack their offspring trying to chase them away. In a small cage such attacks and fights can be fatal.
  2. You should keep them together because Zebra Finches dont't like at all being kept apart. If they really start courting, building a nest and laying and incubating a clutch, only replace the natural eggs by artificial ones. There are two better alternatives, though: Get two more Zebra Finches, or swap one of the siblings for another Zebra Finch of the same sex.
  3. I appreciate your love of animals. The birds would survive "outside" in an outdoor aviary if the climatic factors do not become more extreme than in the Australian outback, i. e. if you can avoid the extremes that you have stated in the aviary. 120F and 30F are 49 and -1 Celsius, and that is a lot, especially the heat. The aviary therefore should: If temperatures go down to 30F (-1 Celsius) for only a few hours during the night, Zebra Finches don't mind. However, if the temperatures stay below zero during the whole night or even for days you definitely need more shelter for your birds, i. e. an additional small indoor aviary where they can retreat. (Even if the birds survive a few days of frost, they certainly suffer.)

Hans-Jürgen Martin

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