Detailed information on handfeeding finches. Supplies, schedules, formula, brooder, method. By Kathy Spenser BirdsnWays Detailed information on handfeeding finches. Supplies, schedules, formula, brooder, method. By Kathy Spenser



By Kristine Spencer

Originally at Finchbreeder .com

Over the years, I've had many people all over the world write me, asking how to handfeed their finches. They either have an emergency situation, such as abandonment, parents injuring the babies, or the death of the parent bird(s). Others simply want a calm, tame finch to enjoy. No matter what your reasons are for wanting to handfeed, I urge you to save this article for future reference, in case you ever have to handfeed a finch!

Before I begin, let me first warn you that handfeeding finches can be quite a difficult task, and may be disappointing until you get a bit more experienced. Starting to feed newly hatched chicks and older fledglings are the ages most prone to death. The hatchling may aspirate and the nestling may not accept your intervention. The most successful ages to start handfeeding is between 4-10 days of age. When at all possible, though, avoid taking on the handfeeding challenge. If a young baby is tossed out of the nest, gently put it back in and make sure it is being cared for. You can also give abandoned babies to foster parents of the same species or to Societies (Bangalese) or Zebra finches (See my article on fostering). For those babies not fed by their parents by the second day, a supplemental handfeeding may be necessary until the parent birds take over their parental responsibilities.



Using the packaging tape, secure the heating pad around the outside bottom and sides of the container. Plug in and turn heat setting to LOW. At no time during use should you turn the heat setting higher than low!

To keep the finches away from the heat source, place a folded hand towel inside the container, making sure there are no gaps between the towel and container to allow a finch to wiggle it's way below the towel to certain death form heat exposure.

Place a paper towel inside the tub (or bowl) and place inside the container, on top of the towel. Place babies inside the bowl and replace container's ventilated lid. If container and lid allows plenty of light inside, place another hand towel over 4/5 of the top to give darkness to the babies. Place container in a safe place, away from animals and small children.


It is extremely important that you sterilize the pipettes, syringes and formula cups before first use and after every feeding! Fill 2 jars (I'll call them jar "A" and jar "B") with hot tap water 3/4 to the top. Jar "A" will only contain water that will be used for rinsing feeding instruments. Into jar "B" pour 1 tablespoon Bleach and stir slightly. It is suggested that you label jars "A" and "B" to distinguish them from each other.

Before using pipettes or syringes for the first time, soak in the bleach solution of jar "B" (for at least 5-10 minutes) by squeezing the bulb to suction up the solution into the pipette. Syringes should be separated and soaked separately in the bleach solution. Before use, rinse the outside and inside of the pipettes and syringes of Bleach by pulling and pushing out water from jar "A". Make sure the bulb of the pipettes are rinsed well.

After feedings, use the water in jar "A" to rid the feeding instruments of all handfeeding formula, then soak in jar "B" until next feeding. Be sure and change the water in Jar "A" after rinsing off handfeeding formula.


Take a medicine measuring cup and add appropriate amounts of dried handfeeding formula (See chart 1 for mixing percentages). Add hot tap or bottled water until the desired consistency is formed. Prepared formulas thicken as they are stirred. Do not reuse formula ~ make each feeding fresh! The formula's temperature should be 98-100 degrees Fahrenheit so the food is digested properly.

Each bird should receive 10-12% of their body weight.

FEEDING TIME! (see Chart below)

AGE 0-3 DAYS: Newly hatched finches are very hard to keep alive. I suggest mixing a very small amount of handfeeding formula with unflavored Pedialyte to provide extra electrolytes needed to sustain life. It is believed that baby birds, which still have a partial yolk to digest (seen in the abdomen) don't need food the first day, but I disagree. Within minutes to hours of hatching I mix a VERY small amount of handfeeding formula with unflavored Pedialyte to provide the extra electrolytes needed to sustain these delicate lives. I have had much better results feeding soon after hatching.

New hatchlings do not store much food in their crops (food storage sack on the side(s) of the neck). This is why it is important to feed as soon as the crop empties, about every hour. I also feed three times in the middle of the night for the first three days and once during the fourth and fifth night. I have found night feeding to make the babies stronger and have a higher survival rate.

During this critical stage, you may choose to use a toothpick instead of a pipette, with occasional drops of Pedialyte. If using a pipette, avoid large gushes of food into the mouth. Do not overfeed! The crop at this age is only single-sided and will expand to both sides of the neck as the chick ages. You will know it's time to feed when the crop empties.

The tiny babies should be begging rather than force-fed. If a baby doesn't open its beak to beg, a few gentle strokes on its back may be all that is needed. This is especially important for single chicks. As they grow, a slight tap on the beak and talking with a soft voice encourages them to open their beaks in anticipation for food.

AGE 4-7 DAYS: If you have made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS, You are doing everything right! The handfeeding formula should now be mixed thicker (like creamy soup) and fed to the birds every 1-1.5 hours (depending on how long it takes the crop to empty). You can also switch to a pipette at this age (a syringe is not recommended yet). Avoid air bubbles in the pipette when pulling up formula. Feeding during the night is not necessary after day 4 or 5, but the first feeding of the day should be as early as possible and the last feeding right before you go to sleep. About the 7th day, their eyes should be slitting open.

AGE 8 DAYS TO WEANING: Formula for this age group should be made thicker, like that of creamy pudding. If made too thick, the formula will clog a syringe or pipette. If this happens, add a tiny amount of hot tap water until desired consistency is achieved. Feeding times can now be reduced to every 2-3 hours during waking hours, or when crop is empty.

As the birds feathers emerge and expand from pin feathers, add a wash cloth under the bowl, inside the container to cool their environment slightly. They will not need as much heat now that their feathers are keeping in body heat. Once fully feathered, a gradual cooling to room temperature is recommended to prevent chilling.

When babies start to perch on your hand and flap their wings, they can be moved into a small to medium sized cage since they will instinctively try to fly soon. Provide them a nest filled partially with nesting material and place inside the cage until they are ready to fledge. Supply the birds with several tasty foods, such as spray millet, soaked seed, egg food, vegetables, apple slices and dishes of seed and water. Most finches are curious at this age, and may nibble at these foods as they are weaned from the handfeeding formula. For birds that are slow weaning ( by 30 days old) place a mature bird into their cage to show them what to do.

AGE (days)










Very watery to keep baby hydrated. Unflavored Pedialyte can be substituted for water on day 1.







Compared to creamy soup







Compared to creamy pudding


Don't be alarmed if the babies latch onto the feeding instruments, this is a good sign of a strong and eager baby!

Birds do not breathe while being hand fed, so pause briefly after a few seconds of feeding.

Do not get formula on top of a bird's beak where the nostrils are located. If this happens, wipe immediately.

Wipe all wet or dried hand feeding formula or fecal matter off the finches after each feeding.

Change the paper towel under the birds after every feeding or as needed.

Dehydrated finches can be recognized by their dark red skin and should be given liquid immediately!

0.5-1% Spirulina may be added to hand feeding formula up to 3 times a day.

You can take the brooder with you, especially on short trips. I have known many handfeeding owners of parrots even take their birds to work during the day!

Unlike baby parrots, which you have to point the syringe a certain direction down their throats, finches can be fed straight down towards the back of the mouth.

Only give enough formula that the finch can swallow. Slower is better.

Some finch species, or even clutchmates, beg quieter than others. Feed these first.

The begging sounds of the others can stimulate the quiet ones into begging. If they won't open their beaks, gently stroke their backs and tap slightly on their beaks.

Sometimes just a small watery drop of formula at the side of their beak can trigger begging!

Only in emergencies should you force a beak open for feeding. If a bird refuses food and has an empty crop, try feeding more often.

Feeding intervals depend on how long it takes the baby's crops to empty.

Make fresh handfeeding formula at each feeding.

Do not press on the crop or hold the finches too tight. Sometimes air bubbles can be seen in the crops, which usually is normal.

Avoid switching handfeeding formula brands. If necessary, mix normal formula with new over a 48 hour period.

Weaning is usually instinctive. Once birds are feathered out, offer "adult" foods such as pellet food moistened with apple juice, vegetables, fortified seed, millet sprays, egg food and a shallow dish of fresh water.


As you may already know, there is much information in aviculture on handfeeding larger birds, but there is limited information on handfeeding finches. I hope this article has helped provide you with some of this missing information, so that you may be prepared if/when the time arises that you have to hand feed a nestling to save a life. Whether it is a $5 Society or a $400 gouldian mutation, it is always good to be prepared!

Copyright © 1997 Kristine Spencer- All rights reserved.
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