Detailed information on using society finches to foster other finch eggs. Why, how and problems. By Kathy Spenser BirdsnWays Detailed information on using society finches to foster other finch eggs. Why, how and problems. By Kathy Spenser

 Successfully Using Societies
as Foster Parents



By Kristine Spencer

Originally at Finchbreeder .com

Why Foster? - There are many reasons that finch breeders choose to foster eggs or babies under society finches. Here are just a few examples:

Parents won't incubate the eggs properly...Parents won't feed newly hatched babies, or continuously stop feeding before the babies are fully weaned...One parent dies...Parents eat the eggs or cannibalize their young...A hen lays far more eggs than can reasonably be incubated or raised easily...To increase the quantity of babies, especially for the rare and endangered species

Setting up your Societies For Fostering - Society finches are best parents when set up with 2-3 birds per cage, instead of in a mixed colony. Societies in a colony set-up tend to be very inconsistent breeders and foster parents due to their "social" behavior. I have found that one true sexed pair per cage works best, but have been successful housing 2-3 cocks per cage (The advantage of having only males is that there are no hens to lay numerous eggs when they are fostering eggs or babies).

Provide a five inch square wooden nest box (with a hinged lid) on the outside of each society cage. Although Societies will take to almost any nest you provide, a nest box has its advantages, especially when handling delicate eggs and babies. Other nests, such as wicker or millet hanging nests may also be used.

The best nesting material you can provide your societies is burlap strands from a burlap bag. Burlap bags (without print) can usually be found at local farm supply stores. After purchasing bags, they should be washed, bleached and rinsed thoroughly. Bags can be dried in an electric dyer for added softness (without chemicals or fabric softeners). Once dried, cut the bags into 2" squares and pull out each strand from the squares. Take a handful of the burlap and place inside the nest and push down slightly to make an indentation in the middle of the nest. In a few days, after the societies (mainly the cock) have rearranged the nesting material, check to make sure all four corners are filled in to prevent eggs and babies from falling in (also recheck after you have placed eggs in the nest as well)!

Eggs - Before handling any newly laid eggs, make sure your hands are clean. Natural oils from your skin can easily clog the tiny pores of an egg, causing death of the embryo inside. Keep in mind that finch eggs are very fragile, and should be handled with great care. You may want to carefully use a small spoon to transfer eggs (egg breakage using a spoon can still occur, especially when removing eggs from hanging nests).

Fostered eggs transferred to a pair of societies that includes a hen, should be carefully marked so they won't become confused with any society eggs that are laid during incubation of the fostered eggs. A permanent marker can be used to GENTLY mark the egg. Larger breeders with many cages usually write the parent cage number on the eggs. A small dot of colored fingernail polish may also be used.

When removing eggs to be fostered from their parents, it's best to remove them each day they are laid. Place the eggs on their sides in a dish of seed (to prevent movement) and store at room temperature. It is very important that you rotate the eggs at least twice a day to keep them viable and from drying up on one side. Continue turning the eggs daily until they can be placed under a pair of Societies. Eggs, when turned properly, can be stored up to a week (eggs that have already been incubated, must be moved to a foster pair before they are cooled, to keep the embryos from dying when chilled).

Ideally, all the eggs in the same clutch should be placed under societies on the same day (or up to three days apart to insure the chicks hatch around the same time). Make sure all society finch eggs already inhabiting the society nest have been removed (you can place these under other pair of societies). For the best results, add between 4-5 eggs to the society nest. Some pairs won't sit when there are fewer than four. Dummy eggs (or old finch eggs, marked with an "X") can be added when there are less than three eggs to foster, and removed a few days after the babies have hatched.

After 4-5 days of incubation, eggs should be candled with a bright pen light or candling light to verify that the eggs are fertile. When held up to a candling light, fertile eggs show tiny red veins near the shell of the egg. Infertile eggs remain clear, but should be left under the societies for a few more days and rechecked. If the whole clutch is infertile after two attempts of candling, remove the eggs or replace with another set of eggs that need fostering (if available).

Babies - The eggs should hatch approximately 13-16 days after the onset of incubation, depending on the species, usually early in the day. As the chick emerges from the egg, the societies will help the chick out and eat the nutritious shell. A few days before the projected hatch date, you should provide the foster parents with a nutritious nestling eggfood and soaked seed (seed soaked in water for 24 hours, drained and rinsed well) and continue every day until the chicks are eating on their own.


Here is a list of problems you may encounter if you foster.

1. EGGS - As mentioned earlier, Societies may not incubate fostered eggs unless there are at least 4 eggs. Dummy eggs can be added as needed.

2. ONE BABY - When there is only one baby, it may not be cared for like a nest with two or more chicks. If there are other chicks the similar in age in another nest, the single baby can be added to that nest. Sometimes supplemental handfeeding may be necessary.

3. MIXING SPECIES IN THE SAME NEST- Sometimes it is necessary to mix species' eggs in the same nest due to emergencies, but this can lead to problems. Some species grow more rapidly than others or beg louder. These larger and louder birds are often fed more, causing neglect to the smaller, quieter species. Societies will also favor their own babies over other species, therefore, you should avoid mixing species whenever possible.

4. BAD SOCIETY PARENTS - Not all Societies are good parents of other species or even their own. Some refuse to incubate while others won't feed the young of a new species (handfeeding supplement may need to be given the first few days until the societies start feeding). Some Societies won't feed babies any food except soaked seed or eggfood, others only dry seed. You may also come across a pair that will refuse to foster any other species but their own, even if they have raised the fostered species before!

Once you have a pair of societies that will raise a different or rare species, I highly recommend only letting them raise the fostered species, never letting them raise their own. With delicate waxbills, you might find greater success with Chocolate Self Societies since their young are dark skinned like the darker skinned waxbills.

Societies that refuse to sit may be overworked or too young. For those pairs that won't sit on a clutch of several eggs, are added at the same time, I recommend in the future that you add a dummy egg each day for several days, then exchanging them with the new clutch to be fostered.

5. MIXING OLDER WITH YOUNGER BABIES - Problems occur when there are babies of different ages. There are two problem stages.

The first stage occurs when a new baby hatches in a nest where there are older nestlings (4+ day olds), the smallest babies may get buried under the larger nestlings, and do not beg as loud, resulting in death within a day or two.

The second problem stage, is when the older babies fledge a lot sooner than the smaller babies that have survived this far. The older fledglings are weaned properly, and subsequently the parents stop feeding them. Unfortunately, they may also stop feeding the younger babies as well. These smaller, dependant babies usually end up staving to death. Handfeeding is not always accepted by the babies that are close to the fledgling age, but should be attempted as a last resort.

6. TRANSFERRING HATCHED BABIES TO A PAIR OF SOCIETIES - Sometimes it becomes necessary to transfer babies into another Society nest. Some pairs will accept these babies after a few curious sessions of looking in the nest, others refuse to take on the responsibility!

It is best to transfer newly hatched babies to a nest with the same species (and similar age) if possible.

Another method that works well for me, is to add newly hatched babies to a Society nest with eggs that are being incubated well (tighter sitters tend to accept "changes" better). Remove all but one or two of the eggs and add the babies along with a few small pieces of sterilized chicken egg shell...this fakes the parents into thinking that the baby just hatched when it sees the small babies and broken bits of egg shell!

Copyright © 1997 Kristine Spencer- All rights reserved.
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