You've recently bought your first pair of finches and would like to set them up to breed. To explain why they may or may not be successful parents, I'd like to talk about the pair bond. Simply putting a male and female together in the same small space will not make them breed and be a happy couple. Like all other intelligent creatures out there, finches have individual personalities and need time to bond to their new mate.
The bonding process can happen fairly quickly or may take a long time. Some pairs don't fully bond until after they have raised a clutch of chicks together. In fact most finches will only remain with a mate long term if they have successfully propagated.
There are no clear-cut signs that a pair has bonded or is in the process of bonding. If they aren't chasing each other around the cage and plucking one another bald, that's a good sign. Some other good signs are:
- Mutual Preening
- Courtship Displays
- Nest Building
- Cuddling (sitting side by side to rest/sleep)
- Act Of Mating
A note on the act of mating sign: When you first put a male and a female Zebra finch together (for example) you may see the male jump on and mate with the female several times within the first few minutes. This is a dominance and territory claiming behavior not a bonding behavior. When the female accepts the male as her mate she will encourage mating with her own set of signals and displays. The displays to watch for can be found in my article "Finch Sex – Mating"
You probably won't see all of these signs right away and never all at the same time. Sitting and staring at your new pair for hours on end won't help either. To the finches you are a predator and it will take a long time for them to adjust to your being around. If you wish to watch your finches, please do so from a respectable distance so they don't feel as if they are being stalked.
While watching for signs that your pair is bonding, you may also see signs the bonding isn't going as well as you had hoped. It is very possible the pair you have selected simply will not get along. If the pair is not getting along, they must be split up and given other mates until you finally have pairs that will get along. Some signs that the pair isn't going to bond:
- Growling (yes finches do make an angry noise much like a short growl)
- Feather Plucking
- Injuring the other bird
In some cases you may see a little of these behaviors at first but the behaviors shouldn't last more than a few weeks and should never escalate into physical injury.
How strong is the bond
I've noticed many tend to talk about finches in human terms. Will the pair stay together? Once they mate they mate for life. And my favorite, they seem so in love. I know first hand how adorable and loving a bonded pair can be. I have several such pairs in my aviary and they've been together for years happily producing offspring during the breeding season.
However finches aren't 100% monogamous. Once a pair is bonded and if the bond is strong, the pair will probably continue to breed together for many years. Even if that pair is moved into a mixed aviary at some point. Some bonds seem unbreakable, but it's important to remember that finches have one main goal in life – reproduce and produce healthy chicks.
If a better potential mate is brought in to the environment, the current pair may split. The chances of a pair splitting increase greatly if one of the two is getting quite old, is ill, or isn't as fertile as he/she should be. If you would like more information on pair bonds breaking and pair fighting please read "Pair Fighting"
Pairing new finches
If you have a pair you wish to breed either for show purposes or to produce a specific color mutation it is always best to keep them in a single pair cage until they have successfully raised a clutch. If you move them in to a large mixed aviary before they have fully bonded to one another, they may split and find new mates.
If you don't care which finches breed with which then feel free to move them in to your finch community and let them pick their own mates. Always house and breed your finches responsibly. Never keep related finches in a community setting or they may inbreed.