bullfinch chick

Breeding Bullfinches. How to breed and keep bullfinches healthy.

By Paul Girvan… my way of breeding bullfinches.

Breeding Bullfinches is by no means an easy task. Many fanciers who attempt to do so can fail for a number of reasons. I am in no way claiming to be an expert on Bullfinches, nor do I claim to hold any medical or nutritional qualifications. I have been successful at breeding Bullfinches down through the years and would like to share some of my experiences with you including tips on; Bullfinch breeding diet, Bullfinch housing, Bullfinch breeding behavior, Bullfinch care, The gapes, etc.

The gapes in bullfinches

For a start, Bullfinches are prone to what is commonly referred to as “the gapes” or “gasping”. This seems to be associated with, and brought on, by a diet that is far too rich and fattening. Especially for birds kept in cages or small flight cages.

Bullfinches are not cheap to buy and if a fancier loses a few birds in the first year or two of trying them, it is usually enough to put them off Bullfinches for life.

I have learned the hard way myself. Also, I admit to having lost Bullfinches in the past, way before their time should have been up. I have found that when Bullfinches are fed on a mixture that contains Hemp, Sunflower and Safflower, this can lead to their early demise.

This is not so much the case if they have the luxury of a large aviary where they can burn off the excess fat. In the confines of a cage or small flight, the above seeds seem to cause problems. This can lead to symptoms referred to as the gapes.

Rich diet

I used to feed a well-known brand of Bullfinch mixture to my birds when I had outdoor aviaries. Whilst I would lose an odd one or two to gasping, most seemed to do alright by it. When I moved house and had to downsize the room allocated to my birds, I found that gasping became a serious problem. I set about trying to rectify it.

I had heard that a rich diet could be a contributing factor and I stopped feeding the Bullfinch mix. So I started to feed a canary mixture made by a Belgian company. This went down a treat.

Around this same time, I had visited a prolific Bullfinch breeder in Scotland. He advised me to administer Intradine in the Bullies drinking water for the first five days of every month. Again, over the years since this helped big time, and I now have Bullies living to five years old on a regular basis.

There are also a couple of treats that my Bullies get and it seems to help keep them alive. First of all, is a small slice of Red Apple at least 3 times a week. I also like to give them a pinch of Blue Maw seed at least once a week and of course, plenty of wild food depending on what is available at the time.

Gasping treatment

If you do ever notice the dreaded gapes or gasping, try giving them Tylan at the rate of one level teaspoonful to 1 pint of water for 10 days.

Remember to dissolve the Tylan in a small cup full of warm water first, then make it up to a pint with cold water. I never had great faith in this “cure” before, because I never believed that medicine would be a cure for a diet-related illness.

On two occasions before I administered it, results were poor, but since talking to a couple of fanciers, I learned of the dose I recommend above, and believe me it works. I have “cured” a hen this season which had been gasping for two years, and another that just started earlier in the year.

Both went on to nest this season, and their symptoms completely disappeared.

Here is something similar I found online just as an example. There are lots of products on the market, you just need to find the one that suits your bird’s need.

Breeding bullfinches

When the breeding season is approaching, I like to feed plenty of Dandelion heads. Bullies are also fond of the leaves and roots of this plant and they should all be fed ad-lib as part of conditioning your birds.

Full plant dandelion for bullfinches
Dandelion head for bullfinches
Washing dandelion for bullfinches

Now, one important factor that I feel I should mention here is that; the Bullfinches, especially the hens, will show signs of breeding condition from as early as February or March.

Don’t be fooled! These are only signs of well-being.

They will carry any nesting material that they find, in their beaks, and be active and even be heard singing; yes hen Bullfinch is one of the few birds whose song matches that of the cocks.

Some fanciers, especially inexperienced ones, see this behavior as a go-ahead for the nest pans. Believe me, it is far too early.

There will be exceptions to the rule, but allowing Bullfinches to start breeding too early is a recipe for disaster. This is another reason why some people fail with these delightful birds.

I have always found May, June, July and August to be the most productive months when breeding Bullfinches. Anything bred before this would be an exception.

Breeding bullfinches
Bullfinch hatching
Bullfinch nestlings
Bullfinch breeding behavior

I now house all my birds in small indoor flights measuring 3ft x 2ft x 2ft (90cm x 60cm x 60cm). They have adjusted to these with no problems at all.

The amount of cover I use is minimal. I would place a nest pan inside the flight by hooking it onto the wire. Then attach a small sprig of Conifer, or more recently, an artificial Christmas Tree on the outside to obscure the nest.

Again, this works perfectly well with all my birds including Twites, Redpolls, Bullfinches and Greenfinches.

Bullfinch breeding diet

During the breeding season, my birds’ diet consists of their usual seed mixture plus as much Chickweed as they will eat.

deli nature 96 for bullfinches
deli nature 96 for bullfinches
Bullfinch breeding diet
chick weed
Bullfinch breeding diet

I have always noticed that my breeding returns are much better in the years that I have access to an abundant supply of Chickweed as opposed to years when I struggle to find a good supply.

Also, I include other wild plants as they come into breeding season such as Sow Thistle and Groundsel. Alongside the wild food, I feed them egg food, which is a mixture of CEDE and Quiko Fauna at the ratio of 2kgs of CEDE mixed to 1 kg of Quiko.

I throw a hand full of mini mealworms into the dish, also slightly dampening the mixture with cold water. Just enough to make it crumbly moist. They also have soaked seed daily. I personally use Versele-Laga’s germination mix and find it adequate.

Bullfinch breeding behavior

Breeding bullfinches

Bullfinches can make great parents, and I always try to leave the young with their natural parents.

Unfortunately, some male birds can be troublesome and occasionally I have had a male bird throwing the chicks from the nest. The problem with this is that it is usually too late when you find out, but if he does it once never trust him again.

To prevent this from happening again in the next round after the hen lays her eggs, you can then place him in another flight or cage. Some fanciers prefer it so that the hen can still see the male bird but I have had no problems with moving him out of sight.

When hens are incubating they can become very broody and trustworthy towards us so don’t be overly concerned about checking eggs or chicks for fear of the hen abandoning them.

Bullfinch nest
Bullfinch hen on nest
Bullfinch nest
Bullfinch hen on nest

A little tip that works well is to provide some fresh egg food or chickweed just before you intend to inspect a nest. This will keep the female occupied while you have a peep to make sure all is well.

Ringing Bullfinches

I leave ringing young Bullfinches until approx 9 -10 days. Again, other fanciers tend to ring much earlier but the above works for me. At this stage, the chicks have started to defecate over the side of the nest and the parents no longer remove the fecal sac or clean out the nest.

Ringing chicks before this can sometimes result in chicks being dragged from the nest by either parent. This happens because they mistaking a ring for a foreign object or fecal sac, whilst cleaning the nest.

Weaning bullfinches

Bullfinch nest
Bullfinch care
Weaning bullfinches
Bullfinch fledgling

When the youngsters leave the nest the parents will continue to feed them. The male should take over the feeding if the hen decides to go back to the nest early.

As soon as I notice the chicks feeding by themselves, I wean them. Because when left with their parents, they seem to beg forever and it takes far longer for them to become self-sufficient.

I don’t provide hard seed at all to my young Bullies until they are through their first moult. Their diet consists of soak seed, egg food and wild food.

As usual, Chickweed is beneficial at this stage. The dock is also widely available and this is a particular favorite. Ash Keys are also starting to ripen from late August onwards. The best wild food I find at this critical stage when they are moulting is Mountain Ash berries, also known as Rowan.

Dock for bullfinches
Dock plant
Ash keys for bullfinches
ash keys plant
Mountain Ash for bullfinches
Rowan berries for bullfinches

Wild Bullfinches will spend their days feeding exclusively on this until all are gone. They have a soft fleshy outer, with a hard stone/seed in the center.

They are also high in carotenes. This helps put some color into the birds just at the right time. These are a great stepping stone for young Bullies as they progress to hard seed.

I also like to color-feed my birds for exhibition purposes. I use carophyll red mixed at approximately half a teaspoon per liter of water.

Bullfinch care

Good Hygiene and cleanliness are essential for the well-being of young Bullies. If both are not practiced, you might lose the newly weaned chicks, which would be a terrible shame and a waste. I put mine on a course of Intradine [sulpha drug] from approximately 5 weeks old until they are completely finished moulting. The rate at which I use it is, 5mls per liter of water, 5 days on and 2 days off. This is easy to remember: Monday-Friday, intradine, Saturday and Sunday, freshwater.

So don’t be afraid to give these wonderful birds a go. Treat them with the respect they deserve and you will enjoy them.

When you get a bit more experience with them you could then maybe try your hand at hybridizing. Remember that only the hen has ever proved fertile in this field.

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8 thoughts on “Breeding Bullfinches. How to breed and keep bullfinches healthy.”

  1. Pingback: Keeping Siskins and Exhibiting siskins | Bird Room Guide

  2. The contact form doesn’t work. Very interesting article! Would it be possible to get in contact with Paul Girvan?

    1. Birdroomguide

      Thanks for Informing me about the contact form not working. I will have a look at it ASAP.
      I will email you regarding getting in touch with Paul.

  3. stephen william fletcher

    Would it be possible to breed bull finches and green finches in the same Avery 8’X3’X6’6″in height if so, how many pairs would you think would be tolerant with each other

    1. Birdroomguide

      It would be better of to keep 1 pair of birds per aviary/cage as they can become very territorial during breeding season.
      But if you want to try it, then I would suggest 1 pair of each with plenty nesting sites and plenty food stations.

      During moulting season, you can keep a lot more birds in the aviary.

  4. Stephen Wain

    Hi my bullys come of perches start to run about then go down hill deteriate loose weight seem to eat a lot messy round beek can you help thanks steve

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