Nests and Nesting Sites

by: Marc J. Riva

(NFSS – Jan/Feb 1998)

I suppose we could say that are as many types of nests as there are species of finches and we could take it even further and note that there are preferences from one pair to another within a species. There are however some generalities we can make. It is important to obtain as much information as possible, about the species we are trying to breed, so that we may emulate their nesting environment as closely as we can.

Cavity nesters such as the Gouldian Finch are perhaps the easiest finches to accommodate in that they are quite happy in a nest box. The advantage of a nest box is that it is very easy to construct and clean and it can be mounted outside the cage or aviary for easy access. If plank wood is available that is the ideal material for this project so as to minimize the risk of toxic gases emitted by plywood glues. If plywood must be used, as is normally the case, then it may be wise to seal the box, inside and out, with a good quality plastic enamel paint. Box dimensions will vary between species but an 8″ cubed overall size seems to be a good average. Some of the smaller boxes available commercially are not suitable as when they are stuffed with nesting materials by the parents there is insufficient space inside. There are some dangers to overly large boxes also in that occasionally the clutch of eggs is split into two and some of the eggs may end up not being properly incubated.

The construction of the box is dictated by the eventual location for mounting. Since an outside mount is the preferred setup, the instructions that follow are based on that premise. I am also assuming that the nest will be mounted on a solid panel of a box cage or aviary. Variations of this nest box that can be mounted to cage wire can also be easily built. You will need a section of 3/8″ G2S fir plywood about 16″ by 24″ in size to complete the project.

Using a table or radial saw cut two pieces of plywood of 8″ by 8″ for the two gable ends. Cut a piece with the dimensions of 7 ¼” by 8″ for the back and a piece 7-1/4″ by 7-5/8″ for the bottom panel. Because the opening to the nest from the cage is through a plywood panel, the only front to the nest box that is required is a strip with a dimension of 7 ¼” by ¾” connecting the two gables at the very top. A lid of 8″ by 8″ should also be cut. The sections, with the exception of the lid, can now be glued and nailed together to form a 5-sided cube with one side mostly open and the top completely open. The lid, with the addition of a small handle, will simply be placed on top and will sit square by adding small retaining strips of wood on the inside face of the lid. Alternatively, a hinge can be added but is really unnecessary. A hole with 1 ½” diameter is drilled into the box cage panel where the nest box is to be mounted. “L” brackets are fastened to each side of the nest box with tiny screws and in turn to the outside of the box cage so that the opening to the nest is centered about 1 ½” below the underside of the lid. Certain species of finches will not use a small round hole as access to the nest box; in that case the opening should be square and larger.

The other type of nest site commonly provided is the wicker basket. Its use can be frustrating to the aviculturalist as access to the eggs and young is difficult and often impossible. Cleaning and maintenance is also less than ideal. Despite its shortcomings, it is the preferred nest for a number of species of finches. To maximize its desirability as a nesting site I recommend improving on the normal practice of simply fastening the wicker basket to the cage/aviary wire. Firstly, you should only purchase the larger basket, as the small one commonly available is unsuitable for any species I am aware of.

Cut a 12″ wide by 16″ high section of hardware cloth (1/2″x1/2″ galvanized wire netting) and cut and bend in the edges so that it is snag proof. Better still construct a 1×2 wood frame and stretch a somewhat larger piece of hardware cloth over it, tucking the edges behind. Fasten the nest basket to the hardware cloth, more or less in the middle. Make up bundles of dried grasses and tie them to the cloth so that it is completely covered and the nest is fully surrounded. Tie gnarled twigs to the structure to provide perching then fasten the assembly to the flight/aviary walls. There are many variations to this setup limited only by your imagination. Try attaching multiple baskets to the structure and adding three-dimensionality by making it a corner unit. The more intricate the better, you may even find that the birds will ignore the basket(s) and use the surrounding framework to build their own engineered nest.

Finally for those species that absolutely refuse to utilize the nests we can provide, we can help them along by creating structures that may indicate to them an ideal location to build. Experiment with fastening a section of hardware cloth rolled into a tube to the side of the flight. Be sure that all edges are snag-proof. Provide as much cover as possible again by adding bundles of grasses and twigs and provide lots of nest building material in varying degrees of coarseness. Sit back and enjoy, your birds will do the rest.

( No part of this post may be reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.)

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