Feeding Canaries and Finches

LAST UPDATED 4th April 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Nicole Wynne BSc BVMS MANZCVS (Unusual Pets)

The passerine group of birds includes small perching birds such as canaries and finches, both of which are popular pets, and larger birds like our corvids (magpies, crows, and ravens). Contrary to popular belief, they don’t eat seed exclusively, and they have more complicated dietary requirements that need to be met to ensure that your birds have a happy, healthy life.

Passerines require a variety of foods including fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh grass seeds, insects, and commercial seed. Dry seed should only make up a maximum of 50% of their diet. The remaining part of their diet should consist of a mix of fresh food and pellets/crumbles. 




Fresh grass seeds can be picked from your lawn in the warmer months, and birds normally love them! Grass seeds are ready for picking once they start to form firm seed heads, and bunches can be hung in the aviary or cage for your birds to forage from. They also make a great environmental enrichment option, promoting natural behaviours. Consider growing some in a pot and letting your birds enjoy them!

Dried seed can also be sprouted, which reduces the fat content and increases the vitamin content. Sprouted seed can be fed once the little sprouts start to turn green, usually in 2-3 days in warm weather.


While fresh insects are difficult to feed, that’s where the pellets come in! Pelleted diets for passerines include the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are normally found in insects, as well as a concentrated source of calories that is easy to digest. Pellets and crumble formulated for passerines can also be mixed with insectivore mix for additional protein - a great trick to use during breeding season when their dietary requirements are more demanding! Dried insects can also be used as a supplement or a treat. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Suitable fresh fruit and vegetables include pumpkin, sweet potato, leafy greens like spinach, celery, and bok choy, apple, carrot, peas, capsicum, and pear. Avocado, onion, garlic, and ginger are toxic to birds. Fresh food can be cut up into “chop,” which can then be refrigerated for up to a week, or can be fed as whole pieces of fruit and vegetables. 


Great treats include millet sprays, seed sticks, and sweeter fruits like berries, peach, grapes, and banana. Treat foods can be given twice a week. Millet sprays and seed sticks should be removed after an hour, and placed back in the next week, as birds will selectively choose to eat these treats over healthier foods, just like us! Remember to remove millet sprays and seed sticks which have been contaminated with faeces.


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Feeding Accessories

Metal feeding bowls are better than plastic bowls, as plastic bowls accumulate tiny scratches throughout their life, which then harbour harmful bacteria and are difficult to clean. It is best to get uncomplicated bowls and dishes, and avoid hooded dishes or feeders with multiple components as they don’t stop your birds from being messy, and they’re impossible to clean. Consider adding bird specific cleaning disinfectants to your home routine to help maintain freshness when sprouting seed and general cleaning of feed containers and cages. 

We recommend having 3-4 sets of dishes and bowls for your birds so they can be easily cleaned and replaced twice a day. They also allow you to easily mix foods. For example, seed and pellets can be mixed up with vegetable and fruit chop. 

Multiple fresh water stations should always be available, and avoid placing food and water feeders under perches, as they are more likely to become contaminated with waste.

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Using Food as Enrichment

Little birds need environmental enrichment too! Passerines forage for large amounts of time in the wild, and it is easy to create similar opportunities for pet birds. A plastic cat litter box can be filled partway with dry leaves, hay, or shredded paper, and their daily ration of dry seed can be sprinkled over, providing hours of entertainment!

Snuffle mats designed for dogs and cats are also a great way of getting birds to forage and look for their food.

Bird-specific toys include hanging food foragers that can be used to feed sweeter fruit, encouraging birds to fly up to take bites. 

Finally, natural foliage acts as a beautiful enrichment item, and fresh fruit and vegetables can be hidden amongst the leaves. Do ensure that natural branches and leaves are hosed off and thoroughly sun-dried before using.

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Further Reading

Want to read more? Check out our other articles:

Why Your Bird Should be Eating Pellets

How to Sprout Seed for Your Bird

Feeding Small Parrots

Common Bird Illnesses

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