Tree of Finches

Little birds chirping about big things

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RIP Sunset

Posted by A birch tree on May 31, 2008

Sad news.

I love finches, and my family loves finches. We keep a few finches as pets, and they’re the very best pets ever; they sound like summer all the time, and they’re so pretty and active. Watching the finches is like fifty times more fun than watching fish in an aquarium.

Sadly, our oldest friend, our first finch, died just yesterday. Sunset was a Peter’s Twinspot, and his song was the prettiest song we’ve ever heard.

We didn’t know anything about finches when we first brought him home. We were in the pet store, because playing with the puppies is the best free entertainment a family can have on a saturday night, and I walked by their finch aviary. It was little more than a big, plexiglass box housing dozens of small birds of different sizes and types, from tiny Spice finches to big, agressive Orange Weavers and Red Bishops. Not good.

So I walked by this aviary, and looked in, and this miniscule little bird with a red breast and polka-dotted wings hops up to the wall and looks back at me. What struck me right away is that this poor little bird was not having a good time of it. His feathers were damaged and there was not a single feather on the top of his head; the bigger, agressive birds had plucked him bald.

I kept looking at that bird, and it looked right at me. I walked to the other side of the cage, and it followed me. It just keep looking at me like “Please, please get me out of here, I want to come home with you.”

So I brought Ari over and while the kids played with another puppy, I showed her this poor little bird. She agreed with me right away; we were going to buy him and take him home. So we picked out a cage, and we picked up one of those “How to care for finches” books and skimmed it, got all the other stuff, and set out to find out how much was that finchy in the window.

They had a little price chart, with pictures, but we couldn’t find this little guy on it. We called over a salesman, and he told us it was probably a Strawberry Finch… $50. Ouch. On top of a cage and everything else. We almost didn’t go through with it. I mean, if we had that kind of money to drop on a bird, we wouldn’t be spending our saturday nights playing with puppies for free. But he was so pretty, and so sad, and kept following me as I walked around the aviary. We couldn’t take it; we bought him anyway. The salesman mentioned that finches are social animals, and he wouldn’t be happy by himself, so we also bought a much cheaper Zebra finch to keep him company.

When we got home, we set up the cage, got the food and water all ready, and put them in it. They got along great, and we named them Sunset and Shyguy. Sunset, because he looked like a sunset, and Shyguy because he always slept in his little nest rather than out on a perch like Sunset did. The two of them got along wonderfully, and within a couple days we began to hear this absolutely beautiful song. At first we didn’t know if it was Sunset or Shyguy, but after a little bit of observation, it was clearly Sunset.

After a while, we decided to get some more finches, but, like I said, we didn’t know anything about finches, so we looked it up on the internet.

Turned out that Sunset was not, in fact, a Strawberry finch, but a Peter’s Twinspot – which usually run closer to $150 at a pet store! All the websites also said that Peter’s Twinspots are supposedly so agressive, as tiny finches go, that they’re unsuitable for a mixed aviary. Fortunately for us, Sunset didn’t read websites. He was always the most laid-back, happy, friendly bird we’ve ever known. He never fussed with anyone, never fought, never made a ruckus. He lived with Zebras, Socieites, Gouldians, and even a Canary, with no trouble or stress at all.

Thus began our love affair with finches. Unfortunately, they’re also fragile. We made several mistakes in the first year we owned finches, and some of our little friends paid for it. We lost Pebbles, a little Society, after she got her toe caught in the weave of a cheap nest and couldn’t free herself. We freed her, and she got on fine for a day, but we found her dead with her mate, Hermes, cuddled up next to her the next evening. Hermes himself died sometime later because I had gotten too busy to check their water, and he dehydrated; I will never forgive myself for that. Finally, that winter, we lost heat, and Shyguy passed away from the cold.

But through it all, Sunset was there, singing and being pretty. His feathers all grew back on his head, making him even more beautiful. We learned more about finches, and have a healthy little colony going with two Gouldians (Thelma and Louise, since we can’t tell which is the male and which is the female), a Canary (Finchybird), a Zebra (Nadie), and Sunset.

Last night, however, Ari came back from a dinner out with the kids and found Sunset sitting on the bottom of the cage, unmoving and still warm, but definitely deceased. We all cried, the kids and she took turns holding him, petting him, remembering his song and his beauty, then buried him in a little wooden box next to the millet plant in the herb garden. We’ll always miss him, and we know we’ll probably never have another Twinspot, since his laid-back friendliness was apparently an anomaly among his kind.

We still don’t know why he died; the websites all say finches can live to be 8-12 years old, and he’d only been with us for 4, although we don’t know how old he was when we first got him. The other finches in the cage are all fine, active, healthy, and happy looking, but we’re keeping a close eye on them in case Sunset had anything contagious. My feeling, however, is that for whatever reason it was just his time to go. I hope he was happy here, and I hope he knows how much we all loved him.

Goodbye, Sunset, and happy journies to you, wherever you may be headed next. Thank you for spending your time with us and brightening our lives with your song and your beauty. You will be sorely missed.


This is not actually Sunset, but much to our horror, we discovered that in all four years we’d known him, we’d never taken any pictures of him! That made us all very, very sad indeed.


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