HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.



THE BREEDING OF FINCHES

Taken from the book "Australian Finches" by Curt Af Enehjelm.

Many of the grass and parrot finches are easily bred captivity if they are given the proper care and attention and as long as the required nesting facilities are available. Any initial breeding success is very much dependent upon the choice of species. Not all of them will reproduce easily and willingly in captivity, but three species--the zebra finch, Bengalese society finch and white Java sparrow--are consistently bred in such numbers that they can almost be considered as being domesticated. Some species will breed only under the most favourable conditions, while a few will not breed at all in captivity. Generally speaking, however, most species breed rather willingly as long as at least some marginally good conditions prevail. Soon after introduction into an aviary the birds begin to build nests, then they deposit their eggs and start to incubate them. Still, it has to be remembered that it is a long road from the first egg to the time when the young birds leave their nest. The most persistent disappointments are encountered by experienced as well as beginner hobbyists during the time the young birds are being raised. Sometimes without any apparent reason the adults stop feeding their young or simply throw them out of the nest. The reason may be that the parents have an inadequate diet or the parent birds are too young and inexperienced as breeders, or perhaps they were disturbed, which often happens when breeding takes place in a cage instead of an aviary.

Therefore, there are two major prerequisites if breeding is to succeed. The first prerequisite is that only healthy birds in good condition and not too young be used for breeding. They must be at least nine to ten months old. Since the age of newly acquired birds is rarely known, one should wait about six months before any breeding is attempted. Generally speaking, grass finches will breed for three to four years, occasionally one or two years longer. They reach a maximum life span of about seven or eight years. The second prerequisite is that the breeder have a true pair--male and female--on hand. Sometimes it is difficult even for an experienced aviculturist to correctly sex a pair, especially when both partners have no conspicuous differences in their plumage. In such a case one should retain an option for a subsequent exchange with whoever supplied the birds. To be on the safe side it is advisable to acquire three or four pairs. The individual birds are marked with a coloured leg band, by observing their behaviour together true pairs can be determined. Incidentally, this method is also recommended for birds with clearly distinguishable sexual differences, because naturally mated pairs are invariably better breeders than those which have often arbitrarily placed together. The males can usually be recognised by their singing, but sometimes it takes quite a while before the birds start to vocalise.

Newly imported grass finches retain their natural breeding cycle corresponding with the seasons of their country of origin, but in subsequent years they will adjust their breeding activities to local seasons. When a suitable bird room with proper illumination and heating is available, breeding can be done without regard to the season. Minimum temperatures should be 19 degrees C, even when the birds are not breeding. In captivity grass finches sometimes breed repeatedly in quick succession. As soon as one lot of youngsters have left the nest, the female may immediately lay eggs again. Sometimes the female begins to incubate a new clutch while the young birds from the previous clutch are still in the nest. This process will continue and even accelerate if the parent birds are not stopped. Continual breeding will severely weaken the adults, particularly the female. Therefore, after two or at the most three clutches the parent birds should be removed and given a rest for some months in a cage without nesting facilities. Sometimes a female may continue laying eggs even there, but there is very little that can be done about it. Here it should be remembered that it is not the laying of eggs which is exhausting for the female, but rather the incubation and feeding of the young that place an energy drain on her. Grass finches do not keep their nests clean, so after each clutch the nest should be removed and thoroughly cleaned before being returned to the aviary. The best breeding facilities are sparsely populated bird rooms or aviaries. Here one has to remember that each breeding pair requires about one cubic meter of space. If this minimum space is provided even the young birds, after they have left their nests, can remain in the aviary, which is beneficial for their growth and development. Moreover birds will mate far more readily in a spacious aviary than in a small cage, and females are less prone to become eggbound.

If, however we are forced to use breeding cages, the instructions given in the section on cages should be followed and the recommended cage dimensions complied with. My experiences have shown that it is best to have only one breeding pair per cage. Personally, I would only keep grass finches together in one aviary, but some of the smaller true finches, such as waxbills and some of the African or South American finches, can also be placed in the same aviary. However, since true finches are rather territorial and aggressive, only one pair each should be kept in the same aviary. Diamond doves, which are among the smallest doves, also can be kept together with grass finches in the same aviary. Normally doves do not disturb other birds but sometimes it takes a while before the other birds have become accustomed to the doves. The same can be said about adding some of the grass parakeets (Bourke's, turquoise, scarlet-chested, etc.) to grass finch aviaries. Much depends on the temperament of individual birds. It is important that birds be closely watched. It is also imperative that suitable nests be provided. Several different models are commercially available. It is advisable to have two or three nests for each pair so that fighting is avoided as much as possible. These nests are attached to the aviary walls at different levels and as far apart as possible, but they should always be accessible for inspection without a ladder. These nests come equipped with small hooks that permit easy attachment and removal. If there also are some branches affixed to the aviary walls, the birds have an opportunity to build their own nests. Availability of proper nest-building material is even more important, so a variety of materials should be offered to the birds.

These materials can be hay, straw, fresh grass during the summer months,(only if you do not put chemicals on your grass) moss, coconut fibers (about 15 cm long), feathers, etc. Threads and threadlike material (agaves) should not be used, because the birds could conceivably cut their feet. Although it is best to have several nests for each pair of birds in an aviary, for a breeding cage usually one or two nests are adequate. In a cage, the nests are attached close to the ceiling in the far corners. Species that will breed in a cage are easily bred in any event and do not appear to be very choosy. Breeding attempts with more difficult species should be made only in larger cages of about 150 to 200 cm in length, (60 to 80 inches) which permits food and water to be given in the middle of the cage without disturbing the birds nesting at the end. Very practical is a cage with two drawer bottoms, which can be divided into two smaller cages by inserting a piece of glass or a wire partition in the middle. This way the birds can be confined to one side while the other side is being cleaned. Each clutch consists of four to seven eggs, rarely more. In the event a clutch is very large there is a possibility that it is from two females. All grass and parrot finch eggs are pure white. Incubation usually begins when the third egg has been laid. It lasts 12 to 16 days, and both parents will sit on the eggs alternately. When breeding birds are off their nest while feeding it is best not to check out the nest, it would only upset the birds. In any event, a bird sitting on eggs should NEVER be removed from the nest. Provided the eggs have been fertilised, quite often up to three young may hatch simultaneously, the others will follow at intervals of a day or so. During the hatching time one has to be very patient so that eggs believed to be infertile are not prematurely removed when indeed they may only require some additional incubation time. Hatching can be delayed because the onset of incubation may have been delayed or the parents may have been absent from the nest for some time. Both of these factors are very difficult to assess.

Once the young have hatched, they will remain in the nest for 21 to 23 days, they will not leave all at the same time. Nests should never be inspected until after the young have left for good. Any such action may cause the young birds to leave the nest prematurely, which can be disastrous. Even if they were placed back inside the nest they will have been sufficiently disturbed so that they would only leave again and then probably die. Once the young, at least those of some species, have left the nest under normal conditions they can still be rather helpless for a few days. They could fall behind the nest, become wedged between branches or drown in the water dish. In aviaries the latter can be avoided by placing a flat rock or marbles in the bathing container or removing the container completely and replacing with an automatic water dispenser. A week after the young have left the nest they are already quite adept in getting around the aviary. They should be left there until they have their adult plumage. In sufficiently large aviaries they are usually not bothered by their parents. It is important to band the youngsters with coloured leg bands so as to distinguish them from successive generations. When a cage is used for breeding it is often better to remove the adults as soon as the young have become independent, the youngsters should be kept in the cage for some time. When several cages of the same make and model are used and where perches, nest boxes and feed dishes are interchangeable, a transfer of birds is far simpler and easier. In most grass finch species the young become completely independent about 14 days after they have left the nest, but it is advisable to keep youngsters and parents together in an aviary for several weeks. The different types of rearing foods should be continued even after the youngsters have become completely independent from their parents. Under controlled breeding conditions it is of paramount importance to be able to distinguish individual birds from each other. It is important that the correct ring size be used, as a tight ring could injure the foot, and a ring too loose could slip off or--what is far worse--could slip over the foot joint, pressing the toes together and thus crippling the foot. Some organisations use closed rings, which are slipped over the foot and onto the leg when the bird is still very young. Bird bands (rings) should have engraved on them consecutive numbers, the year and the identification sign of the breeder. All notable observations and relevant data about the birds should be meticulously recorded for future reference.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.