August 2010 Breeder's Notes
Production, Cages, Nest Facings
The last 4-6 weeks have been the most productive in our history, thanks in part to our trial with the protein boost of the ground hemp seed, mentioned last month. All three pair of Cutthroats produced offspring and they are back in their nests. The Cuts were some of our holdouts in terms of producing fledglings, but it appears the bump in protein was the solution. They are using the large bamboo nests hung near the ceiling, but were still tossing chicks from there before the protein boost.
One person posted in a finch group asking about a source for cages. On my Resources page I list Cage World and passed that information on. A regular mentioned that they are also one of the few that also sell cage stands. Good point. I always buy the divider breeder cages. They give you more flexibility in cage and troop management. I may start two pairs out in one divided cage. When they have fledglings and it gets a bit crowded, I then move one family out to a full cage and remove the divider so the other family has a full cage. There’s also a time when you need to separate juveniles out from the parents. In the case of Zebras, dad lets the group know when they should vacate and will chase and peck at the juveniles. I divide the juvies out until I have space to put them in a holding cage. It also gives mom and dad more privacy to work on their next clutch.
I brought up the subject of Nest Facings—where we position our nests in the cages. Some species require more privacy than others when in the nest. Depending on the situation I will place some nests facing straight out; others are hung on the sides facing into the center of the cage. The most popular position is angled in a corner where the sitting parent can poke its head out to see what’s going on, or duck back into the nest and hide. Nests hung high on the walls face straight out, but they are high enough, the birds feel secure when there is an intruder (me) in the room.
While I started writing articles for experienced breeders on raising African finches, I get quite a few emails from people just starting out. A response to one person, wanting to know how to “pre-fab” a bamboo nest was almost an article in length, so I included it on the website. When I pull out the innards of a used nest, what I have done is usually intact. The birds have taught me a thing or two. And I do reuse the nests after cleaning and bleaching them, similar to cleaning perches.
How Much Seed
There was a response to the publication of The Green Day Diet in the current issue of the NFSS Journal from Bill Van Patten, disputing the percentage of seed (35%) I recommend feeding finches. Actually, the number is quite liberal compared to some percentages I have seen in articles. He cites the percent of seed the Gouldians eat in the wild as being much higher. Bill is intensely involved in the Save The Gouldian project and raises very nice Goulds himself. However, I can’t equate the percentage a bird eats in the wild, as it is an opportunistic feeder, compared to what we use in a controlled production environment. I bet if we could place a few hundred plates of veggies and egg food out in the wild where the Goulds forage, we would see the percentage change. We might also see the number of Gouldians produced in the wild increase. Just maybe.
It’s still a thrill to be reading a post in one of the Yahoo finch groups where the writer has tried various foods without results, then switches to The Green Day Diet. Finches lay eggs, have babies, owners are happy. I lost count on the ones who have gone public, and I’m sure there are many more who use the diet as directed, or at least use it as a guideline. Building an awareness level where the finches need to be on a healthy diet is the most important thing. And I believe one email this month remarked that a Senegal Parrot was also on the diet. We can add that to the parrotlets, parakeets and canaries. To me, it is reassuring to know exactly what my finches (and parakeets) are eating, and that their health needs are being served.
I have often reported that even though much of the work here is with wild-caught Africans, my favorites are Zebras. They have always led the way in teaching me and teaching other species. They are the cheerleaders that keep the bird rooms active. They are also the ones that have been taming the others by the way they have interacted with me. I now have wild-caughts that do not flinch when I get near them—something I thought might never happen. As I write, a new group of Zebra fledglings have followed their predecessors by flying onto my head or shoulder. They love me to give them a tour of the bird room, walking around and showing their “bravery” to other birds. I talk to the birds a lot and change the pitch of my voice and add a little excitement when one or more land on my head, to make sure the others notice. These events reinforce that I am not a predator.
I’ve also mentioned that when I bring in a tray of food plates, the Zebras have already landed and are eating by the time I get the tray to the table. This morning, I brought in a tray of 8 clean water cups. I put two in a cage and when I went back for more, there were 8 Zebras at the water drinking, then bathing. I stood there about five minutes and watched them do belly flops into the water cups. Such fun.
A friend asked me a few days ago if the sound of Zebras didn’t drown out the calls of others. The quieter ones, yes, but some such as Gray Singers and S. African Quail Finch have higher pitches and they cut through the lower pitch of the Zebras. Loud and clear!
In one room I am culling out the best looking normal gray Zebras to produce the purest line I can. In the other room, however, variety is key. There, we have CFWs, whites, saddlebacks, assorted degrees of pieds and now a very light-colored gray that I will work on breeding. The delicate color makes a very handsome bird.
Catering To Their Needs
In each of the bird rooms, I have two main feeding stations, as well as several “sub-stations,” where I place food where it seems to be needed. Some have turned out to be permanent locations where a food dish, a seed cup and a water cup have always found favor. But I also watch for patterns as to where new parents are feeding their fledglings. Case in point was seeing the Cutthroats feed their young on top of a top cage, close to where the fledglings were hanging out under a fluorescent light fixture to get some extra warmth. For the past month or so, a new plate of food has been added near them to make the feeding easier for the parents. It is also handy when the fledglings want to try eating on their own.
Even in a flight room, the landscape changes, just as it does in nature. We have to be aware of how the addition of fledglings and juvies, or even new birds brought in, affects feeding patterns, perching patterns, nest building and how the whole group is getting along. As they make adjustments, so must we.