Success in breeding comes with a lot of qualifications. How was it done, can it be repeated, and can the line be sustained through future generations?
Is the way you are breeding conducive to domesticating wild-caught species? Have the results of breeding been through parent rearing?
I look at a lot of things that are core requisites, but also at some of the extra benefits. The best that comes to mind is the better coloration of feathers and form due to the diet. Another is the domestication—acceptability of cages and overall improvement of being tame.
Here is a list of some of the “successful” breeding results of African wild-caught finches this past year at Gulf Coast Finches.
Yellow-Winged Pytilia (Pytilia hypogrammica)
Red-Winged Pytilia (Pytilia phoenicoptera)
Melba Pytilia (Pytilia melba)
Goldbreast Waxbills (Amandava subflava)
Orange-Cheeked Waxbills (Estrilda melpoda)
Red-Eared Waxbills (Estrilda rhodopyga)
St. Helena Waxbills (Estrilda astrild)
Blue Cap Cordon Bleus (Uraeginthus cyanocephala)
Gray Singers (Serinus leucopygius)
Dybowski Twinspots (Euschistopiza dybowskii)
Rosy Twinspots (Hypargos margaritatus)
Cutthroat (Amandina fasciata)
There are also Australian/Asian finches in the mix here. The more popular breeders are Owls, Yellow Stars, Red Stars, Societies and Zebras. Some of these “domesticated finches” require a bit of reverse engineering when you get your stock, and bringing them to where you may want them can take several generations. Birds that have been hand fed or fostered may actually be more difficult to parent breed than some wild-caughts. Finding true “normals” may be a figment of one’s imagination. Simply finding clean stock can be a chore.
Numbers alone do not define success. A conscientious breeder will continue to raise the bar on what he feels is a successful outcome with his birds.
February 12, 2010.
Successfully breeding wild-caught finches, in our case from Africa, has demanded flexibility in breeding and has required us to establish new protocols. This is a report of work in progress and some ideas of where it is headed.
If you have been keeping up with my saga of The Safari Room, Quarantine 2.0, The Morning Ritual and other articles, you may have figured out that I’ve been thinking “outside the cage” and doing some things in reverse order than some breeders of domestics to produce parent raised, no live food (PR/NLF) F1s.
Instead of setting up pairs, imported species are first held in colony cages, they are then released to flight to select mates and breed. Some of the selection process was already established while they were in cages. At one point, I tried setting up pairs, with sometimes dismal results.
Let’s start at the beginning with the quarantining process. First the finches are quarantined away from the existing birds to see if any diseases manifest themselves. Then, their cages are moved into a bird room where they are kept to be observed, to see what pathogens they may pick up from the room that they hadn’t been exposed to in the wild. Medicating takes place where needed. Some survive, some don’t. It’s frustrating and sometimes expensive, but it is the reality of the process.
The imports may be held several months in the cage until it appears they have built up the immunities necessary. It also gives them time to mature, adjust to their new food and become familiar with the normal routines of the room. It is all a part of desensitizing them.
It was at this point I hit a wall. I had no flights, but needed them to allow the Africans to breed, as it wasn’t happening too often in cages. That was when, with the help of some Orange Cheeks that escaped their cages and produced in other parts of the room, the light bulb went on. The cage rooms were converted to hybrid flight/cage rooms.
To do this, it meant opening cages so the birds could fly out to semi-freedom, setting up extra food/water stations outside of cages, perching areas and providing building material for nests.
Before the decision was made to hybridize the rooms, I had thought about surrounding a flight with cages and giving the birds day access to the flight, but hoping they would fly back to their own cages at the end of the day.
With that in mind, I wired open all of the cages, in stages, to see what would happen. As it turns out some do return to their original cages, but many don’t. They either build nests outside of cages, or if they do cage breed, it is a cage of their choosing, not mine. Some that do cage breed use the “furnished” bamboo nests I put in the cages. Others build cock’s nests on top of them, or build separate coco fiber and feather nests of assorted sizes and designs in the cages.
The result is a messy bird room, but the finches don’t seem to mind at all, and why should I, if that’s what will get them to produce. There are times when I think I will remove an empty cage to give it a good cleaning, only to find it has been recently occupied by a new pair of eager breeders, or a nest has been built between two cages and removing one cage will destroy it. The best that can be done is an “in place” interior cleaning. The outside area is the birds’ design, and other than tidying up where they won’t mind, I leave it alone.
In case you were wondering, my birds are extremely healthy and beautiful. The only deaths I can remember off hand in the recent past have been due to mate or species aggression. After I experienced some deaths of imports during the second part of quarantining due to disease, both imports and their progeny remain in great condition.
This hybrid setup is not perfect, as you can see. I consider it a transitional, functioning area to begin the domestication of African finches. There are some benefits. Not only are the free rangers tamer, but they have also become more cage-friendly, being able to come and go as they please. As for those building coco fiber nests throughout the room, you do have to be careful. They could crop up anywhere!
If you must have picture-perfect, spotless, sanitized to the max bird rooms, then you will not find this acceptable. I wrote an article, “Cleanliness Is Next To…Impossible,” which gives a little perspective to my way of thinking. There are liberties that can be taken, but knowing which ones they are is important. After waiting between one and two years for a species to go to nest, I’m not about to ruin the chances of them producing their first offspring by being tidy to a fault.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this is a work in progress, and this downside has been problematic for me. I’m weighing new ways to do this. It might be smaller, the same size, and bigger, but redesigned to allow better maintenance. Smaller for the species that have aggressive males that can only be put one pair to a flight. The same size or bigger for those species more tolerant of others.
There are perhaps a dozen or more cages in each room that have wired-open cage doors. Each one of those cages gets fresh food, seed and water every day. Without exception, each one of those “vacancies” gets visited every day, as evidenced by eaten food and seed, and visible water usage. Sometimes, a vacant cage becomes an active cage. This is one more marker on the road to domestication--pairs choosing a cage of their own volition to breed in.
Many of the cages are still closed and in production, mainly with Australians. A few are holding cages. But the outside traffic does little to deter the caged birds from breeding, and it goes on in typical fashion.
Using this method of breeding, I now have juvenile or breeding age F1 Africans, including Dybowski Twinspots, Blue Cap Cordon Bleus, Goldbreasts, St. Helenas, Orange Cheeks, Red-Ear Waxbills, Red Wing Pytilias, Yellow Wing Pytilias and Gray Singers. There are some chicks from other species that I won’t include on the list yet. As the Africans are in high breeding mode right now, there are other species that have gone to the nests of their making or choosing and I am hopeful to add them to the list in the next few weeks.
(Let’s not forget, I also have a lot of Australian and Asian finches in production as well. I breed Zebras to create excitement and loud begging sounds—yes, it’s a great place to breed! Teacher birds are not used just to get others to try new foods.)
As this story unfolds, I am waiting for the first room to reach a saturation point of free rangers. It is getting more crowded on a daily basis, but there is still room for many more. What I will be looking for is for pairs to start filling up the vacant cages for privacy and security. When that happens, I expect more of them to start breeding in cages—by choice.
There is a possibility there might also be some aggression as the rooms populate, and it is not being overlooked. Besides 8 food stations per room, there are still many open cages with food in each, so there is never crowding at any one place for obtaining food. As a result, no hierarchy has ever developed and no pan species aggression has taken place.
It will take years for us to domesticate African finches to the level of the Australians, but with the success of PR/NLF Africans being produced in these hybrid bird rooms, I see the time when they will easily produce in nice, tidy, organized cage breeding areas.
Let me take one moment to discuss live food. At some point in time, the chain has to be broken. Live food is lower in protein values than egg food, can carry bacteria, can be difficult to control, is expensive to buy or time-consuming to produce and simply looking at using live food in a production environment didn’t seem cost-effective or feasible.
Within the current protocol, it has made sense to do it now, and the results are proving it to be a good decision. Egg food has all the amino acids in the correct balance that a bird needs. It is the most complete diet a bird can get. Remember it isn't the protein percentage, it is that the proteins are made up of all the essential amino acids in the correct percentages. Egg food is a better substitution for live food for many reasons. My article, “Stuffed, But Not Sated,” covers the subject in more detail.
An article I have yet to write is about incubating, hand feeding and fostering. It is extremely critical when domesticating wild-caughts to pass on the true imprint from the parents to the next generations. This is not possible with intervention breeding. It has taken more time and perhaps losses have been higher to get to the point of parent rearing, but these bloodlines will be the only ones to maintain these species intact in the future, here in the United States.
One of the rituals at Gulf Coast Finches is the Welcoming Banquet. Whenever a shipment of any type of finches arrives, once they have been sorted and put in cages, they are given a plate of The Green Day Diet food. They’ve been in transit for hours and are hungry after having only seed in their shipping boxes. They are introduced immediately to what their new diet is when they are in a vulnerable position. It is reassuring that this strange place they’ve arrived at does have food, and the busy-ness of eating also distracts them from their new environment and adds a comfort factor. When their first breakfast arrives the next morning, they are already familiar with the food and never hesitate to eat it. There is no substitute for building a strong foundation, and here it starts on day one.
Some of the keys to success of domesticating might include: great diet, fresh water for drinking and bathing, proper light and air circulation, quarantine out of and inside the bird rooms, proper medicating, maturation of breeders, strict routines, clean although sometimes untidy surroundings, adaptive behavior, desensitizing, availability of breeding materials, a choice of breeding areas, acute observation, keeping a daily journal of events and medications, willingness to try something different, patience and perseverance, pursuing more knowledge about your subjects. Having a passion for what you do. Maintaining a perspective on what you do. Keeping a sense of humor about it all during the difficult times.