It’s been awhile since I’ve written about production here at Finch Mansion . But Fall breeding seems to be getting more intensive each day. Many of the Australians jumped the gun and have turned out fledglings. Africans are building nests, food consumption is up a bit, and it appears that even though nothing changes in the bird rooms—hours of light, temperature, humidity or diet—they know there is a seasonal change.
While production is steady elsewhere, my main focus has been on what is now called The Safari Room. It contains 40 cages, ranging in size from 24” to 30” to 36” across. Many are dividable, so the number of positions is more like 60. Of those, 12 have wired-open cage doors, where the birds come and go as they please.
What this modification (part indoor flight, part cage room) has done is change the way I breed birds. It is actually close to a design I made a while back where there was a “day room” surrounded by cages with open access to the enclosed flight area. Only recently, I found out that some hook bill breeders are doing the same thing.
This modification came about last year when there were some persistent Orange Cheeks that kept squeezing through the ½”-spaced cage wires. I gave up rounding them up and decided I would let them be where they wanted to be. I made a feeding station, put some containers of nesting supplies in the room, and in short order, there were these globes of coco fiber showing up in corners, under or between cages, in a fake Ficus tree, and anywhere they sought fit to build. When I released the remaining colony of OCs to join them, I wired-open their cage to see what would happen. They built there, too. A Red Ear Waxbill got the same idea, squeezed out to freedom, and within a week was joined by two others from their colony. I opened their cage and let them join the Orange Cheeks.
One night I left a door open, unintentionally, on a Zebra holding cage. The next morning started a new chapter in the Free Ranger program. Soon, there were three species laying and producing, all successfully. None required live food, as their egg/veggie diet has all the nutrients necessary. Maybe seeing a few seed moths flying around the room gave them the impression there was live food and that was good enough.
Little by little, this experiment in free choice grew. When a finch of another species flew by my hand when I was putting food in their cage, I did not/could not catch them with all of the activity of free fliers. So, I wired-open their door and they joined the others. Soon, I became adventurous and selectively released different African species. If they don’t produce in a half-cage, give them a full cage. If that doesn’t work, set them free. I guess you could call that “progression” thinking.
Currently, there are the Orange Cheeks and Red Ears producing once again, along with the Zebras who have been turning out my “Pygmy Societies” as I call them. The pieds from this happenstance breeding have over 50% white and markings that look like saddles and other cute designs. Among the hopeful Fall producers are Dybowksi Twinspots, Greenback Twinspots, Blue Cap Cordon Bleus (also successful), Red Wing Pytilias and Melbas.
There is also the case of the Spice finch. It was a pair of Spice that started me on this journey of breeding birds, and I’ve yet to produce any babies. After a colony of 16 sat idle for many months, I released them all, as well. The African wild-caught have become easy compared to these guys, so I have a determination factor at play. Since they have joined the mob they appear robust, appear happy, and for the first time I see socialization among pairs. I am hopeful.
The Safari Room is 120 sq. ft. (10’x12’x8’ high), currently has 60+ finches flying free, with doors wired-open to 12 cages. Some return to their original cages, some build outside the cages, some take over unused cages and build nests, some just visit cages, often sharing the time with another species. Each of these cages is treated as an occupied cage with fresh egg/veggie plates delivered each morning, water changed daily and seed cups refreshed. Even though a few appear unoccupied, by the end of the day, the food is gone, the water used.
I used to sweep up the floor of tossed seed, especially from the Africans that take seed baths, or from the seed foragers. Now I generally leave it, but from time-to-time clean up sections. It reminds me of the rustic restaurants with saw dust or peanut shells all over the floors. It has become the big seed cup of choice, and enjoyed by all as they scamper around, either singly or in packs. In addition to the food in open cages, I also provide 6 feeding stations throughout the room.
The floor is also the repository of nesting material where coco fiber and timothy hay is spread around to hone their gathering skills. Once a week, there is a little game, Foraging for Feathers, where I take a huge handful of white feathers and throw clumps into the air. The movement of the falling feathers excites the birds to no end, and when I return to the room about 3 hours later, there is not one feather to be found. I have a feeling that those sneaky Orange Cheeks hoard most of them. As the feathers disappear, so do the other building materials, and I haven’t a clue where the secretive ones are building nests. I love the suspense!
The many finches still in cages are ones used to producing in cages, and they still do. I am sure they like the free fliers visiting them once in a while. Some are of colonies that can’t be mixed with the ones on the loose.
There is a lot to observe here, and I’m sure modifications will be made in the future, especially when I set up another room similar to it. One observation is sure. The finches are tamer and for the first time I can remember, I don’t mind being taken for granted. Sometimes I have to shoo a few away when I am working. They buzz me, fly between my legs and when they find me face-to-face with them, don’t move a muscle. They have become a part of the process.
As it seems the jungle is retaking the clearing, and we get closer to “the real thing,” I have dubbed the place The Safari Room. I enter the room and exclaim, “Oh, there’s a Melba.” Or, “Look, there’s a couple of Cordon Bleus visiting the cage with the Dybowski Twinspots.” Without leaving home I can take an indoor bird safari tour and see species from Africa, Australia and Asia. Bird heaven, I tell you.
Gulf Coast Finches
Additional responses to emails on the article…
Thank you for the kind comments, Steve. I enjoy sharing what is going on here. It is very exciting. The end goal is to replace the words "Wild-caught Africans" with "Domestic Africans." It may take several years and many updates before that happens. For every victory there is at least one set-back, usually more. The "3-year plan" morphs into the "5-year plan."
Reading reports and corresponding with breeders from around the world, including Europe, South Africa, Australia, Canada and the U.S., there is one recurring theme: Breaking The Chain. At some point, to preserve the integrity of the species and retain its health, proper immune traits, breeding traits and communication attributes-- to produce high quality domesticated breeders that will cage- or flight-breed- -fostering must stop, live food must stop. It has to occur in both the parents and the offspring at the same time to be successful.
Can you imagine buying a pair of African finches and have them breed as easily as Societies or Zebras? I can. Getting there is a long path strewn with failures, frustrations, more outgo and less income and empty bottles of Lexapro.
As we know, there are few absolutes in breeding birds. Not everyone will have the same viewpoint or vision I have. I know what I want and believe and will pursue that.
Don--Good to hear from you!
Every time I think about buying a camera, I turn the cost into bird bucks--how many cages can I buy with that money...lol. I'm holding out for a decent digital, and that's why I've been dragging my feet. But, yes, pictures would help.
The most outrageous nests so far have been built by--Zebras! They remind me of some of the slum dwellings I saw when visiting 3rd World countries.
I have not removed the original cage setup. The Free Rangers just build around, under, behind them. I've joked about just nailing rows of nests on the walls. In the Spice Villas, the big cage with 6 bamboo nests I had hoped the Spice would actually use are now being let out to Red Wing Pytilias and Zebras, and maybe some others.
One of the features of this affair has a possible plus. As I breed breeders for myself, which in turn will breed breeders for other people breeding--in other words, not the pet store trade--these birds are used to living in cages and in flights. Even if they don't take up permanent residence in cages, they visit them, see other birds living in them, and when it comes time for some to be shipped out, they should be comfortable adjusting to new homes, whether cages or flights.
Another thing I have noticed. As we know, all wild-caughts do not come in with perfect health. When one does take ill, it tends to go to one of the open, unused cages--either for protection or solace. It is easy for me to spot, close the door on them, medicate them, then reopen the cage when they are better.
Even though this hybrid operation is a little messier than I would like, takes more observation and a little more effort to keep intact, the benefits keep piling up, not to mention getting wild-caughts to breed on their own.
No, I don't have any Green Singers--yet. But I do have Grey Singers, and since they joined the Free Rangers, the singing has started in earnest. It used to be I never heard much of the goings-on this side of the bird room doors, but now I get my nightly serenade, loud and clear.