The Mixed Finch Collection.

Part Two: The Colony Finches!

Now as I seem to remember last time we introduced a few finches that we might look at to start off our meandering down the long, long road of finch breeding!

In this section let’s look at the finches that we might like to keep on a colony system of say, 3-4 pairs of finches. Why you may well ask! Well, simply because many of the finches will exhibit more natural behaviours if allowed to interact with others of their own kind as a small flock.
Usually as a rule of thumb, the more live food a finch eats the less inclined it is to "enjoy" the company of its own kind, especially when breeding! Often the best way to include many of the waxbills into your collection is as single pairs in the aviary.

Top of the colony list I would place the Gouldian finch. As a relative "new chum" to the keeping of Gouldians I always harp back to my "wise old mates" who always maintained that you should keep them as a mono-specific colony because of the need to ensure that they had the purest water and best of mineral and vitamin supplements available. They stated that the Gouldian had the propensity to pick up water borne diseases that would not worry any of the other finches – given the hundreds they bred every year who was I to argue!

However, having them now myself for a number of seasons I have another reason for keeping them apart on the colony system and that is because of their tendency to dominate other species. From nest sites to the best feed stuffs they will hog the lot and prevent other finches from getting their share.
With their peers they are fine and if you are worried about nesting aggression then you can always include a couple of the stress perches in your aviary and give them the Mike Fidler-type nest boxes to use.

Another favourite on the colony system is the Mask finch. These guys will hare about in small flocks and it is fantastic to watch the social interactions going on between the mated pairs and the other members of the flock – one decides to drink so they will ALL go down to drink, one finds the new green food so next minute you have the entire colony there too feeding happily together – fantastic to sit and watch. As these birds are very docile they do not interfere with other aviary inhabitants (unlike their cousins the Longtails and Parsons who tend to dominate collections!) and the colony generally keeps to themselves. Nesting is not a problem with pairs setting up home nearly next to each other in some cases. From watching the interaction between members of the colony it would appear that they seems to glean definite benefits from the close contact of other Mask finches – and if single pairs are housed near each other then will spend a great deal of time calling to each other and even sitting near each other on different sides of the wire!

Other colony species are the Chestnuts, Redbrows and Double Bars and these guys again appear to delight in the close contact that the flock system provides. Maybe it’s merely the safety in numbers motto or just maybe it’s much, much more!
Along with the Chestnuts I have seen all three species of Nuns – Black heads, Silver heads and Tri-colours – kept on the colony system with a great degree of success. Remembering the ‘rule of thumb’ from last issue we would only keep one of these closely related species in the same aviary now wouldn’t we!
A further addition to our growing list would be a personal favourite of mine the Plumhead and I can already feel Doug shuddering! These guys are docile and a small ‘flock’ in your flight would do little harm to any of the other inhabitants as even their live food demands are minimal if insectivorous finches are to be included.
As to the insectivorous finches I have had little experience with keeping most as a colony and would suggest that it is not a great idea for species like the Aurora and Melba which tend to show a great deal of aggression towards other of the same species – especially males to other males.
Red strawberries and Orange-Breasted waxbills are about the only ones I have kept as a colony and these were fine as long as one has the ability to keep live food up to them during the breeding season. Again these guys are fine as a small colony in mixed collections too. African Fires (Ruddies) are variable as a colony species as some will be fine while at other times the males will tend to squabble!
However, I have not seen any of these birds show the group dynamics demonstrated by other of the colony birds and pairs just tend to form smaller, self-contained units within the aviary – really colonies in name and size only!
I have also bred Red-cheeked Cordons as a colony but these were in a 10metre by 5.5metre aviary and the pairs could get well away from one another and I suspect they might be too ’toey’ in a small flight as males will fight each other.

Perhaps you are wondering about some that I have missed out and why Diamonds, Parsons, Blue-faced parrotfinches and Longtails are conspicuous by their absence!
These guys make terrific colony subjects but are a tad boisterous for many docile finches when kept as a group. I have kept Diamonds and Longtails together for a number of years and, as long as plenty of nesting material is provided, both bred happily and in large numbers.
However, I then introduced 3 pair of Song sparrows into the aviary and the only colony that bred were the Song sparrows!! So if a colony of Song sparrows is desired maybe a cage to themselves is the go – or a VERY large aviary and a LOT of live food if not!

Blue-face have a rather "aggressive" mating ritual and the sight of coupling birds ricocheting off the other aviary inhabitants is not a good look. Added to this is the tendency of cock birds to hunt the hens in packs and not care too much on how they tackle said hens is also a problem for more timid species in the collection. Guess nobody would appreciate being slammed into the side of an aviary by a pair of coupling Parrotfinches!

So, to try and pull all this together keeping in mind that the size of the aviary itself would naturally determine the size of our colonies and how many birds it would support.
To give you an example I will use the Rufous-backed manikin where a colony of 3 pair of birds would literally tear themselves to pieces in a flight measuring around 3metres by 1.2metres yet the same birds in a larger flight would be fine and breed happily – been there done that! Guess the motto is the Rufous-back may at first appear a good colony species but when confined in too close proximity when breeding the results can be disastrous. Large aviary gives the pairs more space to keep a respectable distance from each other. Back to the rule of common sense!

Birds suited to being kept as small colonies within the mixed aviary would include Masks, Plumheads, Double Bars, Nuns, Chestnuts, Redbrows, Saint Helena waxbills, Silverbills, Red-face parrotfinches (young Red-face can be a tad ‘mental’ when first leaving the nest so you might not wish to have delicate species with them!) as these guys seem to have a real group mentality. Plus other like the Orange-breasted waxbills, Painteds and Red Strawberries which are fine as a colony species but show limited interactions with other members – non-aggressive ones I might add!

Birds that might be kept as colonies in together in a decent sized aviary. Blue-faced parrotfinches, Parsons or Longtails (remember part one!) and Diamond Sparrows.

A few that might be good as a colony but on their own.
Gouldians because of their special needs and tendency to dominate other species (they are a large finch after all!).
Golden Song sparrows because they annoy everything around them, steal nesting materials, eat tonnes of live food and well, because they ARE just sparrows with all the groups vices!
Stars – which may surprise a few people – where these guys are fine with 1 or 2 pairs but when kept as a colony they tend to strip vegetation, thieve nesting material from wherever they can and generally dominate other species in with them. Maybe they are more closely related to Crimson finches than we think after all!!

Next time a closer look at a few of the available cup nesters that won’t cost an arm and a leg!