The Cup Nesters!

Previously we have been looking at getting a selection of ‘like-minded’ finches together for our back yard aviary. So far we have named a few that go together peacefully and those that we might like to keep as a small colony.

All the finches that we have mentioned have all been what are known as Estrildid or weaver finches so let us now have a brief look at some of the cup-nesting Fringillid finches that we might like to include in our collection.

In Australian aviculture this family contains finches such as Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Singers, Chaffinches, Redpolls, Siskins, Saffrons and Cardinals.
Many of these species are held in tenuously low numbers and our chances of getting them for our starting collection is slim – if not on availability alone then on their extremely high price tag!!

Of the cup-nesters the European Greenfinch and Goldfinch would have to be the commonest and most freely available. As they occur in the wild in large numbers this is hardly surprising!
Beware though of including wild-caught specimens into your collection as they are often very, very flighty and frequently disrupt the other finches.
I persevered as a lad with some but their frantic behaviour continued for in excess of 8 months at which time I simply opened the door and re-released them back into the ‘big aviary’- where I suspect they must have come from!
I should also point out that it is perfectly legal to trap them as they classed as unprotected exotics - here in Tasmania at least!
Also they are in the wild as the actions of various ancient Acclimation Societies rather than any aviary escapees just to clear up that point!!
If you want a pair of these guys I would find someone who fosters them under Canaries and get them from there. The placid nature of the Canary is reflected in the young Green and Gold finches they rear which makes them far more suitable for aviary life!
A Maltese friend here has several pairs of each species raised this way and they happily raise their own youngsters which exhibit the same quiet nature as their parents.

There also exists in Australian aviaries the Oriental Greenfinch which is another hardy species. Down here these guys start to breed in August and don’t really like the hot weather too much – must be why they breed so well here! A rather non-descript species a friend likened them to a head on collision between a Goldfinch and a Greenfinch!!
Hardly flattering but they are a true species and not a hybrid. A close look at Peter Clements "Finches & Sparrows" should alleviate any concerns you might have. They have however been used to "bolster" the stocks of the rarer Himalayan Greenfinch and extreme care needs to be taken when purchasing these and you ideally would need to see them in the flesh – don’t forget to take Mr. Clements’ tome with you too!!
Orientals suffer from "drab bird syndrome" and can often be difficult to find despite their reasonable price tag. They are free breeders in captivity, one male will put 2-3 hens to nest (which is good considering they tend to breed far more hens than cocks!!) and they will rear on soaked seed and green food – especially Milk Thistles and Chickweed. We have found these birds to be non-aggressive to each other or other cup nesters and three of us here run ours with Mexican (yellow) siskins without fights or hybrids!!
I did once have to remove a pair of Green singers from their aviary as these nasty birds (about a third their size!!) were picking on the poor Orientals!!

Great lead in for us onto another perennial favourite in the Green Singing Finch or Green Singer. This little green and yellow dynamo is still, fortunately, a common sight in our aviaries. Don’t let the fact that these guys are a much smaller finch than the Greenfinch family members fool you because what they lack in size they more than make up for in attitude!
These will generally breed during the winter months and they make an interesting contrast and will even breed down here at the same time! My first nest was hatched when the temperature was -1 degree!!! All three survived and the parents went on to hatch out another four nests before calling it quits!
You do need to beware that some Singers will attack other species from time to time and have no tolerance for any other finches that dare to approach their nests. See part one for hybrids and things not to put them with!
The rule of thumb is one pair to an aviary as even extra hens are not desirable. My attempt with a trio was a disaster as nothing settled long enough to breed until one hen was removed – the nest was completed the very next day! I have had no problem with them in adjacent aviaries and suggest this extra "competition" could prove beneficial.
When nesting they will frequently take over the old nest of any of the weaver family, in my case old Grenadier weaver nests – that is if they can beat the Orange Breasted waxbills to them!!
They do a reasonable job of singing but pale into nothing alongside the Grey singing finch which, regrettably, has almost disappeared from our aviaries these days. The Grey singer can make even the most melodious canary sound sick, despite what I recently read to the contrary!! Their demise in Australia is a real tragedy and if you have any lurking about please give me a call (03 62 489539) and we’ll try to mix and match and keep them going!!

Possibly the most interesting and possibly demanding of the available cup nesters would be the two members of the Siskin family – the Red Hooded and the Yellow (or ‘Mexican’) siskins.

I have had little experience with the Red Hooded siskin but believe it would be well suited to breeders in warmer climes. They have the habit of not brooding their chicks around the 8 day period which, in a cool climate invariably proves fatal. I believe substantial numbers are bred in NSW and Queensland and many rear their own young. I have heard tales about fostered birds (under canaries) and most times the tale was one of woe so I would suggest you aim to get parent reared birds. Milk thistle and Niger seed appear to be staples for these guys and many recommend a good egg and biscuit or soft food mix when chicks are in the nest. As this bird is bred in good numbers in Australia and is an endangered species in its native Venezuela and Columbia let’s hope it doesn’t get stuck on the latest Exotic Bird Legislation lunacy - again!

The Yellow or, as it is commonly known here, the Mexican siskin is around Goldfinch size and is a free breeder. These guys will sit right through on their chicks and are attentive parents and certainly in the cheaper basket of cup nesters! As with all cup nesters they display a health dose of aggression but I have never known them to fatally attack anything in the mixed aviary.
I run mine as 2 males to 5 females and this mix has proven quite successful and I haven’t had the males attack each other – yet! I guess having the extra hens around means that the males are fully occupied in gathering goodies to feed their youngsters.

There is a very basic run down of a few of the cup nesters that are in the price bracket of most finch breeders. There are others like the Saffron, European siskin, Himalayan greenfinch, Linnet, Red crested cardinal, Redpoll, Chaffinch and various Serins that are about in small numbers but these all command a high price tag.

A summary:
A pair to the aviary is a good ploy as the Fringillid finches can be larger and a tad more aggressive than many of the smaller weaver finches.
Try to get aviary reared specimens of the birds you want as these generally tend to breed far better than fostered ones. (Personal experience only I might add!)
Be careful to separate like species to avoid hybrids – no Red hooded and Yellow siskins in the same aviary. No Grey and green singers in the same aviary!
Supply materials like coconut fibre, cotton wool (the natural type rather than synthetic types – a very good "homebrand" one from Israel is excellent!), cotton lintus and small feathers for nesting.
When buying try to obtain them from reputable breeders as many hybrids exist within the cup nesting birds.
Yes, it is natural for the cock birds to chase the hen round and round the aviary but watch for overt aggression as some males take it too far and may even kill the hens. Extra hens are usually a good ploy to alleviate this but beware some males will accept only one hen and may even kill others especially if introduced at a later time or around breeding time after initial pair bond has been formed.

My favourites? No contest really, the Mexican siskin, the Grey singer and the Chaffinch.

Catch you nest time with a look at some members of the Waxbill family!!

As Written for Australian Aviary Life 2006