For The Bird Hobbyist!!

To all those that regularly supported my column in Just Finches my thanks
and don't "despair" as they will continue in the magazine of the
Finch Society of Australia from time to time & I will try to web-post them!!

Got a question or three yourself?
Simply drop me as line at and I'll do my best!!


1) King Quail breeding problem?

Martin emailed this:
”I have a breeding pair of quails in the bottom of a finch aviary. The female had a clutch of about 6 eggs, and one has hatched and the little youngster is being taken care of by the mum, and the remaining 5 eggs have been left alone. Also, whenever the little bub goes near the father, the father aggressively attacks his head (I read on your website that male King Quail often kill their young). I am guessing it is blazingly obvious that I should separate the mum (and the chick) from the dad? Or am I wrong? And is there any hope for the other eggs?”

A. Well Martin, it has been a while since I have had quail but I can vividly remember meeting the same sorts of problems.
Unfortunately I suspect that the other eggs are no good as it is all too common for hens to ‘walk off’ their eggs after the first chick hatches – especially if the hen is a young, inexperienced one. Once the eggs have gotten cold the embryo usually dies but I have done some ‘resurrection’ work on cold eggs myself and, on some occasions at least, I was able to hatch a few chicks. I suggest that you break the eggs that have been left behind so that you might be able to ascertain whether or not they were actually fertile – if rotten it may explain why the hen left them.
Now to the male! A good male King quail is worth his weight in gold as they will care for the young even more so than the hen! If he has a tendency to attack the young then you may have to consider ‘retiring’ him from your breeding program. I would tend to give him one last chance but if the behaviours are repeated then out he goes! In the case of King Quail, two parents are far better than just one.
I once had a very old male quail that was far too ancient to breed yet every breeding season he would wait until a hen was sitting and then chase her off the nest and begin incubating the eggs himself! He was the best parent of the lot and would invariably rear to maturity every chick he hatched – 12 on one occasion! Far better results than even ‘good pairs’ of ‘proper’ males and females! Her also excelled in gathering up any stray chicks in the cage and added a further 4 ‘ring-ins’ to his flock and reared the lot. Told you a good male was worth his weight in gold – even if he is ancient!

2) Coccidiosis in finches:

One from Harry:
“I have heard of coccidiosis spoken about at the bird club and wondered whether you could tell me what it actually is, how birds get it and what treatments are available?”

A. Fortunately my experience with Coccidiosis has been limited to a few birds from the mainland and has not been a huge problem for us here in Tassie. However, I know of several mainlanders that would beg to differ!
The Coccidia is a protozoal parasite which means that it is, generally, a single celled organism. If an oocyst (egg) is the ingested by the bird whilst feeding it may simply pass on through but if the eggs is ‘active’ or sporulated it will burrow through to the bowel and enter a reproductive phase which sees a host of new oocysts passed back through the bowel lining and out of the body. As you can imagine this isn’t a picnic for the host. The danger of this organism is that it does not require an intermediate host and is quite capable of causing a high mortality rate once it establishes in an aviary off its own bat, so to speak. Young birds are at most risk of this and I believe that this is due to their poorly developed immune system. Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions are also a great climate for this pest to spread through a collection causing high losses.

Symptoms would appear to include a general fluffed, hunched appearance, desire to drink continually, greenish through to black droppings – as a result of blood in the faeces through rupturing of the bowel.

The oocysts (eggs) have a very tough outer coating and can resist desiccation and remain viable in the soil for in excess of 12 months. It loves wet, damp and humid areas of your aviary. It is recommended that the soil be aerated on a regular basis, treated with lime or replaced with concrete!!
Can enter the soil through wild birds flying over open areas of your flights and any rodents that sneak past your defences. Although most species of Coccidia are highly species specific and you might be free from Starlings and Indian Mynahs I have seen large flocks of wild finches frequently dropping by to visit their captive cousins!

My treatment of choice is with Baycox (active ingredient is 25g/l Toltrazuril) at the rate of 2mls/litre for 3 days.
In the bad old days we resorted to using Amprolium based products but these required lengthy treatments at different dose rates over a number of weeks and were, as a result, of this over time, open to misuse and widespread resistance was, unfortunately, the end result.
I guess that its liking for wet, damp spots makes it a management problem that needs attention the closer that you get to the equator.


Marty writes:
“I have 2 young green singers that have lost their Juvenile necklace and I am uncertain as to their sex. Does this mean they are going to be cock birds, or could they be hens, and do they develop the hen's necklace again, as they mature? Both are in with known cock birds and have been carrying grass and building a nest. Will 2 cock birds behave like this?
I am uncertain as I have only ever bred young cocks before and am unsure how young hens develop. I thought hens would not lose the necklace but retain it?”

A: Been a while since I’ve had young Green Singers but I did find with mine that the hen never completely lost her necklace even when acquiring adult plumage. The males tended to lose the necklace across the front of the chest, which was replaced by a lemon/yellow colouration while hens kept the stippling with only a few gaps in the centre of the necklace. Even in hens that tend to lose part of their necklace it is invariably only in the centre parts and the edging section remain.
To me the greatest indicator of the sex of a young Singer is the white, streaky cheek patches that the hen appears to get at a relatively early age and the general duller appearance of the hens heads against the brighter yellow of the male.

After racing out to look at a mates youngsters I was also able to add that the cock bird tends to have a broader head than the females – but not much good if you only have the same sex to compare I guess!

From experience two males would be fine together until a female was introduced and then the fights would ensue to the terminal detriment of one of the males! These birds have very little sense of humour as you will find out if you try to run a trio of 2 hens and one cock – even the hens get into the ‘action’! I was once told that my trio was a bad move and, much to my surprise, as soon as I removed one female the remaining pair went straight to nest, so much for two hens being better than one!!

So, to cut to the chase, I agree with you that there is always part of the necklace visible in young hens - and mine tended to produce more hens than cocks – and don’t let their behaviour fool you as my first Red Strawberries were both males and they built a nest and preened constantly and stead fast refused to have anything to do with the two females I obtained for them……….their days were numbered!

4) Breeding Cordons:

 Evelyn has a problem:
“I have a pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu’s and they are eager to go to nest, hatch out their chicks and then they either throw them out or simply leave them to die in the nest. I have been told that they are a waxbill and need live food to breed successfully. What is a waxbill and what sort of live food do I need to feed them to stop this happening?”

 A: Waxbills are a group within the Estrildid or weaver finches that, in the main, hail from Africa and Asia. Members of this group are generally smaller finches and, although being seedeaters most of the year, they have a distinct liking for live food when breeding. In fact many consider live food essential for the successful breeding of this group.

African Fire finches (Ruddies), The Blue Waxbills (Blue Caps, Cordons, Violet-ears and Purple Grenadiers), Twinspots, Strawberries, Orange-breasted and Pytilias are some of the better-known members of this group in aviculture.

I suspect that you may not be keen to culture maggots so I’ll stick to the next best thing in my opinion – the mealworm. I must stress here that ‘my next best thing’ is based on the fact that we don’t have access to termites or white ants here!!  So if you are anywhere that you can grab termites do so as they are the preferred live food of wild waxbills – well, African ones at any rate!!

Back to the mealies. If I were you I would grab some ‘mini-mealies’ from one of the suppliers. These are very small mealworms and are exceptional value for money and mine are purchased from Pisces Enterprises in Queensland, but you may have to be a licensed breeder to deal directly with them. When you receive your mealies sieve the wheat bran out and place them into oat bran and feed them on carrots. Why put them in oat bran? Goes back to a conversation I once had with Mike Fidler from the UK who suggested that the nutritional value of wheat bran was zero and that I’d be better off, both nutritionally and monetary wise, feeding them on cardboard! Further to this point I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the 2004 AFA conference in Canberra where I heard well-known Canadian aviculturist Peter Karsten state that mealworms fed on wheat bran are low in calcium and produce phytic acid which binds to the available calcium thus further reducing calcium levels in the bird, if my chemistry is up to scratch!!  Anyway, wheat bran is high in phosphorous but low in calcium. This could lead to egg binding problems when breeding time arrives – especially if the breeding season is disrupted by any cool changes, not that I’d know anything about that!!! Apparently, growing your mealies in oat bran circumvents this problem.

So a few mealworms might prove the difference between breeding a few Cordons and having them thrown onto the floor! Remember that Cordons love to decapitate every mealworm in the bowl, so the best plan is a few at regular intervals through the day if at all possible. In case you think you can outwit them by giving them ten times more than they need remember that they only actually eat the freshly killed ones!! You could also place some low wattage lights into your flight that would attract insects and the like to your aviary and the Cordons should delight in chasing around and catching one or ten during the daylight hours!


“Heard a lot about compost heaps in aviaries for attracting insects. Are they used by many breeders still? How would you go about building one?”

A:  Well, I wouldn’t and don’t, have one in any of my aviaries and I removed them all some number of years ago. Why? Two of us put all our Pictorella mannikins together in my aviary which also had a rather large compost ‘pit’ in the corner. The Picts spent a great deal of time down there picking for insects every time the heap was turned over, white worm being present by the bucket full. From our three pair we turned out 22 youngsters.
BUT, one by one, many of the parents and youngsters died over a 6 month period and, when we finally had autopsies performed, we found that these birds were riddled with fungal organisms and carried a large worm component. Not much use providing a compost heap for the birds if it is ultimately going to kill them!! Sure, it was a cheap source of livefood and the birds really appeared to enjoy fossicking about in it, but now we just work harder to supply our own live food and try to ensure that the birds remain ‘fungus free’ – since removing the compost heaps from our aviaries we have never had an autopsy returned with a deadly fungus count. As many of the parasitic worms that infest, or would like to infest, our birds like nothing better than being deposited in just such a warm, moist environment as your compost heap you would, surely, be creating an ultimately ‘dangerous’ feeding station for your charges? Coccidial organisms also thrive in such condition and, should your compost heap be out in the open flight, a direct hit from a passing House sparrow or Starling could be all that is needed to create an epidemic in your aviary. Also I am aware of at least one instance of an outbreak of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis being linked to just such a scenario from a compost heap.
If you must establish one then what I seem to remember is creating a rather large hole and adding in waste seed, vegetable and fruit scraps, lawn clipping and other such mulch material. This is then well-watered and, once the process of fermentation is well under way – that is it gets hot!!- it is regularly turned so that the birds have access to the rapidly sprouting seed and insects lurking within. We also added a culture or 3 of white worms and left the rest to nature. Every few months the entire ‘structure’ was dug up and most removed and the whole heaps topped up and re-used. We also added lime every few months in an attempt – in vain as we now know- to ‘freshen’ the heap up. Yes, birds love them, but I suggest you will ultimately need an even larger hole to bury your finches in or, at best, be prepared to contribute to your vet’s retirement fund!!


“Hi, been reading your website for a while and wanted to know what birds you would recommend for a mixed collection of finches. I have Zebras, Bengalese and Java sparrows but would like to include a few more Australian and Foreign finches. Any help would be appreciated.”

A:  Ok, now I am going to probably get myself into real trouble! Sorry mate, but you have got three of the worst species going for the Mixed Finch Aviary! All of these guys are what I call ultimate survivors and will breed on you if you stand still long enough!
They have the ability to rapidly reproduce, will dominate all available food sources and are absolute bullies when it comes to the ‘acquisition’ of nesting materials. I speak from first hand experience from way back in the dim, dark past when I first started keeping birds. I had these three species and they were breeding like mad things and their young supplied me with enough ‘readies’ to purchase the next rung of finches, namely Redbrows, Chestnuts and Stars.
My Stars went straight to nest but their young kept ‘appearing’ on the floor, the Chestnuts built 2 beautiful nests, eggs duly appeared but hatched into yet more Zebra finches! The cause - my Java’s had a pathological need to throw every young Star out of the nest, the Zebras waited until the Chestnuts had built and invariably took over all their completed nests! Add to this mix that every time my Redbrows started to build a nest, it soon became filled with every confounded Bengalese in the aviary! Most of the Australian and Exotic finches are not as aggressive as the three species that you have and their breeding success in an aviary with these guys would be expected to be minimal – obviously I am unaware of the size of your aviary!
My suggestion would be to leave your three species together and maybe add a pair of Neophema parrots or a pair of Masked or Diamond doves to the mix.
As to your next level of finches? Sorry mate, but unless you want to try Cutthroat finches then it looks like aviary two might have to be on the drawing board!!



“I’ve read all this stuff on worming finches and I am in the situation where I don’t need to worm my finches as I have a closed system aviary. My aviaries are totally covered in and roofed so what need have I for worming my birds? Surely your paranoia and ‘scare mongering’ about the dangers of parasitic worms should not, and need not apply to me?”

A:  Well mate, YOU are just the person that SHOULD be sharing in this paranoia rather than adopting a superior stand point! Unscrew the monocle for a minute and ponder the fact that the creatures that you are basically stating have no effect on your birds are evolutionary survivors that have passed the test of time with flying colours. They do not kill your birds straight up but will breed inside them for weeks, even months before so weakening them that they die – usually as a result of a dramatic climate change, movement to a new aviary or from the stress brought on from simply breeding.
During this period they have produced countless thousands of eggs (oocysts) that lurk about on your aviary floor just waiting for that intermediate insect host to stumble by so that they can reinfest your birds a second time over!! However, this is further compounded by the fact that some have dispensed with the services of an intermediate host altogether. As I spoke with this person I asked him four simple, yet annoying questions:
1) Do you ever go inside your aviary to feed and clean your birds?
Of course I do, I feed them twice a day and put grass and other nesting materials in for them, what a ridiculous question!

2) Do you allow other people to go into your aviary?
What is this? You know full well you’ve been in them and anyone else can if they are interested in looking at the birds and my aviary set-up!

3) Do you feed you birds seeding grasses?
Of course! I have a patch of Silver beet in the garden and have two plots of Green panic and Veldt oats. I also have a patch of Rye and Milk thistle at work.

4) Do you feed your birds live food?
More inane questions! Of course I do you know that!

Well, so much for the closed aviary! With that much foot traffic through an aviary there is a VERY good chance of parasite eggs getting inside on the soles of someone’s boots, maybe that Silver beet scored a direct hit from a passing
House sparrow this morning too! I also remembered that a vet once told me that the humble black ant is a favoured host for tapeworms species so I asked our, by now irate and ‘touchy’ finch keeper, whether he had ever seen ants in his aviary! His response, the bits I could print at any rate, suggested that he had seen the odd one or two (thousand me thinks!!) in there.
So there you go. We all need to know and respect parasitic worms regardless
of where we live or how our birds are kept, never write off a true professional
survivor in such a trite manner.
Oh, I did have one more question just to clinch the ‘deal’. ”How many birds have you had autopsied mate?” I can’t afford that! I’ve never had one autopsied as long as I’ve kept birds.
The case for the defense rests!!



“If my understanding is correct, finches will, only be good for breeding for 2-3 years. Is this really the case? If so what do you do with your old finches?”

A:  In a word mate NO!
Most finches from Waxbills, through Grassfinches to Weavers will breed for a far greater period than that. The breeding life of finches will, of course, vary greatly from family to family.
The average Grenadier weaver will breed for as many as 15 years and my best breeding male was 17 years of age and rarely produced an infertile egg. He adopted the ‘trick’ of colouring up a month before the younger male weavers in the aviary and always put 2-3 hens down before the younger ones took over. His biological duties over for the year he would just be content to sit there and watch the other males fight with a smug look on his face!!
Many of the Siskins, Greenfinches and Singers will breed for 6-7 years with no problems at all and often putting an older, more experienced male with a young female will continue to reap rewards – just ensure that you keep records of clutch sizes and chick numbers so that you can check for any signs of decreased reproductive output.
Australian Grassfinches can often produce for 4-5 years with no obvious signs of reduced fertility. The key is knowing how old your stock is when you obtain it so that you can accurately predict what is expected from them.
Often people will replace stock that dies without considering whether you are putting a young cock to a very old hen or a new young hen to a very old male. Guess this is where your records are of paramount importance. If you start off with young birds and still don’t breed then you can reassess your pairings far more accurately. If they do only breed for you for 2-3 years it could be because they had a pension plan when you acquired them!!
As to the old birds, well, I must admit to having a cage with a number of ‘pensioners’ in it. Some have been with me for a number of years and, in their prime, bred a large number of offspring. I feel that repaying them by boxing them off to the nearest bird dealer is pretty poor treatment for their efforts!
Some still produce the odd youngster but, as they owe me naught, what is a bit of seed and greens in the scheme of things. But, I guess what really lies behind the question is, what do I do with the majority of older birds – most age indeterminate- that I sort out after the breeding season? Most do find their way to the bird dealers or are sold ‘out the door’ to bird breeders with the statement that they are adult birds. The term ‘adult birds’ is just that as I will always try to keep my own youngsters bred on the property for next breeding season as they have been reared on my feeding regime. So I will dispose of breeding pairs in order to retain youngsters that have been bred in my aviaries. Be honest with fellow breeders and it should pay off in the long run.
As I have been on the receiving end of some VERY old birds sent as “youngsters” I am aware how frustrating that can be so any birds that are knowingly past their reproductive age are simply given away. If you institute a sound breeding program you will regularly mix your blood lines and should avoid the problems of a number of very old birds.
Knowingly selling aged birds to fellow bird breeders is equivalent to avian suicide as word will soon get around and you will find it increasingly hard to obtain new stock – think the birds world is a big place? Just get a reputation for selling such birds and
you might find it’s smaller than you first thought – to your cost!!


“ I have just started keeping a collection of finches and I wondered what you thought about nest inspection – some swear it is dangerous and others that it is OK - Confused!”

A:  Hi Confused, guess you might just have to stay that way for a while because, no doubt, I will confuse you even more!! Talk to 200 finch keepers and you will discover 200 slightly different opinions. In mind of that here, for what it may be worth, is mine!! I am afraid that I am a bit of a ‘finger prodder’ where finch nests are concerned!
I prefer to know what is going on in the nest so that I can be in the best position to intervene if necessary. Why intervene? Many finches will lay clear (infertile)
eggs and many will continue to sit on them long after the required incubation
period. If you throw away these clear eggs chances are that the birds will lay again with, hopefully, better results. I have seen finches sit on eggs until they have actually exploded underneath them leaving them covered in a smelly residue!
As a rule of thumb I try not to destroy or alter the structure of the nest when inspecting and a dentists mirror and a small pencil-like torch are often best for tricky nests. A simple feel in the nest will tell you much about the status of the eggs/and or chicks in the nest. With chicks your best weapon as to how they are progressing is your nose as there is nothing quite as ‘fragrant’ as a nest of abandoned chicks in the heat of the aviary environment!
Guess I haven’t told you anything new but them’s the breaks in this case mate! But, that most probably goes back to the fact that the key phrase in this question is to “know your own birds”.
Through trial and error you will soon work out the pairs that you can touch and the ones you can’t – sounds a bit grim but it is a fact I’m afraid. I have pairs of Red-head pytilias that I regularly swap eggs between and they have never deserted a nest – I take down the wicker nest baskets and roll the eggs out and replace them and the sitting birds are usually lining up to re-enter the nest as I leave their cage! However, I also have a pair that I try to avoid even looking in the direction of their nest lest they should take some umbrage and desert!!
Know your birds and, if in any doubt what-so-ever, FINGERS OUT! Even with my inquisitive approach I am not game to touch Star or Plumhead nests as these birds appear to be super sensitive to nest inspection. I am told that Orange-cheek waxbills are another and know of a friend that experienced problems with African Fire finches.
Some hints that I have encountered from other breeders/writers that might help

l Inspect nests as a regular part of your daily aviary visit.

l Inspect nests at the same time each day.

l Rub your fingers/mirror and torch in seed, soft food or something ‘familiar’ in the aviary before inserting said ‘object’ in a finches nest – debate is divided here as there is some conjecture as to just how good IS a birds sense of smell!

l Remove eggs and/or chicks with a spoon rather than your fingers – again after rubbing it in some familiar food item to remove the ‘human smell’.

l Limit the frequency of nest inspection to emergency only and let nature take its course.

Probably nothing new here but the onus is on you in regards this question and
your view point probably falls somewhere in the list above as you know your birds better than anyone else!
As an example of this from the world of hookbills, I responded to an e-mail about an article that appeared in NZ Birdz (July-August, 2003) about Quaker parrots where a ‘learned’ gentleman, for lack of a more ‘descriptive’ term, suggested that I ‘obviously’ did not have ‘first-hand experience’ with these birds as a number of ‘well respected’ authors had stated that nest inspection was ‘hazardous’ for these birds and just not performed. My birds couldn’t care less whether I removed the chicks/ eggs and the male has landed on my hand and proceeded to feed the chick in my hand!!
I only stated what was OK for my birds and did not profess to generalize to Quaker parrots as a whole - again, know YOUR birds!

10) Dean from NSW writes:
 “I recently purchased some new birds, Masked grassfinches, Yellow-billed Longtails, Plumheads, Red stars, Double Bars and Orange-breasted waxbills.  I then lost 1Mask, 1 Longtail and 1 Plumhead after their second dose of wormer, given two weeks after their initial dose.  Why do you think these birds died? All new birds I get in are segregated for 4-5 weeks but I always seem to lose a couple after I have wormed them, I wait a week before worming them. Before worming they look great!  I use Avitrol Plus at the rate of 1ml to 50 mls of water. What help can you give?

A.  First, I guess you’ve got to appreciate that worming is a very stressful procedure for most birds given that you are administering a poison of sorts! I am sure your birds DO look great before worming, but you may not know whether those birds have ever seen a worming agent in their lives before! Your climate will also help mask the effects of worm infestation as, generally, the hotter the temperature the longer the birds will survive, or at least be able to hide the fact that they have worms. Maybe you could try, during their quarantine period, giving your birds Apple Cider Vinegar (the non-pasteurised stuff, or the thicker looking the better!!) and Probotics for 14 days to ‘build them up’ before you commence worming. I use 5mls /litre of ACV (some suggest 10mls) to the recommended dose of whatever brand of probotic you choose.

Ok, now to your choice of wormer!! Unfortunately I have seen first hand on a number of occasions the effect of Avitrol Plus given as a flock treatment and it hasn’t been pleasant and I am but one of a hoard in that regards. There are a number of groups of finches that show a real intolerance for it when used as a ’water bowl ‘medication. I use this as recommended in its undiluted state direct to the beak and have had, to date no problems but in the water bowl…………..never! Also your dose rate of 1ml/50mls equates to 20mls/litre which is less than the manufacturer’s dose rate of 25mls/litre. One needs to be very careful using any medications at anything less than their recommended dosage as you may reduce its' killing power’ and cause a resistance problem.

If you are going to persevere with Avitrol Plus I would suggest you seek out another wormer to use for your 14 day repeat worming to, again, reduce the risk of the parasites developing a resistance to your wormer.

11) Sharon from the US writes:

“I read your article on mealworms and was wondering if you can tell me what might be the answer to this question. I have heaps of beetles and they have now died off. There is what appears to be heaps of ‘dust’ but when I have a real close look some of these tiny specks are moving. Is this supposed to happen; if not what’s wrong and how do I fix it? I thought it might be a mite but wasn’t sure if that’s how the eggs hatched If it is a mite is the whole lot to be thrown away and should I start again?

A.   If the moving mass is a greyish colour then I suspect that you have a mite problem as this is commonly seen. If in doubt take a sample to someone with a microscope and you will readily be able to confirm it as a mite. Some people recommend throwing the whole lot away but a friend placed small pieces of apple in an area which attracted the mites and he was able to remove most with a tea spoon – he reckoned that he wasn’t wasting them at any rate! The hatching time for mealworms is around 40 days I am lead to believe, depending upon the temperature, and I have tended to notice small shed skins rather than a moving mass as a tell-tale sign that little mealies were on the way.

 12) Bruce from New Zealand wrote:

“I have lost several 10 day old Gouldian chicks when the hen stopped sitting on them at night during a recent cold snap (would you believe 9 chicks last week!!). I wondered about somehow heating the boxes at night to prevent this. I also breed Red Siskins and cover them with a pad at night in summer to keep them warm, but it is difficult and not that effective in the colder weather to do this with the Gouldian’s.  I saw in one of your articles about a chap that uses light bulbs under Gouldian nest boxes to keep chicks warm in colder weather in NSW and wondered whether you could give me any details.

A.  Hi Bruce, the guy you’d be talking about would be Glen Bowden from Tamworth. I was speaking to Glen a while back about his lights as I was surprised to see his set-up seeing it was about 30 degrees the day we were there in April! He suggested that winter temperatures can get to minus 10 degrees overnight so it was essential that the boxes are heated as the Gouldian’s breed during these winter months! Rather than waste your time with a lengthy description of his system for heating the boxes I thought it more prudent to attach the photo below which will give you a far better insight than I can! I believe that Glen uses 25 or 40 watt globes in these batten holders.


Lights under Gouldian boxes.



13: "I have heard breeders talk about birds that are ‘single factors’ and/or ‘double factors’ for a particular trait and I was unsure as to what these terms actually mean?"

A: I too must admit to being a tad confused as to what breeders meant when they bandied round these terms! However, I did study basic genetics at Uni so I ‘thought’ I knew what the actual terms were that they were referring to so I recently consulted a few Gouldian breeders who were ‘up to scratch’ with their genetics and they all basically told me the same story.
So, with some apologies to them, and with a few initial terms for you here goes!

Firstly, the term Genotype refers to the gene makeup within the chromosomes of a bird and is not something we can ‘see’ by looking at the bird and the Phenotype is the expression of those genes and is something we can readily ‘see’ when looking at the actual bird. The genotype determines the phenotype if you like!

It refers to the genetic makeup of the bird (Genotype) for that particular trait. In extremely simplistic terms genes occur in pairs which means that for every trait/feature there are two genes which determine the features expression (Phenotype or what we actually see when we look at the bird). But each visible Phenotype has three possible gene combinations or genotypes. Lost me already? How about I stick to something really simple that I know which is regrettably, a parrot!!

I breed Quaker parrots and they come in two colours (so far here at least!!) – the ‘normal’ green colour and the mutation blue body colour. The gene is an autosomal one which just means that it is carried within the body chromosomes rather than on the sex chromosomes.
Green colour G is dominant to blue colour g, which is recessive. This means that for a bird to be blue it must have two recessive genes – gg which makes it double factor for blue colour, however any green bird can have two different gene combinations. A normal green bird can be GG or Gg and still be green. The bird with Gg is called a ‘split or carrier’ or we could simply say it is single factor for blue colour – in other words it could pass the gene for blue colour onto its progeny.

The other form of inheritance that we commonly see is called Sex-linked and refers only to traits carried on the X chromosomes. In birds cocks have two X chromosomes (XX) and hens have only one X (XO). So, referring back to our original question you cannot have double factor hens for a sex-linked trait. Males can be single or double factor for a particular trait. Fawn St.Helena waxbills and Sea green parrotfinches are examples of sex-linked traits in finches. In sex-linked traits there are usually a higher number of females showing the trait because they only need one recessive gene to show the trait whereas males need two recessive genes – one on each of the X chromosomes.

So, what do I reckon? Well, at the risk of introducing yet another set of terms, I think that a single factor bird is one that carries the trait in its genotype and would/may look nothing like the colour mutation you are looking for yet has the ability to pass that desired gene onto its offspring. I’d even dare to say the bird was ‘split’ for that trait and that its genotype was Heterozygous for the trait or has only one recessive gene for that trait!
If, on the other hand, you told me that a bird was a double factor I would say that the bird would have to express the desired colour and would have a genotype that was Homozygous for the trait/colour or would have two genes for that particular trait. This is regardless of whether the trait was dominant or recessive.
Think I’m wrong/mistaken well write in and let me share your thought with the rest of the finch world!!

However, before you reckon this was a gob-full; we didn’t even mention X-linked Dominant, cross-overs, Multiple alleles or Polygenic inheritance……….whew!!

14:  I’m going to cheat a little here because I once had real trouble getting my mealworms to turn into pupae and I was recently was sent this advice from Peter Karsten the Canadian softbill expert who spoke at the 2004 AFA conference in Canberra and thought I’d use this column to share it with you all. Over to you Peter!

A:  "I read your recent article on raising mealworms and you asked at the end if anybody has a trick to get the mature larvae to pupate.

What works for me is cutting back on moisture i.e. carrots/greens etc. when they have reached full size and more importantly to place folded pieces of brown paper (grocery bags or animal feed bags) on top of the medium. Two or three folded pieces about the size of the surface to create two pockets will do nicely. The larvae see this as a good site away from gnawing larvae and pupate en mass. You can lift up one side of the pocket and look at the pupating larvae and pupae all gathered up cleanly in-between the sheets. Do not fold the paper harmonica style or you will dump most of the larvae when you inspect the inside. Raising the temperature to 29 Celsius should also be beneficial. Cutting back on moisture gives an alarm signal to better pupate than to die of dehydration. Flies and Waxworm will pupate when they run out of food and turn into smaller adults, but they do complete the cycle. This is why we see a given species of flies and other insects of different size in the imago stage.

When I find I have more than I need for beetles I sometimes pick up a paper pocket and dump the clean larvae and pupae into a dish to harvest them as food for my birds. It is quick and efficient because the larvae are at maximum size and I do not need to disturb the culture."

Geoff e-mailed
"I am about to install full-spectrum lighting in my finch flights and I have heard various things about the critical nature of the actual situation of the lights in relation to the birds and wondered whether you could ‘shed some light’ upon the subject!"

A: I’ll do the jokes thanks Geoff – the nerve of some people!!
I too am contemplating this very situation myself and have spent some time researching and asking 4000 questions of a number of NSW’s breeders that have some experience with this form of lighting. I must admit what I learnt has certainly made me rethink the "how" of installing these lights. It is not just simply a matter of whacking a full-spectrum fluoro into the flight and sitting back saying how clever you are! Apparently the birds need to perch within 12-18 inches (~ 30cms) of the light otherwise any beneficial effects are lost. This means that one will have to be clever when siting any perches so that just such a situation is created. Merely attaching the fluoro to the ceiling is a waste of time as it would be relatively impossible for the bird to actually sit there unless they could hover! To gain any benefits from full-spectrum lighting the birds need to spend at least 30 minutes under the lights on a daily basis so this must also be factored in. Apart for the commoner fluoro tube lights there are a number of screw-in full-spectrum lights available in Australia from the Arcadia Company. Apparently these screw-in ones have a life of around 12 months whereas I have been told the fluoro's may only have a viable life of around 3-6 months depending upon which brand you choose.


16:  Justin says: "After you recommended Lebanese cucumber, I tried it with some birds and they just looked at it but let it shrivel up untouched!! Is there any nutritional difference between Lebanese cucumber and Normal cucumber?

A: The answer to getting your birds to eat it is a relatively easy one using the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ philosophy. Simply place a Red-faced parrotfinch in your aviary and you’ll have all your birds eating it in no time flat. They consume absolutely every piece of the seeds and pith leaving only the green skin. Would be interested in knowing what birds rejected it as I have seen Blue-caps, Pytilias, Siskins and every bird in between eating it with relish.
As to the nutritional value I am not 100% sure if there is any difference between the varieties but a number of breeders in many different countries extol the virtue of the Lebanese variety over its (usually cheaper!!) cousins. My attempts at finding what is in the cucumber that makes it so appealing – well, to most peoples birds at any rate – has been less than spectacular! Some have claimed that it has aphrodisiac properties but all I can ascertain is that it is rich in vitamin C which may be why my finches have never suffered from scurvy!!

One reason for feeding it and not the ‘burping varieties’ is that it has the same effect upon them as it does upon us! My mate made an executive decision to purchase a normal cucumber when the Lebanese variety was extremely expensive and stated that his birds were sitting around the cucumber gasping…..or should I say burping… much that he feared for their health!! I kid you not! He swears its true but I have never fed them any other type.

Debbie asks: "I am thinking of getting a few Weaver species to add to my collection. Are Weavers able to be mixed in with other finches safely?"

A: I guess the answer to this question has many parts depending upon which of the Weavers you are planning to keep in with your other finches. I feel I’d best go through most of the commoner species available as they are rather ‘different’ in their natures to say the least.
The Comoro/Madagascar weaver is the cheapest available and the nastiest to boot!! The ones available here in Australia tend to be a mish-mash of both species with the amount of red on the chest the indicator of whether they are more Comoro – red half way down the chest – or more Madagascar – full red right down the chest and between the legs.

In the hens the Comoro’s tend to be an olive green while the Maddies are a more brownish colouration.

Pure Maddies are reputedly the ‘friendliest’ of the family but I wouldn’t trust them with crows! A friend had a pair in with a pair of Green singers and two pairs of Turquoise parrots. He complained to me that the Singers were attacking his Turks and had killed one of the hens. I stated that it was the Maddies rather than the Singers but he wouldn’t believe me. That is until he rang to say that over the season he had bred 9 Maddies and that the parents had killed them all in one night along with a cock Turk for good measure! All had their heads completely scalped!
My tendency would be to give the Maddies a miss! Depending upon the purity of the birds you were getting I would expect to pay upwards of $150 a pair.

The Grenadier weaver or Red Bishop is my favourite and is a bird I would recommend it to anyone for a mixed collection. They sit around like sparrows for 8 months of the year then the male erupts into their nuptial plumage. When breeding they require plenty of livefood so it is important not to overcrowd their aviary with other insectivorous species. A great bird that I have not witnessed attacking any other finches unless they dared to approach too close to the weavers nest. At around the $300-$400 mark they are a bargain.

The Orange Bishop weaver is a sub species of Red Bishop and is a smaller bird. From my limited experience with this species they would appear to be a tad more aggressive than the Grenadier. Thus saying they appear fine with most finches as long as they keep their distance! I have never noticed them actively chasing other species and we bred a number of birds like Pictorellas, Red Strawberries, Red-faced parrotfinches and Grey singers in the same aviary. This species appears to be more dependent on the weather than the Grenadier and rainfall is the key factor in breeding this species. Also males vary in their ‘matrimonial responsibilities’ and a good male is essential for successful breeding results. You could expect to pay upwards of $2000 for a pair of these guys.
The last of the Weavers available here is the Napoleon weaver. My experience with these guys is restricted to my mates pair and these birds have shown little aggression to other birds in with them although, given their very high price, there were very few bird in with them. They pursue the hens with vigour and males will do likewise to each other which may annoy some more delicate finches!

At around $3000 a pair they are not for the feint hearted. These Weavers appear less controlled by the weather than either of the other two Bishops.

Hope that has given you a brief look at the Weaver species here in Australia and a little about their habits. Although I have extolled the virtues of the Grenadier I must point out that it will strip the plants in your aviary whereas the other species tend to hide their nests rather than advertise their presence by stripping all and sundry from around the nest. One of the very few plants that can withstand the onslaught of the Grennies at breeding time is the humble Genista bush.

18:  My name is Suzy and I have only recently become a Finch addict!!!!!  I have started with Gouldians which apparently I am told are quite touchy!!! I seem to have trouble with air-sac mites in the birds I have bought; one in particular is not too well at the moment. I have spoken to the breeder that I purchased my 2 pairs from and he has said to add Ivermectin syrup to the drinking water. I have done this and the bird is not any worse but is definitely no better either. I have seen on other American site a product called Scatt….do we have that in Australia?? Do you have any other tips for me with my Gouldians? Look forward to learning more about this breed to enable me to care for them properly. Many thanks for your time.

 A: Must admit that I am not the world’s best person to ask about Gouldians as I have only just started with them but have bred heaps this season – must have been the good birds to start with!!!
My first port of call would be to send a faecal sample to an avian vet – such as Colin Walker at the Australian Pigeon Company or Danny Brown in the Glasshouse Mountains – and actually confirm that it is air sac mite you are dealing with.
However, worms and worming is one of my fetishes so here goes!! I gather you have Ivomectin??  If you have the sheep and goat strength one add 3.1 mls of Ivomec to 25mls of isopropyl alcohol (from chemist or a friend that dabbles in chemistry!!) and add ONLY 2 drops to the back of the neck. If not you could end up with a very inebriated bird! If you have cattle strength Ivomec then add 0.5mls to 25mls of alcohol and same dose rate.  That should do the trick but you may have to repeat every couple of weeks to ensure you kill it all as air sac mite and gizzard worm can prove difficult to kill and completely remove.
Scatt is a product produced here by Vetafarm but I do not use it. The active ingredient is Moxidectin which is sold as Cydectin....5mls per litre of water for 5 days is the recommended rate. I use Cydectin (Cydectin Plus is the new version which contains a tapewormer - praziquental - as well and is VERY bitter so use a sweetener!!) quite a lot in the water but I suspect you would need to be more aggressive to get rid of air sac mite if that is what the problem really is as many respiratory problems appear to be similar to air sac BUT it is what I would suspect given the species!!!  Dr Colin Walker at the Australian Pigeon Company sells both sorts in small bottles.....aint cheap but does the trick!!
Just as a final word I will refer back to a good mate who has always told me that “clean water is next to godliness” where Gouldians are concerned.

19:Tom called with this one:
I recently brought a pair of split Seagreen parrotfinches from a mate, they are both normal looking but I am assured that they will produce both male and female Seagreens in their offspring. However, my reading has suggested that the type of genetical inheritance for Seagreen is sex-linked and I am unsure as to what this actually means! Could you shed some light on this problem for me and is my mate correct?

 A: Shall have to be a little careful here Tom as I suspect my reply may cause a bit of a ‘ruckus’!
There are basically – and I do stress the ‘basically’ bit - two types of inheritance. There are traits that can be carried on what we call AUTOSOMES or ‘body chromosomes’ or on the SEX CHROMOSOMES or ‘X and Y’ chromosomes. So both males and females have the same autosomes but, depending upon their sex, different sex chromosomes. In birds the male has two X chromosomes (same as for females in humans, whereas us mere males have an XY system where the Y is a tiny excuse for a chromosome and hence males tend to show far more sex-linked traits than females!) and the female has what is known as an XO sex determination system where the O simply denotes the absence of a chromosome. Clear as mud?! This means that male birds have one extra chromosome than females.

What does it all mean for you? Well, if any trait is carried on the Sex Chromosomes then a male must have two recessive genes for that trait – one on each of the X chromosomes – to show that recessive trait. Whereas in the female she only needs one recessive gene to show that trait as she only has one X chromosome.
What does this mean for the pair of birds you purchased? Well, your male birds CAN be split for Seagreen – which means that it carries the recessive gene for Seagreen on one X chromosome but its effect is masked by the stronger, normal green body colour gene on the other X chromosome. Therefore it looks green or normal coloured but can pass on the ‘hidden’ gene to its offspring.

However, your female, having only one set of genes for colour on her single X chromosome, must be a normal green female and is simply that and not/can’t be split for Seagreen. Sorry ‘bout that, which mean that your mate is mistaken and that the hen “split” you’ve got is, in reality, a normal Red-faced parrotfinch hen.
Just to add a final thought, if Seagreen colouration had been an autosomal mutation you could have both split males and females but, alas it ain’t!!

20:  I have read that Parson Finches are supposed to be 12 months old before you should breed from them, but mine are carrying grass wanting to breed at 9 months. Will it hurt to let them go ahead and breed?

A: However, nine months is a fair amount of time and if you are residing in a temperate climate then all should be fine. I have known of people that try and breed their birds after their first adult moult and, regardless of whether you are in Cairns or Hobart, this is a recipe for tragedy.
I guess opinion varies on this one with a camp, including myself that feels it is far better to hold the hen back for 12 months than to breed her under that time frame and run the risk of losing her to egg binding. The other camp feels that they are old enough to breed when they want to! In cooler climates it is fairly important to hold your hens back as sudden changes in the weather can prove disastrous for young hens.
However, nine months is a fair amount of time and if you are residing in a temperate climate then all should be fine. I have known of people that try and breed their birds after their first adult moult and, regardless of whether you are in Cairns or Hobart, this is a recipe for tragedy.

Also if both your birds are the same age, say juveniles, they will mature at a similar rate and probably be ready to breed in synch with each other. The other recipe for disaster is to introduce a young hen to a mature cock perhaps following the death of its mate. In this scenario the adult male will be ready to breed as soon as he accepts his new mate but the hen may require a far longer time interval to become ready to breed. This constant harassment may lead to increased stress levels in the younger bird or may result in egg binding/laying problems as the hen is ‘not ready’ to reproduce. This behaviour reaches its peak in the Blood or Crimson finch where, if the female is unreceptive to the male’s advances, he may hound her literally to death! I know of several breeders that have introduced young hens to adult cocks with this the end result. At least remove the male from the aviary until the hen has had enough time to settle in or, at least, find a series of clever hiding places!

I do not wish to imply anything sexist by constantly referring to the health and well-being of the hen but, just like us male humans, female birds are a tad genetically weaker! Just as sex-linked traits are expressed mainly in the male population amongst humans similar traits are often shown by female birds in the avian world!

21: Some recommend an austerity diet during winter, yet many in Australia breed from their birds all year round. How can you do both? Is it wise to stop birds from breeding if they want to continue and how is that accomplished if they are left together?

A: The debate about an Austerity diet rages amongst members of the avian community. Much of the literature concerning austerity diets comes from Europe and the US where finches are often kept indoors under regimes of constant temperature and photoperiod. Under such conditions there is no stimulus or maybe lack of stimulus even, to cease reproductive behaviour. Great you say “I could breed my birds 12 months of the year” but pity help your breeding birds trying to cope with 12 months of constant egg laying and chick rearing. How long before the quality of your stock reaches danger point – not long I fear! So what do you do? You alter the climatic conditions or limit the intake of food to your birds removing live food and other rich food sources and impose an austerity period on the birds to ‘make them believe’ that the time for breeding is over.

Here is the crux of the matter – austerity diet or period? I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss just this very point with Mike Fidler and Ray Lowe early last year. I have never been in favour of imposing an “austerity diet” upon my birds because such a removal of foodstuffs during the Tasmanian winter would, I believe, impose undue stress when compounded with our winter ‘climate’. I asked Mike for his opinion of this and he simply smiled and said I’d missed the point! In the Tasmanian climate he stated that there was no real need for an ‘austerity diet’ as the weather imposed an ‘austerity period’ during which time the birds were not ‘encouraged’ to breed – if only he knew how much sense that made from years of living in Tasmania!!

So that was the debate made clear to my cloth-eared brain! The notion of ‘austerity’ is where we devise a regime – be it diet, alteration of photoperiod/temperature, removal of live food, basically whatever suits in your region – whereby you mimic what happens in nature where birds reproductive behaviour is changed/switched from ‘breeding to non-breeding’ or the reverse.

We take birds from an environment where everything is against them and they are, because of their small size, on the top of every predator’s food shopping list. We remove predators, we cater for their every dietary and health whim, we supply them with safe and secure nesting sites, we ensure they never have to access the singles pages again so it is little wonder that they reproduce! However, there comes a point where this reproductive behaviour can damage the birds by being overstimulated to breed and hens and cocks are lost. Sure you have plenty of young to take to the sales and the likes but at what cost to your breeding birds – 3, 4, 5 nests of young when are we satisfied? How many are enough?
To give you an example from the world of hook bills I once sold a guy a pair of Red-fronted Kakarikis and heard that he had bred a few. ‘A few’ turned out to be 21 from this pair and, upon meeting him again; I asked how the pair went. “They pair bred 21 youngsters but the hen dropped dead after the last nest but who cares I did get all those youngsters.” Needless to say I’ve never sold him another thing!

So I guess that answers part of the question. Anyone that constantly breeds from his birds for 12 months has little regard for his birds and would you like to buy the progeny from the 6, 7 or 8th nest?

If your leave your birds together in what I assume is an outside aviary then by manipulating the diet and removing nesting sites and material it is possible to ‘semi-control’ the desire to breed. Removing/limiting live food is also frequently used but some species might still require you to separate the sexes especially if they have a tendency to breed naturally during the winter months in cooler climes or, as can be the case at times, they just won’t stop breeding! Remember a good breeder is prepared to adopt a diverse range of strategies to ensure the optimal breeding return. I always remember a mate of mine who has always maintained that he is from the “old school” of finch keeping yet every time I visit he has subtly altered the way he keeps and feeds his birds, has the best in ‘state of the art wormers’ and the latest soft foods and diets available………….maybe that’s part of the secret to his legendary breeding prowess, old school my foot!!
However, in defence of the finch breeders that I know, I must say that of those that breed for 12 months of the year the ‘rotation system’ comes into play whereby certain pairs are rested to ensure they are ready for next season rather than trying to breed them to death! The breeders I know are too smart for that one and have far more respect for their charges too! I guess what I am saying is that if you fully intend to breed 12 months of the year then you rotate your stock and never succumb to the trick of over-breeding certain breeding pairs. I have been told by some that my ‘theory’ is bollocks as ‘birds will regulate their own breeding’ which, I suspect, is a polite way of saying usually when one of the pair dies!

A bare holding aviary is a very good place for giving birds a rest as this bare nature ensures that you have better control over food stuffs and can watch the calorific content of the diet far easier than in a planted aviary. What goes in you put in!

22:  My name is David; I live in the southern suburbs of Sydney. I need your advice, this morning Sat 4th June, I attended to my aviary in which I house a mixed collection of Finches and to my shock 14 birds of a colony of 20 birds were found dead on the aviary floor. The dead birds include, Stars, Red & Blue face parrots, Painted firetails, Longtails, Cordons & Black nuns, and the only surviving birds were 2 parrot finches & 4 Bengalese. Every night I close the aviary using clear plastic blinds and I have a fan heater that is connected to a timer switch turning on 10 minutes every hour. I try to attend to my birds every day, but on the previous day I did not have the time before work, to supply seed & water. My local bird dealer tells me that finches become stressed after 4-5 hours without food & water, is it truly possible that this is the cause, or might there be other reasons? My birds were happy & healthy on Thursday, and then I found them dead on Saturday morning, please advise me so as this never happens again.

A: Sorry to hear about your birds as I know what it feels like to lose them and in such numbers must be doubly horrendous.

I must tend to agree with your dealer although I suspect they may have been longer without food. They are so small and have a really high metabolic rate that they must eat all the time - as you've probably noticed!! If they don’t have a full crop at night then they are in real trouble which is why using a crop needle to give a feed to any sick or egg bound birds is a must as far as I'm concerned. However, I also know what the demands of work are and trying to cope with both can sometimes lead to similar disasters. I have come close a couple of times myself and was very lucky not to lose any birds.

Guess you'll have to get a better hopper system to ensure it doesn't happen again, I use the ones made by Bob Collier from Queensland and he makes a number of sizes at a reasonable price. I was discussing the merits of various hoppers with a friend in NSW, Warren Barker, and he also informed me that he had been using the same hoppers as we had for years because of the double feeding trays on Bob’s hoppers. The double feeding troughs also help reduce the danger that seed husks could clog up the hopper, giving the impression the hopper was still full but the seeds are unable to flow naturally. Guess we both agreed on that!

My next suggestion might cost you a dollar or two but it is the best expenditure I have made on aviary type "machinery"! I have one of those Daylight Extender Systems that Mick Hanrahan from South Australia sells and I can override it and turn the lights on anytime.........the best thing I have ever purchased, and can feed/check on the birds anytime. I have it set to come on gradually at around 6am and stay on for 2 hours before it switches off. At 4:30pm the lights come on again and remain on until 7:30pm which allows me to attend to many routine chores after work and in good light. At 7:30pm it gradually dims and by 8pm it is dark. The gradual dimming is the great benefit to the birds as they see the "sun" setting and make arrangements to return to favoured roosting sites – far better than simply switching lights on and off and going from bright light to nothing!!

If I ever wondered whether the system was worth it then reading your e-mail has convinced me that it was a VERY wise investment.

On the fan heater David, maybe I would hook it up to a thermostat rather than just having it coming on and off as you do. But, better still, I would give it the boot and replace it with a column filled oil heater hooked up to a thermostat. We use them down here for various reasons and they are quiet, safer and more economical.

Again, our sympathies mate and I hope there is something here so that you and your birds will never have to go through this again.

23: Soft Foods and Finches:
Narelle has been wondering about feeding some of the many supplements that are available today and how her finches would stand to benefit from adding these to their diet. She saw a number on my humble old website, Clifton Finch Aviaries, and was keen to get started!

A: Well Narelle, the old adage of all things in moderation should be adhered to when starting a new feeding regime with any of these supplements. The ones on my site have been developed over a long period by a number of dedicated finch breeders so they are tried and true!
However, perhaps my experience will help you decide or at least make you wary of which types you feed them to.
As you know I hail from a cold state, Tasmania, and this has lead me to make a number of interesting observation on the feeding habits of some finches. I have been feeding a supplement for around 8 months and it was added to the soaked seed every morning, about a tablespoon to a kg container of seed (roughly!). All was going well until I noticed the Blue-faced parrotfinches were hogging the soaked seed, especially during the long winter period, still, nothing abnormal there I thought as they do it every winter. Great I thought, as I knew what was in the mix and felt sure they would benefit from it. The breeding season came and went and from 5 pair of Blue-face not one chick or egg! I caught up a few birds and found, to my horror, that they were obese and riddled with the yellow fat commonly seen in the male Tri-coloured parrotfinch – much to the amusement of a friend from NSW I might add!

I spoke to a number of people about whether the birds, and parrotfinches in particular, were prone to this condition when exposed to such supplements or whether they tended to consume more during colder periods. Most said no but the ones that said so were not familiar with birds kept partly outdoors during a Tasmanian winter so I rang a few trusted local yokels for their opinion. What did they say?

It has taken two of us around 3 months to ‘slim down’ our Blue-face in order to get them fit enough to breed. In fact ours were so keen when they had slimmed down that we both have youngsters in June!!!! Unfortunately no-one has stepped forward and offered to fund my research on this matter so I must just give you some of my finding based on a very small statistical group and let you draw your own conclusions!
If you live in a more temperate region you may never see the problems I have outlined so feel free to feed supplements ad lib or maybe, just maybe, you’d be wiser to run a few experiments first – up to you!

Oh, and just in case you are still pooh, poohing my comments on increased food intake during winter here’s one for you. The air conditioning unit recently ‘spat the dummy’ at the animal holding facility at the University such that the internal temperatures dropped from 21 degrees Celsius to a wintry 12 degrees. Guess you know what’s coming! Yes, the food consumption of the rodents increased 2 fold! Sure I know they are rodents and not birds but……..feeling as little uneasy are we?!!!
So Narelle, supplements are great in moderation but I feel it just puts the onus back on us to keep watching our birds and to never get complaisant over what we present to them. Talk to 150 aviculturists and they’ll give you 150 slightly different tips but it’s basically up to you how you assimilate their information and apply it to your own flock.

24: James Wilson from N.S.W e-mailed in:
I am just starting out with finches and at the moment I have 7 Zebra finches - 3 of which I bred myself. I have attached a photo of my aviary (under construction when photo was taken) which faces north with the north face of the enclosed section open except for the roof. I was just wondering if you could provide me with some of your expertise.
I would like to keep Gouldian’s, Stars and Double Bars. Will these birds live together in the same cage, also what type of plants should I put in the cage and will I need to offer more protection from the cold?

A: Always good to hear of someone starting out and it sure makes the years melt away………OK, I wont push it too far!!!! Anyway, I guess we can all remember ‘way back when’ and most of us would have had the ubiquitous Zebbies there with us at the start!
Firstly, don’t make the same mistake as I did, get rid of the Zebbies before you take the next step up to Stars, Emblemas and the likes as the Zeb can take over from many of the more ‘timid’ species and disrupt breeding. I can well remember watching my Chestnuts build their unlined nests and seeing the chicks hatch only to watch these chicks fledges into yet more Zebbies!

Better still build another aviary just for the Zebs and Bengalese, and thus is a complex born!!

Perhaps I might take the liberty of suggesting a few species to move on to and these would be the Double Bars and Stars you selected plus maybe the Emblema, Chestnut, Longtail and/or Parson Finch.

I always remember a mate who told me that Gouldians are best kept and bred on their own as they appear to be susceptible to diseases that don’t bother many other finches – especially water borne ones. They bred hundred’s of Gouldians over the years in aviaries by themselves so who am I to argue! Thus saying they would probably be fine in with Stars and the likes in the short term.

With grasses and plants I prefer to keep everything in pots so that you can move them in and out of the aviary to give them a rest and recovery session!

This way you can keep rotating your plants to keep good seeding grass heads up to your birds. Guinea grass, African Veldt Oats and Green panic are all good grasses and I tend to favour the Genista bush for aviaries as it appears to be able to withstand the attacks of even the weaver species! Easy to shape and very resilient it is a good bush and can be grown happily in large pots. Place a goodly amount of small pebbles over the top layer of your pot plant and it makes it easy to water through and doesn’t create ‘wet, damp spots’ where parasites could lurk. Oh, and just a reminder to make sure the water holes in the bottom of your pot plant aren’t big enough for a mouse to burrow into as it would be a bit embarrassing to actually take the mice INTO the aviary with the grass!! Not that I’ve done that of course……well??? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!!

As to how much to cover in I guess that depends upon your local knowledge and the best people to ask would be finch breeders from your local club. For example down here in Taswegia the southerly weather is the worst so shelter is erected to help combat this. I believe from fincho’s in the Hunter that the westerlies bring similar conditions up there. So use your local knowledge. However, it is fairly common practise in Australia to face your aviaries in a north-easterly direction to gain maximum benefit from the morning sunshine all year round. When covering you might like to think of using ‘Bronze Tint Polycarbonate‘ sheeting rather than the clear sheets. The Bronze Tint cuts down the amount of heat entering your aviary and does not appear to affect plant growth. If you live in a warm climate it might just help your heat problem. How do we know it allows plants to grow – contrary to what many told us I might add? I placed a sheet of clear and a sheet of Bronze tint side by side on a number of bricks and observed what happened during the summer months. The grass under the clear sheets was burnt and dead while under the Bronze Tint the grass was double the normal size and lush!!

25: Gladys from Victoria hit the ether to email in this question. "As I live in Victoria and winter is fast approaching can you give me some ideas as how to keep my aviaries warm through the colder months. I have heard of people putting clear plastic around their aviaries or putting heaters in the aviaries, but wouldn't that be too expensive?"

A: I guess in Victoria you would have similar problems to us down here but you would have even better summers! Personally I do not have regular heaters in any aviaries but have the power on to most so that I can plug in a column filled oil heater if there are chicks in a nest that might need extra heating at night. Perhaps the best plan of attack is to build your aviaries to suit the local conditions more than relying upon heating during the winter months.

A friend from Western Australia recently returned from a business trip to Africa and the one thing that astounded him was watching Blue-breasted waxbills frolicking about on the lawns in -6 Degree temperatures!! Mind you he did say it was 22 Degrees by lunchtime! Why this seemingly irrelevant detour? Well, I guess it goes to show us that most finches can withstand pretty low temperatures (I’ve never recorded night temperatures close to -6 Degrees even down here in Tassy, mind you I dare say it ain’t been 22 in June here for as long as I’ve been around either!!) as long as they are able to ‘heat up’, for lack of a better phrase, during the daytime. To this end you can enclose your aviaries as we do down here and install a shutter system whereby the finches can be shielded from the lazy winter drafts and breezes. By thus removing the influences of cold breezes the chill factor also is greatly reduced which means that the finches have one less stressful factor acting upon them. So, even if it is only 10 Degrees outside the birds inside might be happily zipping around in 15 Degree "heat" but unhampered by the need to ‘fluff up’ in order to save body heat by the removal of the cool breezes.

One last thing I did spy when I was last lurking about in NSW was a great idea that Mike Fidler had ‘borrowed’ on a recent trip to South Africa and I feel sure he wont mind me outlining it for you here – I hope!
"This" was a red light floodlight (100 or 120 watts from memory) attached to a long length of chair which was suspended from the aviary ceiling and hung within about 12 cms of the floor. The theory was that any chicks that were fledged in cooler weather could shelter there during the coldest part of the night and like wise for ill birds – at least making it easy to spot them and do something about them – and, judging by the contended baby Gouldians I saw huddled under one such lamp I can confirm its effectiveness!

Hope there’s something in this of benefit for you Gladys.

26: Phil from South Australia sent me in this one on my favourite topic!!
"Hello Marcus, Have really enjoyed some of your latest postings - I regularly visit your site to make sure I am up with what is happening. I have a question regarding live food that I am hoping you can answer for me. I have gone into maggot production mode, and this coupled with mealworms has meant it has been quite a few weeks since I have had to purchase any live food. I seem to have a famine or feast though, and I am wondering whether it is my mixture or that is just how it goes? I am following your instructions but using bran and no pollard. It seems that maggots don't generally appear until there is a crust on top of the mixture, and then they can be found in large groups underneath. Is that how it should happen, or should I expect to see them within 24 - 36 hours in a newly mixed batch?"

A: At last a question to get my teeth into – or is that much imagery for so early in the day!! In all honesty Phil I never let it build up a crust on top if I can help it, in fact I aerate them twice every day to stop that happening - if it does form a crust it means that the top maggots have dried out anyway and this could be part of your problem. Turn, turn, and friend. This means that fresh eggs on top of the mix won’t desiccate but will be turned under into softer, juicier substrates – more excellent imagery!!

Also there are a number of factors that will determine the amount of maggots that you will culture and the two most important ones are the number of flies that you are breeding from and the temperature within your fly box. You can guess that the higher the wattage of the bulbs the greater the temperature in your box but beware that the flies do not appear to like temperature in excess of 28-30 Degrees. In fact they die in the droves if it gets above this for any length of time. Depending upon where your fly box actually is will determine what light bulbs you use. Oh, and try to have at least 2 bulbs in your box just in case one blows. You can almost bet it will blow on the coldest night which means your flies will die too!!

I use the Buzz Factor to determine the right amount of flies in the box – if I hit the side of the box and can’t here the flies-a-buzzin’ then there aint enough flies in there!!

Must also correct you a bit there Phil as I would recommend you use a mix of pollard and bran for the flies to blow. However, this also means you must keep a watch on the consistency of the mix as the pollard tends to suck up the water far more than bran alone. This means it is pretty essential that you turn and rewater if necessary, my mixes twice daily.
My guess is that you need to adjust the ‘Buzz Factor’ up a notch or six and, when coupled with better aeration, you will soon have so many maggots………..sorry, gentles for the better mannered of us, that you will be supplying many of your mates with your surplus.
One last thing you might like to try is to use whey powder rather than the traditional calf replacement powders for growing your flies in.

27: We all need putting in our place every now and then so here’s one sent in by Tom!
"Have been reading your columns for a while and have tried a few of the things you suggest with very limited positive results. For a so-called "expert" your advice seems pretty thin, or maybe your not the "expert" you think you are! Not that you’ll bother printing this but maybe you should stick to whatever it is you’re good at with birds and leave the rest to proper breeders or better still get a real job!"

A: Wrong Tom, there she is in all her glory!! Before I get stuck in just one point and that is I’ve never professed to be an expert in any shape or form. Can’t even say that most of the answers that appear in the pages of this column are gleaned from my own brain! They come from the likes of the Butlers, Fidlers, Barkers, Hills, Olivers, Myers, Jackson’s, Buckos, McCrae’s, Alers, Harahan’s, and Grahams (to name but a few!!) of the finch world. So rest assured you have a wide array of ‘brains’ working on your side and not just my humble offerings! Blast! All my secrets are revealed. It is a good thing for you my friend that many of the older Finchos are keen to see their knowledge passed on to the next generation rather than kept as a ‘secret’!
Now what I guess you are asking is why I do it? Basically for two reasons: Firstly, because I get a large number of emails through my website and Paul and I thought some of the other punters might enjoy reading about other peoples problems and being able to relate that to their own trials and tribulations. Secondly, because growing up down here the there was a dearth of finch people and as a youngster there was little in the way of support for "new chums". For example I was once asked by a doyen of the local avicultural society whether snails could act as a host for potentially dangerous worms that finches might ingest if they ate them. I consulted my parasitology lecturer and spent several hours in the Uni library to confirm all that I had been told. When reporting back I asked the gentleman what bird species he was talking about. He simply tapped the side of his nose and said "For me to know son, for me to know." Always remembering that attitude I have endeavoured to answer any questions sent in by anyone I could help.
So there you have it Tom. A scoop for you my friend I ain’t no expert just a plodder like most bird people.

I am sorry that my suggestions have not met with your approval so feel free to elaborate on which ones and I’ll get the brains trust into action. However, birds are not the creatures of habit that some will have you believe. For what may work with raising one nest of youngsters may well fail the next time with the same pair of birds!

Sorry Tom, there is a third reason why I do it and that is for me to learn something new too, just plain old selfish me!

28: This emailed in from Simon:
"Why do Zebra finches babies fly out of their nests too early?"

A:  My guess is that you live somewhere fairly warm! I have noticed that when we get a hot………..yes, I did say hot, day down here you find that many species of finches will bring their youngsters out ahead of time and not even fully feathered, especially Red-cheeked Cordon bleus. Of course down here the night temperature is anyone’s guess so most prudent finch keepers round up the chicks and return them to a nest before dark!
So, if it isn’t a period of hot weather that is bringing the chicks out early then, dare I say it, it could be because ‘somebody’ is taking far too much interest in those very same chicks! Constant nest checking is a sure-fire stimulus to make chicks "abandon ship". Just imagine how huge our heads and hands must appear to a chick that is finch-sized!
If we are honest we can all admit to having caused it to happen by "just checking to see if the chicks are doing well". Well, 90% of the time they are or would have been if we had left them in peace! Do you know how hard it is to shove 5 struggling St Helena waxbills into that tiny next they build!! Gulp, did I just admit that?!
Sorry Simon got carried away! Just make sure you keep nest inspections to a minimum and are prepared to replace the chicks back in the nest if the parents haven’t already done so and all should be well.

29: A conversation with Murray recently led to this question:
"As I live in a fairly cold climate in winter, I have decided to split some pairs of my finches up during this time to prevent problems such as egg-binding and house them in a birdroom in cages. Firstly what do you think of this idea and is it important to put last years pairs back together, with birds such as Fires, Cordons and Orange Breasts or will they accept any mates readily ?"

A: Possibly they will take new mates but I recommend that you try to pair up the same birds that bred for you last season – makes sound sense if you think about it!! This should alleviate some fighting and squabbling over mates. If your record keeping and colour leg banding is up to scratch then you should find it easy to re-mate pairs next season.
However, as to taking new mates some waxbills will while other wont. To give you an example I once had a pair of Orange Breasts which had been together for 5 years when the male died. The female kept pretty much to herself even when a new male was introduced and hardy paid him any attention. She then kept company with some Red Strawberries during the winter and then returned to her solitary existence when they were off breeding. She lived for another 3 years like this and never showed any interest in the male!
Other have shown no reticence when new mates were introduced, especially Red-cheeked Cordons and Fires but I have always found Orange Breasts to be unpredictable as some will while other wont!

You also want to be aware that Orange Breasts will often breed in cooler weather too. Usually when they are reunited all goes to plan but be aware that these guys seem to have two breeding seasons in the same calendar year – well, mine always have and it s pretty cool down here too!!

30: "Do you consider Painted Firetails a 'Soft' finch species and what sort of aviary conditions are needed to have success with this species? Are they prone to any particular problems that I need to be aware of?"

A: Wouldn’t call Painteds or Emblemas soft by any means but know of many that do and the reason is usually because these guys spend much of their time on the aviary floor. Any aviary will suit these guys and they will nest in your pocket if you stand still long enough! They do have a habit of building a massive platform to sit their nest on and having seen where they nest in the wild I can understand that the last thing you would want is a Spinifex plant embedded in any part of your anatomy!
They have a preference for ……….well, any nesting material!! Cotton waste or lintus is a favourite and just ensure you give them plenty of material to nest with as they aren’t adverse to nicking material from other bird’s nests. I breed mine as a colony and have had few problems. In fact the 6 pair has brought out 55 young so far and have more in their nests as I write. It is nothing to see all the youngsters on the floor in a huge huddle first thing in the morning!
Back to the floor again! These birds will pick up anything that is going from the floor so if you have a dirt floor, worms, coccidia and the likes are a real concern and you must factor that in when going for this species. I have had people say they are "soft" but usually one look at their aviary floor will tell you where the problem truly lies!!

So a religious worming regime is essential and try to keep your floors dry and free of rubbish as best you can and you should be fine with them. I keep them with a multitude of other species and have seen little in the way of interference although a mate told me that his were pains when they were hunting nesting material and frequently pilfered it from other birds.

I have 2 pairs of full red-fronted Painteds and these were kept in with the Gouldians but I recently had to move them as the Gouldians were being down right aggressive to their young and I lost a clutch before I realised what was going on!
Apart from these few points I find them bomb proof but must stress that worming is essential for these guys.

31: "I have had problems with keeping young Jacarinis alive once they leave the nest. They leave the nest so young and as we often get cold nights when they breed, young seem to get chilled and I often find them dead on the aviary floor. Do you have any suggestions for overcoming this problem?"

A: Not really I’m afraid as I must admit that when I had them years ago they were fantastic parents. Mine left the nest barely half feathered and always seemed to make it through to become adults. Again mine tended to keep them up in the brush and Tea-tree and well away from the ground. Must ask you a few more questions here. Do you have more than one male in the cage? If so they might be too intent on fighting for either one to do their proper job of feeding the chicks. No?? Next question would be are the parents going straight back to nest when the young are found dead? If so then maybe you should consider adding another hen to your mix to distract the males from the hen with the youngsters for long enough for them to fully fledge. Maybe you should consider the livefood you are feeding too as they might be reacting to the presence of too much live food – especially mealworms – and becoming a bit "too over stimulated" causing them to forget all about their chicks in the need to begin mating again!

No?? Oh well, I’m almost out of ideas!
If the pairs are not the problem you could try placing more brush in your cages for them to clamber through or at least make it easy for them to be able to run up into the brush should they fall to the floor. Also you could do as a friend does and lay branches of Tea-tree or other such bushes on the floor of your cages so that if they do fall onto the floor they can clamber up into these branches and not have to sit on the colder floor all night. This is particularly good for young parrotfinches.

Hope there is a few ideas there for you but I guess the crunch really is whether the chicks actually die on the floor through the cold or die in the brush because their parents ceased feeding them. You might need to do a little more research!

32: Now that the Save The Gouldian Fund has been up and running for a while I thought readers might be interested in some of the questions that we have received since our inception – it might help to answer a few of your own nagging questions about the state of play of the wild Gouldian.

Q) How many different mutations are there in the Gouldian Finch?

A) At present there are 681 and this list is still growing!

 33: Q) Could you tell us of some of the main reasons that are put forward for the decline of the wild Gouldian?

A) Well, for starters mining activities have had little impact save for one mine in the Yinberry region.

It was held that Air-sac mite was a contributing factor but this too has been thoroughly disproved.

Trapping for the aviary trade certainly had an impact and possibly hastened the decline of the Gouldian but, with the cessation of trapping in the early 1980’s, there was no subsequent recovery – in fact the decline became even worse!
So having excluded a couple researchers now feel that the main reasons revolve around preferential grazing by cattle and the increase in allowable stocking levels in the 1970’s.
The cattle eat the grass before it has a chance to set seed and in order to keep green grass available for the cattle there has been an inappropriate use of fire regimes to create the sweetest grass. In other words the grasslands were fired too often in an attempt to keep up the fodder levels which resulted in an inability of the grasses to produce seed. Added to this is the fact that some Spinifex species may only set seed every 2-3 years!
Also current field work is looking at the complex floral association within the grasslands which sees Sorghum replacing many of the native grasses. This creates a monoculture and is suspected of leaving a nasty “hole” in the food chain during the wet season – at a time when Gouldian’s, and other granivorous birds, are particularly vulnerable.
Add to this the Gouldian’s narrow feeding range and you have big trouble!

 34: Q) I read somewhere about one of the different head colours in the Gouldians being more aggressive than the others. Is this true?
A) Sure is and we’d like to point out that the entire article is available on our website in the science section. Dr. Sarah Pryke recently completed a research paper on this very same topic and she found that the Red-headed males were indeed more aggressive than the other head colours – especially in confined spaces like our aviaries!!

One way to try and negate this disruptive behaviour is not to confine them with rarer, less hardy species and to ensure plenty of free nest boxes for the sub-dominants to hide in. These nest boxes should be placed well apart and in a descending order.

 35: Q) I’ve heard that Gouldians have a fairly narrow temperature tolerance what does this refer to?

A) Gouldians have a real thermoregulation problem (maintaining their body temperature) as they appear to have invested feather structure into colour instead of temperature regulation properties (they don’t have down feathers!)
For this reason they cannot stand extremes of cold or heat. Between 10c to 39c are the 2 min/max for their temperature tolerance – as this years coldest recorded month in Tasmania has proven with young Gouldians in unheated aviaries!

36: Q) Bill emailed in this one:
"Marcus just read your piece in the latest Save The Gouldian Fund newsletter which came to our Club and you recommend the use of a crop needle when treating egg-bound birds. Isn’t this method a little harsh and would the stress not cause more problems instead of simply placing the bird in the hospital cage?"

Well Bill, in this case timing is everything! IF you know when the bird first became egg-bound then maybe the hospital cage is your best bet. However, if you come home from work and find a hen egg-bound you really do not know how long the birds has been that way. In other words if she is that bad the last thing she will have been able to do is feed.
Yes, handling the bird causes stress but if the crop is empty then chances are that no amount of heat will save the bird! I learnt the hard way and since I have always checked the crop before placing the bird in the hot box and, touch wood, all has been smooth sailing since.

In case anyone not in the STGF (shame on you!!) is wondering I use a mixture of Roudybush parrot hand rearing mix, Glucodin and millet flour (from the health food shop) which goes beautifully through the crop needle!

37: Q) Aaron asks:"Hi Marcus,
Have you got any experience in breeding Double Bars? I've had a pair for 6 months now but they don't even look like breeding. They roost in a wicker basket at night. I have Tea-tree branches etc in the aviary as well as other nesting options but they don't seem keen. I also feed them meal worms, egg biscuit mix, green seeding grasses etc."

A) Must admit to not being besotted by the Double Bar like most of the bird world but I might suggest maybe you don’t have a pair.
They are relatively easy to sex when mature as the hen has the dirty white band across the chest while the male’s chest is far whiter. If they pass the pair test then maybe you just need another pair or two as these guys are a real colony bird and really enjoy the company of their own kind.
Sounds like yours lack for nothing in the aviary so maybe try the small colony approach.
Having seen the Blackrumps in the Kimberley and the White rumps all over the Branxton area I can confirm this with wild observations!!!!

38: Q) Garry from NSW was looking for a little advice:
Sorry to bother you but I was hoping you could offer a suggestion or two.

I have an aviary 8m x 6m which I am stocking with some Aussie finches and need advice regarding what to add next.
I have some experience but have not held any birds for many years.
The aviary has only 14 occupants at the moment, these are; 4 Diamond firetails; 4 Gouldians; 4 Painted; 2 Plumheads.
Diamonds are about to fledge and Painted nests are everywhere but no young yet. I am happy with this as I have had them for only 5 months and they have settled in well.

My main proviso is that I am not set up for feeding livefood and really don’t have enough time to do this, although I do feed a lot of seeding grasses which the birds really appreciate.
I don’t want to overstock the aviary but feel another "pair or two" would be ok!
The Gunnedah sale is fast approaching and I live only 30 minutes away but what to add?

Masked finches appeal but seem to need livefood to raise young.
Yellow rumps and Pictorellas also and as well a bit pricey!!
I suppose I should reign in my ego and get Chestnuts, Double Bars or Redbrows, what do you think?
Will Longtails take over the aviary? (The Diamonds rule at the moment).

Thanks for getting this far, any suggestions will be appreciated."

A) Not a lot left on your list apart from the Reddies, Double Bars and Chestnuts I guess if you are sticking to Australians!!
Although many finch keepers often look down at these three simply because of their common status in the wild they are an interesting lot in their own right. Let’s face it you would have to go a long way to find a member of the Manikin family to beat the Chestnut! Don’t think so? Well, I saw a video many moons back about the failed finch importation into New Zealand.
There was a host of African waxbills, weavers and the likes on display but the Kiwi filming at the quarantine station was stopped in his tracks by the sight of a cage with Chestnuts in it!! His only words throughout the filming were that when quarantine was over some of the Chestnuts would end up in his aviaries! But, alas it was not to be.
Sorry, lost track there again Garry!
Yellowrumps will raise no problems without live food if you have plenty of green grasses and it certainly sound like you do!
Again Masks are not critical for live food and I have reared without it and these guys are a real favourite as they have none of the vices of LongTails and Parsons. In fact a little colony of these guys is great.
However, possibly a pair or 2 of Parsons and/or Longtails should be fine in an aviary that size as long as you keep removing their offspring!!
Must admit I like Reddies myself and intend to get some aviary bred ones from a good mate in NSW one day!!
All birds do better on some form of live food (maybe not the Gouldians though!!) and I wouldn’t be doing my "job" if I didn’t invite you to join the brotherhood of the maggot!!

39: Q) A more controversial one to finish with – can’t help myself can I?
Brian writes that he has little faith in bird dealers.
"Marcus, not sure how you feel about this issue but I have had little success with buying finches from some of the larger bird dealerships here in NSW. They appear to have sub-standard birds and I fear that many just don’t care what they sell or whom they sell it to. I do sound a bit bitter but with good reason! How have you found dealers there in Tasmania, do you see the same sort of issues down there?"

A) Sorry to disappoint Brian but my relationship with bird dealers has been a very fine one and if not for one in South Australia and one in your own NSW there would be lucky to be a finch down here at all!
Maybe I was lucky but Allan and Les were always terrific in supplying birds to us down here. There are no specific bird dealerships here in Hobart and we rely on each other more so than most mainland states.
As to stating that dealers sell basically rubbish (I am assuming you mean that!!) surely that is the main fault of the people selling those bids to them? I was recently at the home of Ray and Wendy Lowe and saw their ‘geriatric’ aviary which contained many old and injured finches – Wendy did say it seemed ‘very poor form indeed’ to repay excellent breeding birds by just palming them off to the dealers when they no longer produced young. Maybe if more of us had such aviaries instead of simply rushing them down to the dealers when they were "past it" you wouldn’t have a problem at all – so not all the dealers fault I dare say! Anyway, you can always walk out of their shop!!
I’m sure not all dealers are angels but neither are they all devils either as they can only offer the birds that fellow finch keepers sell to them!!
However, the actions of a bird dealer at one of Australia’s premier Bird Sales has soured the experience for a number of finch keepers, so much so that I would never bother wasting the time and cash to get there in the future – it’s a long way to go to come home with empty carry cages.
But that is only one person and perhaps the people that sell birds to him inside the hall before the sale commences are as guilty as him too!!

40: Q) A final question from George
"Hi Marcus. The yellow Painted finch, could you tell me what gene it
carries for this yellow colour. Is it Recessive, Dominant or Sex Linked? Thanking you George"

A) I must admit that I was always led to believe that it was sex-linked as there were always hens offered with split cocks when the colour was first about to purchase.
However, this season I bred a nest of 5 of which 3 were yellow and I'd never had yellow birds in my collection. These were 2 cocks (therefore would suggest that it cannot be sex-linked!!!) and a hen and 2 normal Reds.
I must say from these experiences that it is Autosomal Recessive as I would presume that both the parents were split for yellow colour. If only the male could carry the gene (sex-linked) then I would have only been able to breed females from such a cross.
Hope my convoluted logic makes sense!

41: Q) Andrew asks yet another EBAG question:
" I have been following the exotic bird laws closely and wonder whether you could make some comment upon the latest statements which sees all finches on Category 2 - Is this better or worse than before!"

A) Oh great, just what I needed after last time, thanks mate!!
Well, here goes nothing I see it as not a bad thing IF it remains that way after the final February meeting of EBAG – I’m writing this before that meeting I might add!!
Why? Because as it stands it gives you back your choice of whether you want these MTR’s and other paper work for your birds. If you are buying expensive finches from someone you do not know then it is a great safety net the DEH has put in place to cover you should anyone call into question the origins of those birds. However, if you are getting these same birds from someone you know from NEBRS registered stock you may not bother with MTR’s the choice is your’s – unlike the previous EBAG "suggestion" which required all these MTR’s for exotic birds of little interest. Can’t see many people demanding MTR’s for Bengos can you!!?
However, there is still a push to have finches included into Category 1 and this point was one that the Finch Society of Australia (FSA) fought hard to have squashed unlike some within other finch bodies I might add. Just goes to show keeping all your "finch eggs" in one basket may not be the great white hope we once thought it might be!!
Hopefully sanity will prevail and finches will remain on Category 2 but don’t be too surprised if the "EBAG Circus" as a well-known fincho recently called it (wonder if it was the comedian Rodney Rudes definition of a three ring circus!!!!) has yet another sting in its tail!!

42: Q) Q: Tracy tells me off for what she sees as a slip up – who’d ever guess!!
"Marcus, in some of your writings I have seen that you and Doug Hill often extol the virtues of feeding lettuce to your birds and I was lead to believe that lettuce has very little nutritional value so why should I bother and why advocate it. Wouldn’t Broccoli be far better?"

A) It’s all Doug’s fault, he writes it and I just supply the pictures!! No? Well, I must agree with you that there is possibly little value in feeding the Cos lettuce and Endive that we do. However, when you live in very dry places green seeding grass is not readily available – as per Hobart this summer – then the question is what sort of greens do you feed your birds? The answer must be something readily available and easy to obtain so these two veggies get the nod simply based upon that criteria alone. I do not use Iceberg (‘normal") lettuce as this tends to loosen the droppings a little too much for my liking. I know of people from here to Cairns that swear by Cos lettuce and Endive.
My convoluted logic goes that if it is the only source of greens available to my birds at any time throughout the year then these plant chloroplasts will do until nature provides a better source – far better than nothing.
Even if all they do is pull them apart it keeps them occupied in doing so.

As to Broccoli, having seen where it is grown in Tasmania and the amount of chemicals that it is treated with I do not even eat it myself unless organically grown so there is no chance of giving it to my birds. Anyone that has lived around the Forth region of Tasmania would concur as you can taste the chemicals in the air in the areas growing Broccoli!

43: Q) One from Aaron: "What can I use in the aviary to get rid of blasted ants. They are the little black ants. I'm not sure what people use as I don't want to affect the birds".

A) A huge problem and one that has, unfortunately, no simple answer. There are some that you can simply spray and other that seem immune to this. A mate in NSW had some small brown ants that were in the millions in his aviaries and were resistant to "normal" aerosol ant kills and he sent some away to the Ag department to be tested and they recommended a method of control. So I guess knowing your enemy plays a huge part.
Trying to find the nests is the first step as most will be located outside the aviary and you can use stuff like Antsand to destroy the colony and not affect you birds.
I tend to spray heavily and I am aware that this may not be a desirable method to some but I live on a beach and we have millions of the little suckers everywhere. I try to spray them and then sweep up the bodies and remove them so as not to put temptation in the way of the birds!! – yes, they will eat them!!  So far I have had no poisoning problem.
Alternatively when you find where they have been getting into your aviary - fairly easy if you just follow the line of ants back to where they enter your aviary - then put Antrid outside the aviary at that point and attack their "lines of supply"!!
Remember that point one that "ants aint just ants" and you may have to get some identified before a proper control can be implemented!! 
Many on the mainland use Coopex sachets which can be mixed with water and sprayed inside the aviary and around outside although it doesn’t appear to last that long outside.
Sorry 'bout that!
Oh, and don’t forget that ants are one of the biggest intermediate hosts for parasitic worms about!! Not good!

44: Q) It’s the Aaron issue this time around as a different Aaron sent me this one! "I have read your article on producing maggots for the birds. I have built my fly-box but I'm not sure how the sugar cubes work. Do you put a few sugar cubes in a small container with water, or just chuck the sugar cubes as they are into a container in the bottom of the fly box?
Also, how do you get the maggots/flies to start with? Is it okay just to catch normal house flies and start from there, or is it best to get some maggots, from say the local fishing/bait shop, and wait to they turn into flies.
 I'm a baker, so I have an endless supply of whey powder, but I note you have used a bran and pollard mix. I can also get bran in endless supplies. Do you think just bran would be okay to use? (similar to the bran mealworms come in)

A)  As a potential fly convert welcome to the club – there’s no going back now!!!!
The sugar is for the adult flies to feed from once they have hatched and I keep mine in a coffee lid inside the door where it is easier to check the levels. The cube has a larger easily accessible surface area for the flies to feed from – put in sugar grains and it soon forms a film over it.
We started that way with the flies..............just put out a container with whey powder and bran in and let it get blown. But you only want the little black (annoying) flies as blowflies die in the boxes (too hot I think!!). Once you have a few flies the rest is easy!!
You could also use the bait shop ones and that might save you a lot of time - we don’t have that luxury here!!!
The bran I use when first setting the flies up but try to get rid of it when the maggots appear. Once I have maggots I remove them and feed them in a kitty litter tray - only on a mix of pollard and whey.
WHY? Well, because the pollard is finer and goes through a sieve leaving just the maggots and then they are easy to clean in fresh pollard. But we also found out from Dr Danny Brown that the pollard is far better for the birds because it is a product coming closer to the wheat heart and thus more nutritious.
As an aside we also sieve mealworm out as soon as we get them and place them in pollard for the same reason - reduces phytic acid build up which reduces the chances of egg-binding.

45: Q) Terry writes seeking clarification - does he know who he is writing to!!!
"Hi there Marcus, seems like there is a bit of confusion about as to the wormer moxidectin, as some call it that but others call it Cydectin. Do you know anything about it?"

A) Not wishing to sound too smug but at last an easy one Terry!!
Basically they are one and the same. Moxidectin is the active ingredient and Cydectin is actually the brand name of the product. It is made or at least distributed through a company called Fort Dodge.
Cydectin has as its active ingredient Moxidectin.
Cydectin Plus has Moxidectin plus (hence the name I presume!!) Praziquental.
Cydectin is great for most worms except tapeworms and Cydectin Plus will do them too with the addition of Praziquental.
Just to confuse matters there are two strengths of both chemicals – one for Deer and Cattle and one for Sheep and Goats. We use only the one for Sheep and Goats here.
In case you are wondering about its effectiveness we once gave a farmer friend a litre for her prize sheep. She always had a fecal count done every year for worm numbers and after Cydectin Plus she had her first ever zero count – she reckons its great!! So do we!

46:Q) "Marcus, not sure whether this is you area of expertise or not but here goes! I have recently purchased a number of Blue Gouldian mutations and I have had all sorts of trouble with them. They were fluffed up upon arrival and I put it down to travel and treated them accordingly. They failed to improve and I lost a bird so took them to the vet who diagnosed a Cochlosoma infection. I treated them as directed by the vet and all improved yet 2 weeks later some were looking distressed again so I repeated the treatment. Same result, bird fine following treatment yet a few weeks later I lost another bird and the rest were not looking too good. Can you give me any help?"

A) Normally Cam I would just hand you over to Dr Danny Brown but this time I believe that I can be of limited assistance. I had a similar problem and was directed to use a well-known drug of choice at the recommended dose rate – he was not an avian vet I add.

I suffered the same way as you and, despite several treatments; my end result was the same as yours.
As luck would have it someone suggested that I contact Dr Colin Walker at the Australian Pigeon Company and discuss the problem. This was the beginning of a brilliant relationship for my birds!

Dr Colin told me that Cochlosoma not only lives in the gut of the bird but burrows into the lining itself making it extremely difficult to remove – in the gut itself it is easy to kill but not so in the lining.

He recommended a product of his called Turbosole which is a far stronger medication than the standard treatment. Just goes to show how imperative it is to consult an avian vet where all treatments are concerned!!!
Hope that helps you out Cam or at least point you towards where to go. Also not wishing to cast any aspersions Cam but one of the commonest sources for Cochlosoma is in Bengalese manikins.

47:Q) Barry sent us in one with a more medical flavour but maybe too many years with finches can be a help here!!
“I have just returned to the fold as a finch keeper after many years away from the hobby. Everything was going well until some of my breeding birds started “fluffing up” and dying along with their youngsters. This happened with a number of species so I took along a couple to the vet for analysis.
The report came back that my birds had a disease called Yersiniosis and the vet proceeded to lecture me about rodent control, as it appears this “bug” is spread that way. My aviaries are new and I have never even seen or smelt a rat or mouse around them!!  Could they be wrong or could you suggest what might be going on – or maybe even pass along to one of your veterinarian contacts??
I am desperate to get on top of this problem but I KNOW it’s not a rodent related problem I have.”

 A) Sorry to hear about your problem Barry but I reckon I can solve your dilemma based on what happened to me many moons back!
Yersiniosis is the name for a condition/disease spread by the bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and if you remember from your basic science lessons it has a close relative in Yersinia pestis – better known as the Black Death!!  So it is not to be trifled with and can lead to large numbers of deaths. Deaths usually occur when the birds are under stress of some sort – just like those brought about when breeding – and a typical scenario is one or both of the adults dying when the young leave the nest followed by (obviously!!) the deaths of the chicks.
If my memory serves me well the gross morphology is an enlarged liver with white blotches – a long time ago so I may be slightly off there!!
I was also told that I had a rodent problem and, like you Barry, the deaths were in a newish aviary devoid of these pests!! I also was devastated by the findings and the vet’s admonishment and mentioned it to the then curator of animals at the University Animal Holding Facility.
He simply looked at me and asked me whether my aviary was fully roofed and whether there were many sparrows in the area. At that time the aviary was only half roofed and we had sparrows by the tonne!! He nodded and reached for one of his Veterinary medicine textbooks and with a superior smirk slapped it down in front of me!
There in black and white was the solution! One of the commonest carriers of this bacterium was rodents closely followed by wild birds with a special reference to the European House Sparrow!!
Problem solved by the addition of a roof over the free-flight area and, touch wood, I have not ever had another incidence of Yersiniosis.
People laugh at the way we keep birds down here but every now and again we appear to get it right!!  Even visited one of the best breeding set-ups I had ever seen in Queensland and it was no accident I’m sure that all the flights were fully roofed!!
Hope there’s something there of use Barry and don’t blame your vet too much, just that he didn’t give you the full story!!
As I know you live in Queensland my bet is that you have open flights and a few “free-flying germ bags” in your neighbourhood!

48 Q: Marcus, not sure whether this is you area of expertise or not but here goes! I have recently purchased a number of Blue Gouldian mutations and I have had all sorts of trouble with them. They were fluffed up upon arrival and I put it down to travel and treated them accordingly. They failed to improve and I lost a bird so took them to the vet who diagnosed a Cochlosoma infection. I treated them as directed by the vet and all improved yet 2 weeks later some were looking distressed again so I repeated the treatment. Same result, bird fine following treatment yet a few weeks later I lost another bird and the rest were not looking too good. Can you give me any help?

A: Normally Cam I would just hand you over to Dr Danny Brown but this time I believe that I can be of limited assistance. I had a similar problem and was directed to use a well-known drug of choice at the recommended dose rate – he was not an avian vet I add.

I suffered the same way as you and, despite several treatments; my end result was the same as yours.
As luck would have it someone suggested that I contact Dr Colin Walker at the Australian Pigeon Company and discuss the problem. This was the beginning of a brilliant relationship for my birds!

Dr Colin told me that Cochlosoma not only lives in the gut of the bird but burrows into the lining itself making it extremely difficult to remove – in the gut itself it is easy to kill but not so in the lining.

He recommended a product of his called Turbosole which is a far stronger medication than the standard treatment. Just goes to show how imperative it is to consult a good avian vet where all bird treatments are concerned!!!
Hope that helps you out Cam or at least point you towards where to go. Also not wishing to cast any aspersions Cam but one of the commonest sources for Cochlosoma is in Bengalese manikins.

49 Q: One from Peter in Victoria
“I am thinking of joining the NFSA and someone mentioned that you were a member and, as an avid Just Finches & Softbills reader, I thought I’d seek some information from you about them as I wish to do more to enhance the bird keeping hobby.”

A: Boy, were you ever misinformed Peter!! I am not nor ever have been a member of that particular group for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with!
Also sorry that you wont read this in that very same magazine but guess we're not really that surprised!!!

The original premise that the group was based on, as outlined to me, was a very sound one but somewhere along the line it became hijacked and what happened in my own state was warning enough that summat was “rotten in the state on Denmark”!!
If I were you I’d save your hard earned cash Peter. If you really want to make a difference with your passion for breeding finches then may I be so bold as to suggest you concentrate on setting your own standards for excellence in breeding and keeping what ever species you keep – be it the humble Zebbie or the Violet-eared waxbill!! In such a way you ensure that you do the best with and for the species that you keep.
Write about it and share you experiences with all finch breeders as I’m sure there is a magazine out there  that would be only too pleased to hear from you. Share it with younger members and join a local finch club and share it with them and learn from other serious breeders to further better your own “pursuits of excellence”.
With the pressures that are placed upon all wildlife with urban expansion and the clearing of the bush we need to ensure that we are in a position to be able to assist in reintroduction schemes or to assist researchers and the best way, to me at any rate, to be able to do that is by each one of us doing the best we can with the species we keep.
If we can steer clubs back to concentrating on simply breeding birds and away from the trend to “politicize” them we should, if our own Tassy Finch Club is any indication, be able to bolster our ranks. Maybe as ‘numbers talk’ the more members that clubs have the better they are situated to deal with political situations as the majority of bird keepers vote – as evidence of this it was the Greens Party that were prepared to give us the most support in our Swift parrot venture!!!
Our own experience with the Swift parrot, Lathamus discolor, proved to us and many others what committed aviculturists can achieve when everyone works together. We shared our experiences and the eventual winner was the parrot itself, albeit in captivity, but so much more is now known about its husbandry that any future ‘rescue packages’ have a sound platform to launch from.
We fought with the government for around 6 years to be able to do keep and breed these birds as they became endangered species, yet now they acknowledge that maybe we “got it right”!
Believe me Peter the government doesn’t always “get it right or know all” as was proven during the EBRKS fiasco in regards finch keeping. Thank god for the Finch Society of Australia (FSA) is what most of us from the ‘unwashed masses’ reckon!

So leave the research to the scientists and the policing to those equipped to do so and simply vow to do the best for the finches under your care. Encourage others to do as you do by your own example and make time to help younger bird keepers. Too simple? Well, I always remember the words of a great finch man I am proud to call a friend who once said “All we do is breed a few finches in our backyard’s, I ain’t no scientist but I reckon that if I do the best I can with them then maybe I might be able to make a difference”.

So leave the verbosity and rhetoric to others Peter and concentrate on doing what you do best – only maybe even better as that way you will be doing the best you possibly can for the finches that we have all come to love and treasure – yes, even from your own backyard!!
Do as you will Peter just make sure you are committing yourself for the right reasons to the right cause!

I know I’m biased here Peter but you might like to get on board one of the conservation initiatives for our threatened finches and you could do much worse than to sign up for the FSA too!!! Shameless plug but then I might as well have a go too!!!

50 Q: Not so much of a question to start off with but thought that this email from John & Cheree would be of interest to many out there that work full-time and try to struggle to keep insectivorous finches going when they have youngsters to feed.
They asked had I ever encountered an automatic fish feeder which was freely available on EBAY and whether I thought that this might be OK for feeding mealies to our birds.

 A: The answer was no I had not encountered such a devise but with a bit of an “EBAY surf” I had found what I was looking for – namely a Resun Aquarium Automatic Fish Food Feeder Timer (AF-2005D). For between $20-30 you can get them delivered to your door.
I ordered one in and set about “playing” with it and must admit it proved to be a beauty and seems great for delivering mealies and maggots to the birds when attached above the live-food bowl. (See pic)
You can set it for 4 drop times during the day and even gives you the option of a double drop at each allocated time-slot. Just the thing for those “Blue-cap blues” where I am sure it is the frequency of live food feeding rather than the volume that determines your success rate (unless feeding bulk termites of course!!!). Time will tell I guess.

Don’t usually like to promote products or bird gizmo’s before I have fully tested them but this will be my last chance to pass this one on so maybe a few “possible negatives” will help others experiment further!!!

Suspect the weight of the worms will eventually lead to the motor or gears ‘packing it in’ so I suggest you take care not to overload the devise – but given their low cost and the high cost of Blue-caps buy several!!!!
You have no control over the amount that falls out each cycle but then again you can’t do it if you aren’t there in person either!!!
Oh, and if you get one and the instructions are all in Chinese feel free to email me and I’ll send you an English version as they can be ‘tricky little suckers’ to program initially – especially in Chinese!!!
So far so good with mine and these are particularly good for small flights with only a couple of pairs of birds in them.
Thanks again to John & Cheree!!!

Device attached above live food bowl. Close-up of Auto Fish Feeder.

51 Q: More strife for me from Stella!!
“Marcus, I have Cordon Bleus in my aviary and I think that they have young but wondered if there was any way I could be certain. I have read of your preference for nest inspection but feel that this is the wrong way to go. Do you have any other way of telling that I could try?”

A: Sounds like time I found another “day job” I reckon – funny that!
Well, it’s really very easy for as soon as the chicks hatch the parents will hunt the live food bowl looking for insects to feed their brood. Most do this but some may not so we’ll call that Plan A shall we?
Plan B is a bit later on for as soon as the chicks reach fledging age the parents will begin an incessant “chatter” as soon as you go near the cage. This may be to tell the chicks to hide because the big bad finch person is coming (laden with goodies for their sole benefit I add!!) to “kill” them or maybe it is to threaten us that if we go near their chicks they will “attack” us. Whatever the case they will leave you in no doubt as to the fact that they have fledglings nearby.
A similar scenario is seen in Plovers where the parents will walk away from fresh eggs in the paddock but as they feel the embryo developing in the egg the aggression level increases with it from simple vocalisations up to full-blooded attacks when the chicks are “free-ranging” and the day the chicks actually hatch both parents will become homicidal maniacs!!!
Oh, and as a behaviourist, I add that Plover aggression is all show as a bird their size colliding with a person our size is a no-win contest for the Plover!!! However, just like humans, there are a lot of short-sighted Plovers out there so remember to duck – just in case!!!!!

So timing is your key I guess Stella. You need to know when they started sitting and when you expect to hear the parents telling you they have chicks and if in that time you don’t then maybe you might consider turfing out the clear eggs or dead babies!!
Nest inspection is much maligned (as you’ve pointed out!!) but I’ll leave that alone suffice to give you some advise from “me ole mate in the Hunter Valley” who said to me many moons ago “Son if yer gunna check their nest don’t let them see you doing it if you are worried about their reaction.” As it has turned out very wise words indeed but then he is “the main finch man” after all!!

52 Q: Finally one to fit in beautifully with the cold snap that everywhere in Oz seems to be experiencing this winter!!Nigel tells that: “I’ve been working late over the past few weeks and have lost 2 hens to egg-binding but not in the usual way if that makes any sense! I have rescued the egg-bound hens and placed them into my hospital cage and given them all the necessaries but in both cases I have lost the hens – one after she had even passed the egg!! Am I doing something wrong? I have not resorted to placing the birds vent over hot steam as this sounds archaic and needlessly cruel to me? Maybe I should? Thanks Marcus and any advice would be appreciated greatly.”

A: Hate to say it Nigel but this too is an easy one too based on bitter experience I hasten to add!! You have done all the right things but have neglected perhaps the most important one!!
That being how long the bird has been egg-bound for. Why does that matter? Basically because an egg-bound bird is usually too ill to make it to the food/water bowls and may have been without food for hours in a worst case scenario – most of the day if you head to work early.
So when you find any egg-bound bird the first thing I suggest is to check the crop and if empty then use a finch crop needle to place some food in there – I use a mixture of Roudybush parrot Hand-rearing Formula and either a commercial electrolyte mix or Glucodin, both of these when mixed will easily go through the finest crop-needle.
I know handling finches at the best of times is a risky business but in this case it is an essential “evil” unless you wish more to die needlessly.
Once fed the hen can be placed in your “hot-box” and, more often than not, they will survive once the sugar solution takes effect!!

I also agree that the steam method sounds revolting and I suspect if the cloaca is damaged by the scalding effect of the steam then the results could be fatal.
Give it a try next time round Nigel but here’s hoping there won’t be a next time!! Also in an earlier edition of Just Finches there is a recipe for my own calcium mix which has proved to be a winner here in the “tropics” of down-town Tasmania!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

53 Q: To kick off the question and answer season for Aviary Life I thought I’d don my parrot keeper’s hat!!!
“Marcus, I was after you opinion on the merits of suspended aviaries versus the conventional set-up. I have Lorikeets, live in the city and intend to breed them in suspendeds but, because of their diet I am a little worried that obesity might be an issue in smaller cages.”

A: Well Terry, I must admit to being from the old school and have the conventional type aviary for my parrots. However, as a lad I was Australian Lorikeet obsessed and remember the “joys” of cleaning out such aviaries. Mind you I’m sure the quality of diets has improved from those days too!

A similar problem was pondered when I was asked to put together a collection of Swift parrots with a good friend down here. As Swifts have a similar diet to lorikeets - in fact ours eat very little seed these days – we decided to combine the two styles. We had a shelter that was conventional with a concrete floor and then added a “pergola” to the front made completely from wire which sat on legs. This proved a huge success as our birds were fed on this platform and all waste fell to the ground below and was easy to clean – great for the owner and great for the birds in keeping their environment clean.

I have since used this with my other conventional aviaries by attaching a wire cage to their front into which goes all their food!!

So health wise they are great!
However, I understand your thoughts on the small cage size. I once spoke to a lorikeet breeder who bred all his birds in small suspended flights and I broached the subject about keeping such active birds in small cages. He then went on to outline his set-up which answered all my questions!
The birds were only in their suspended aviary for the breeding season and once breeding was over they were released back into a huge free flight aviary to get them back into condition after their stint in the smaller cages.
In fact he said that, as the breeding supendeds were attached to the free-flight cage, all he had to do was open the suspended door and the birds were into the larger flight. He did say that many of the pairs returned to their ‘own’ suspended to sleep and breed – all he had to do was check their ring numbers and close the door!!

Food for thought Terry even if you don’t have a large house block.
Maybe a nutritionist could help you design a diet that would compensate for the size of your flights (without actually knowing this factor I add!!) but I feel that such an active group like the Lorikeets deserve the chance to be kept so that they have the space to indulge their flippant behaviours!

 54 Q: From Sally:
“I have read many articles on the pros and cons of adding calcium to the diet of birds and it seems to be somewhat of an obsession with many breeders. I wonder whether you could help me with your thoughts on the subject and recommend some products for me. At present I give them egg shells and cuttlefish.”

A: Ask 100 people and you will get 100 different answers Sally!!
Many use cuttlefish bone and egg shells but I use the former and not the latter!
Many may scoff but an egg shell is a great incubator for bacteria due to it’s porous nature so I opt not to supply them – baked, micro-waved or not I still wonder what gets into them once they are introduced into the aviary, especially in hot humid weather!
I once used water based calcium products but after a series of discussions and some research I no longer present it. For one if it is presented in the water then your birds have to consume it whether they want to or need to or not!
In my aviaries water is for parasite removal products and Apple Cider Vinegar only - apart from that clean water only!

I now use a mix of Canundra shells (or a fine, clean shellgrit mix), PVM powder and a couple of goodies from the Australian Pigeon Company which is mixed and presented dry to the birds. This has been a huge success and if it works in our “4-seasons-in-one-day-weather” it must have some merits!!!
Still, there is no substitute for a good all round balanced diet, don’t try and breed from really young females, keep your mealworms in pollard not bran and give all your birds access to a good brand shell grit.

55 Q: Barry reckons he has some “cricket keeping blues”!
Marcus, I read your article on keeping crickets in the Aviary Life magazine last year and hope you can help me with a few problems.
I am having trouble keeping my freezer box at the correct temperature and see large fluctuations in the temperature which cannot be good for my crickets! I also fear that during one of these temperature rises I might be in trouble if the box over heats. And advice to help me over come this would be appreciated.”

A: Your timing is perfect Barry as I have just experienced a similar problem with my own cricket boxes. My own thermostat “fluctuated” so much that the plastic roof of the freezer became so hot that the lights detached themselves from it and nearly burnt the entire system to a crisp!!
Once I had restarted I also found it hard to avoid these fluctuations that you mention. I turned to the reptile people as they have to be able to ensure extremely accurate temperature for their charges.
So I made a call to Brian at the Herp Shop in Melbourne and he directed me to their website which contained pages of information on the Habistat range of thermostats from Europe
. ( and click on Thermostats link)

From this Brian suggested I’d be best with the Diming Thermostat which he reckoned would save me power and keep an exact temperature.
Well, since we set it up it has maintained a constant temperature for three weeks now and appears to operate without the need for extended bursts of power just as Brian suggested it would.
The unit I purchased cost around $125 plus postage and would be perfect for any cricket/mealworm breeding system or possibly even for hospital cages and heating applications. Just ensure you read the blurb before you purchase one of these units as some cannot be connected to light bulbs.
Give it a try Barry and I feel sure your problems will be over – well, at least this problem!!

56 Q: Allison wrote in to ask about the best pet parrot for her to consider as an addition to her home.

I must admit that my experience with hand-reared pet parrots is not that extensive and I prefer not to hand rear unless I have to. I guess from Allison’s email that she wasn’t asking about Macaws, Amazons or African Greys so I’ll try to offer a suggestion or 2 for you from the less pricey end of the range!!
As the Budgie and the Cockatiel weren’t to be included I had to scratch my head a tad more!
My starting point would have to be the owner of Birdsville, Les Lenton, and a conversation we had many years ago about this very same topic.
Les told me that of all the hand-reared pet parrots that he had sold over the years there was only one species that he had never had anyone ever return or complain about – and that was the humble Quaker parrot. Given that Les runs a very successful bird dealership who am I to argue!!
In fact I would be in 100% accord with Les’s sentiments as I have never had such a delightful, vice free (well, they were for me!!) bird. Given their noisy disposition as an aviary bird you will be pleased to know that they appear not to behave as such in the home – when kept as a single bird I add!!

For one reason or another I have had to hand-rear a few and all seemed imbued with a delightful personality.

I must admit that my attempts at rearing Ringnecks and Alexandrines for others have not really impressed me with either species as a pet bird as they were sulky and temperamental – both when being reared and on occasions with their new owners. Again I stress this is a personal observation based on the birds I have encountered and not a condemnation of the entire group!!

Swift parrots are increasingly available and I have had extensive experience with and-rearing these guys. Having done so from the egg I can confirm that they are possibly not a desirable subject as they interact only on their terms and all would not allow themselves to be handled except when they wanted to – and this from birds reared from the egg!!
Although a bad trait as a pet it is fantastic as far as captive breeding is concerned as they revert to ‘wild birds” as soon as they are reintroduced to back the colony or group.
Beautiful but not as a pet!
Rosella’s I would advise you to avoid like the plague as they are fantastic for about 12 months and then, one day for no good reason, they will bite you and continue to do so until the day they die!! Oh, and the intensity of the “attack” increase from that time too!!! I have seen this in 4 species of hand-reared Rosella’s – the Green, Eastern, Crimson and Northern.

The Lorikeet family is popular but their diet makes for a rather messy environment, especially if the cage door is to be left open for a bit of free flight time!!  Unlike the Budgie which has very dry faeces the same could not be said for the Lorikeet family!!

So for my dollars I’d look at the Quaker or Monk parrot as that new addition to your bird family as they are relatively cheap these days and come in either natural green or the blue mutation.
One word of warning they have a very ‘useful’ beak and you may have to supervise them during their free-flight periods unless you wish you prized pot-plants to resemble the wreck of the Titanic!!

57 Q: Young Carl is starting off along the road to adventure that is aviculture and wants to combine some Neophema parrots and some finches and wants to know what I reckon of that idea.

A: Well Carl, I hate to be a kill-joy but from doing this very same thing when I was about your age I am afraid it is not a very good idea.
Yep sure, I know a lot of people do it and “get away with it” but the potential is there for problems. The size difference alone should suggest that!

I’ll preface that by saying the smaller the aviary the greater the chance for problems – if you have no night lights the greater the chance of problems and the more delicate the finches the greater the odds of a problem!
So before elaborating I’ll have a go at ‘designing’ a collection for you!
Maybe I’d be keeping my Neophemas (regardless of species) in with a collection that includes some of the following finch species -the Bengalese manikin, the Zebra finch, the Java sparrow and /or the Cut-throat finch.
All of these finches are free breeders and a must for the beginning finch breeder whether 12 or 102 as they allow you to gain confidence in keeping and breeding finches which you can then apply to the more difficult finch species.
Now, why the night lights? Well, Neophemas (especially the Bourke parrot) delight in flapping around the aviary on moonlit nights which is a major disturbance to other inhabitants – I’m not saying that behaviour will kill other smaller birds in there with them but it can and does lead to nest desertion. At least with lights the finches will be able to settle again and not end up dead on the floor- won’t help their young though!!
Oh, and a few more nest logs for your parrots than there are pairs as the Zebra finch just loves to build in a log or box and they can be very persistent!!
So maybe by keeping a pair of Neophemas with a few of the hardier finches you’ll be Ok Carl and being forewarned is forearmed.
However, I’ll throw a couple more into the mix by suggesting a pair of Mask doves for the mix and a pair of King Quail for the floor. Mask doves are one of the best and most placid birds for any collection despite their size.
Given that you are not looking at a host of insectivorous finches then the humble King quail will make a welcome addition to your aviary floor with its confiding nature and willingness to breed.

58 Q:Shane asked us to buy into the debate as to whether Gouldians are a good colony species or not?
“I’ve be reading all that I can lay my hands on about the Gouldian as a colony bird and some recommend them (like you I add!!)
while others reckon they are unsuitable. Now that I’ve put you on the spot could you tell me more about this debate!”

 A: Thanks heaps Shane!! As Pete intends to use Dr Sarah Prykes recent STGF article in this same issue I feel that some history will help me “save face” with you”!
Yes, I reckon they are a terrific colony bird if kept by themselves away from other finches if you intend to have several pairs.
Yet I could give you my mates’ number and he would tell you a far different story although he is only an hours’ drive from me! Roughly the same climate and the same species.
I have around three times as many as him in less than half the space allocated to his Gouldians – then why?
Easy, the difference is that mine are the Black-headed form and his are the Red-headed form!
I used to reckon my birds were far better behaved then his and that his had ‘psychological’ problems – now we know the real reason!!
I won’t spoil it for you Shane, just go ahead and read the entire article in Aviary Bird magazine, suffice it to say that thanks to the STGF we can now demystify this particular “urban myth”!
Or could it be that those red heads are just plain nasty!!!

 59 Q: “I have a couple of questions I was wandering if you could answer for me” asks Margaret from somewhere up there in the Hunter Valley – lucky her I say!!
 I have stones or large gravel on half of my aviary floors and a very small little flying insect seems to live under these rocks and when I spray with Coopex it does not seem to kill them and as I don’t like spraying I have not done so for 3 months or more. I give the aviary a really good hose on the rocks, walls etc, about once a week and this seems to bring the little things up to the surface and then as I am walking out all the birds go mad and go to the ground to eat them and have a field day. Can this hurt them or should I spray to kill the insects. The birds are healthy and fine with no problems so was wandering if I should spray or leave them to enjoy eating the insects?"

A: They probably love the insects but the problem is that if the insects are living where you say then they are possibly acting as an intermediate host for any parasites that also share the rocks with them and I'll bet they love a nice fresh bird pooh to get their teeth into!!  You could try a strong bleach solution as that may sort them out IF your aim is to remove them completely - bleach breaks down safely when diluted in case you are worried.
I prefer to give my birds live food that I have grown myself under controlled conditions rather than relying on those that have developed in my own aviary complete with its concentrated faecal loads and potential for worm infestations makes us work that bit harder but well worth it I reckon!!
I would also take a few to the closest entomology department at a University (or agricultural department) and get them classified.......for in the (almost) words of Arnie "If it moves we can kill it!!"

 60Q: What would happen if a father and daughter Gouldian mate together because I have a pair that is laying eggs now and that is what their relationship is to one another is?

 A:  Father/daughter crosses are quite commonly used in establishing "lines" or in mutation breeding to establish recessive traits. However, unless you want a line of Banjo players like a scene from ‘Deliverance’ I'd strongly suggest you prevent the young from this cross from interbreeding.......outcross these young ASAP and not to any of their relatives in the aviary either!

 61 Q: I have 3 pairs of Diamonds (2 years old and DNA sexed) who build nests and jump up and down with grass but don’t lay eggs and 2 pairs of Red-headed Parrot finches (again 2 years old l pair laid 2 eggs 2 Septembers ago and never since) that don’t lay eggs or nest or whatever which I have just shifted into an aviary with my Double Bars that are laying every two months and doing well. Are these ok to have in together or not?
The Diamonds and Red-headed Parrot Finch have been in the larger aviary with the 30 odd Gouldians (who are breeding like mad, already have 22 babies and another 18 eggs and still laying) Red Faced Cordon Bleus and Star finches. I thought maybe the Gouldians where stopping the Diamonds and RH Parrot Finches from laying.
Is my shifting these birds a good idea at this time of the year or not?

A: Once you mentioned the large number of Gouldians I suspect that is where your problem lies – especially if several of these are Red-heads. I’d suggest you get them out into a cage by themselves as they are not the shrinking violets that many would have you believe as they tend to be aggressive and, if you actually check them out, they are a big finch!!!
Red-face can be fussy and may resent the intrusion of the Gouldians, so too the Diamonds as many are very protective of their nests and interference can result in desertion. This would be my guess at any rate.
I keep my Diamies in with Golden Song Sparrows BUT I would not keep them with Gouldians....especially not as many as you have stated!!!
Hope there is something of interest in that lot!!

 62 Q:This question was sent in to Aviary Life by Bruce:
“I want to purchase a pair of Rock Parrots from a guy in Tassie. I am licensed under NSW Parks and Wildlife. Can you advise the correct steps I need to take and who freights birds out of Tassie?”

A: Tassie’s licensing laws can be a little daunting to many so I hope my many years of “experience” can be of assistance but in this case it is not too taxing!!
As the Rock Parrot is not a Tasmanian native and, I believe, not on any federal licensing restrictions then all the Taswegian has to do is send them to you as there are no licensing restrictions on sending them out in such cases.
However, in order to bring birds into the state regardless of whether they are a canary or a condor- then you need an import permit to do so. Good news is that these are free and readily obtainable from the Tasmanian Wildlife Departments website.

 As to getting them to you both Australian Air Express (AAE) and Virgin Blue (Toll) Freight send birds out on a regular basis from both Hobart and Launceston airports. To use this service with Virgin Freight you require an account number so that can be a problem at times.

 63 Q:A question from Lex about an old favourite in the Swift parrot:
“I have recently become interested in keeping a pair or two of these superb parrots as they have been on my wish-list for a number of years. Back then they were very highly priced compared to ones I saw recently at the Singleton Bird
Sale. Is this because they are illegally trapping these birds as I know they are an endangered species in the wild and I would hate to contribute to this less than respectable activity albeit through ignorance.”

 A: Relax Lex, as the increase in the numbers of the Swift parrot, in my opinion, does not stem from a sudden influx of wild –trapped birds.
I also saw the birds at Singleton and the first thing that would have attracted your attention was their quiet nature which is not a trait of wild caught birds!! The upsurge in their numbers was really quite simple and was possible directly the work of Dr Brett Gartrell who completed his PhD thesis at the University of
Tasmania some years back. In working with Brett he was able to diagnose most of our problems with the Swifts being related to their propensity for round worm infestations. Many breeders that I spoke to were familiar with what was known as ‘drop-dead syndrome’! This is where previously active and healthy birds would be found dead for no apparent reason. No thin keel\bones and no outward signs of disease. This is now a thing of the past as with Brett’s diagnosis we were able to devise strict worming regimes which saw our birds healthier and far happier minus their worm component.
For example our original three breeding pairs produced 6 young of which 2 died before reaching maturity and a pile of infertile eggs. Once our worming regime was instituted those very same three pair produced 28 youngsters the following season and it was rare to find a clear egg.

We published most of our findings and spoke to many other breeders and the result of this was a huge increase in the captive numbers of the Swift parrot. This factor alone was responsible for the decrease in price of the Swift to a level where anyone with a Class 1 license can enjoy their bubbly personalities in their aviaries.
Also they are one of those birds that when hand-reared will revert back to a more ‘wild” bird which makes them great for reintroduction back into a breeding colony without many of the hang-ups associated with some hand-reared parrots. This is also a huge advantage in hotter areas where many remove the chicks for hand-rearing rather than risking them dying in the log from the heat.

As a pet they are Ok but in my experience on their terms only!!  They will ‘allow” you to interact with them when they feel like it but don’t bother trying to get on to perform at your command!!

 As aviculturists we would applaud your motives for not purchasing wild-caught specimens especially in light of their endangered status. Rest assured Lex that those quiet birds you see at sales and in some aviculturists aviaries are a long way from the mental, flighty wild-caught swifts. Having done some rehabilitation work with slightly damaged ones you cannot wait for the release day so you no longer have to count the bruises or remove the padding from every corner of your enclosure!!
So if you want a brilliant, cheeky and bubbly addition to your aviary then you have selected the right species and all we have to do is hope that owners of the Swift parrot will never forget that they need worming far and above even the Princess parrot!

  64 Q: This from one of our very own here on the “Rock!!
 “I have a very poor garden were I live, what is a good green leafed vegetable to feed my birds that could be available from the supermarket.”

 A: HHHHmmm!!! A tricky one in Tasmania as many of the “staples” vary in their availability throughout the year. We tend to rely heavily on the Lebanese & Continental cucumbers which supply good levels of Vitamin C and are available all year round.
Endive is another good one although unavailable at times—which isn’t good during the breeding season!!
Silverbeet is a staple although I don’t feed it by itself but many do. The fears that you will read about it causing Calcium deficiencies because of its high levels of Oxalic acid are usually directed at Spinach rather than what we call Silverbeet. However, in a well-balanced diet Silverbeet is fine.

One of my favourite greens is Kale which is rich in calcium and has become hugely popular as “human food” thanks to Peter Cundell!!
Good luck trying to find it in supermarkets though!!
I feed my greens the same as Ray & Wendy Lowe – that is blended and fed with the soaked/sprouted seed.
Even with a poor garden it is possible to obtain a few foam boxes and grow numerous greens this way. Endive and Kale grow like weeds and will prosper in these boxes and can be placed in any spare corner.
My experiment with these boxes has seen Bok Choy, Endive, Mustard lettuce and Kale all powering. Means I can also move the boxes around and hide them from the blinking possums too!!!

Kale and Endive seeds are freely available from most vegetable seed companies.

I have also seen silver beet growing in the very same way so no excuses for not having greens on hand!!!
You might also like to chuck a couple of handfuls of your finch mix in and do the same in a foam box or a long planter box. If you allow these to grow to the desired height your finches will relish chewing them to pieces. If you wish to keep the greens growing a little longer then simply add a protective cover over your box made from finch wire and your finches will be able to “graze” the growing greens thus prolonging their life!! Without the wire cover your green shoots will last for hours not weeks!!

 Seems the “new improved Wildlife Laws and Regulations” are dominating peoples thinking these days which is no great surprise I guess!! Some emails I could print others……well…..not so and a couple of very direct ones aimed at me – go figure!!!!!

65 Q: “Marcus, as a bird keeper and/or finch breeder what is your opinion of the new regulations and do you think they will have lasting effects on our hobby here in Tasmania?”

To be honest, as a bird keeper, I probably admit that maybe there was a need for some form of licensing system but the wholesale banning of species based on somewhat convoluted Risk Analysis Models is mystifying in the extreme. The Bomford Model – which is now the bible for Tasmanian Wildlife – has some serious flaws when applied to birds that have been kept closeted in aviaries for decades without wild blood. How so? Well, all comparisons within this model are based on “real world” events which are based on birds that have established feral populations in the past. Only problem with that is that the majority of such establishments were by birds directly from wild-blood birds and not from birds that have been isolated by quarantine and legislation here in Australia – of course I’m only talking exotic species here. This is verifiable from a number of studies on introductions before anyone asks!!
An example? Take the Common Redpoll which was recently banned here along with all those parrot species. It is feral in a number of countries including New Zealand where it was deliberately released into a landscape altered by years of Western-style agricultural land practises – which made the terrain just like where the Redpoll had originally came from. In aviculture it is difficult to maintain and is in fact well on the road to avicultural extinction in Australia. Yet, using the Bomford Model it was banned in Tasmania!! For the record – the birds released into New Zealand were from wild caught stock and NOT from aviary birds – goes without saying really but had to state it!!
The Finch Society of Australia Inc. is currently arguing this point with Wildlife and are about to present a submission to the Minister over this very point – so all is not lost………….yet!!
Will any new licensing system make it possible to once again import and retain those banned species? We hope so but can only guess at what this license system will entail.
Hopefully this club will make a strong representation to the Government as well. Having been involved with the federal Exotic Bird Record Keeping Scheme let me say that the process there was open and transparent and consultation was the norm not the exception – unfortunately this Tasmanian episode is not even in the same postcode.

What do I think of this as a finch-keeper – I’m in the unprintable basket there too!!


66 Q:  “Marcus, how is it that you seem to be the only one that is legally allowed to keep Beautiful firetails? I find that this is most unfair and why have you been singled out for such ‘special’ treatment?” (Slightly modified version that I COULD print!!!)

I must admit by now I’ve possibly heard every possible connotation of this question and all from people that have never ever bothered to ask me how it was!!
No special treatment as I’d been requesting a permit and writing submissions for around 8 years before I was granted one but still suspect that that initial permit was a clerical error!!
I was very lucky – end of story!! No conspiracy theory, no special treatment and if it makes you feel better they’ve made my life hell over it ever since and the entire program I’ve established is virtually over due to lack of new blood.
Mind you having gotten that permit I would have to say I’ve vindicated it by breeding a large number of them in the first instance.
Guess it’s just like the Swift parrots where fingers were pointed at us saying “why are they allowed to have them and we can’t?”!!
Simple, because in 1998 the government stopped all trade in them within Tasmania and made them worthless so no-one wanted them. Plenty of people here held them up until that time. Think I lie? I swapped a clump of Bamboo for 2 hens following the legislation banning trade in Swifts in Tasmania and was given others gratis by people wanting to get rid of them!!
A lot of “negotiations” and sweat later and the same people are doing the finger pointing – if it’s such a big deal why did they get out of them in the first place!!
Anyway, regardless of that they are now safe in captivity which is the best outcome all round I’m sure you’d agree!
The future of Beautiful firetail in captivity in Tasmania? Apparently anyone will be able to make a submission to Wildlife and they will obtain birds for them. My opinion of that again goes in the unprintable basket for a plethora of reasons!!
Monetary reasons on my behalf? I’ve never sold a bird so why would I care who else has them – in fact that would be my only way of getting new blood if you think about it.
My final word would have to be to say that to anyone thinking of taking on keeping and breeding this species (especially with wild caught birds) you have my deepest sympathy as this is the most temperamental species I have ever kept!!
Good luck for if you thought Swifts had a bad name you ain’t seen nothing yet!!

67 Q: “Hi Marcus, As a Finch Society of Australia devotee I was wondering whether I could ask you your opinion on winnowing seed. It seems that everyone has advice for me on this question so I’m on the hunt for another viewpoint and maybe the best winnower on the market.” Bruce

Well Bruce, I do winnow seed but I don’t use a winnower if that makes sense. Many people combine all their seed into one bucket then put the lot through a winnower and simply check the mix and then add in and top up the depleted seed and then place back into the aviary. The problem with this is that if you have a disease problem in one aviary you risk spreading it through the rest of your cages. As there are some very nasty bugs and diseases that are easily spread this way this practice is possibly not the best one to encourage – despite that it is still a widespread one!
Even running different cages through the same winnower is asking for trouble unless the machine is treated before every change of aviary.
The best one I have seen is by a chap King in Bendigo - who supplies various items to the trade table here at the AST – and his was metal and easily cleaned – simply add vacuum cleaner and away u go!!
If you go online you will find many simple designs using wood and a length of plumbers’ pipe – and the ubiquitous tube of silicon of course!!
The risk of disease is too much of a defining factor for me to use a winnower of any sorts – personal choice and certainly not denigrating the device itself.
A friend of mine simply chucks all his hopper trays of single used seed in the garbage for the same reasons – not worth the risk he maintains.
I have seen the results of disease spread from aviary to aviary by badly winnowed seed in the past and certainly do not want to see the same in my own aviaries.

I winnow each aviary in the wind (using the ‘from container to container method with the wind in between’!!) and then decide if it is worthwhile picking out the dry droppings or whether the chooks are in luck today!! I don’t combine seed from different aviaries but since getting my seed from Elenbee Seeds in NSW the waste is such that I normally don’t bother with winnowing these days.
Hope there’s summat in that lot Bruce!!