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SAMPLE ARTICLE FROM
THE AVICULTURAL JOURNAL


Contents: THE CHERRY FINCH
NATURAL FEEDING - IS IT THE CORRECT WAY FORWARD?


THE CHERRY FINCH
(Aidemosyne modesta)

by Bob Bradbury (2000, Vol 23 #1)

The Cherry Finch is not as brightly coloured as most of the other Australian finches and this is reflected in some of its other common names i.e. Modest Finch and Plain Coloured Finch, another name is the Plum Headed Finch. I have found the Cherry Finch to be an excellent bird for any one who is interested in Australian Finches despite its lack of colour it can still be a striking bird with pleasant markings. There is only one colour variation as far as I am aware and that is the Fawn or Isabella. Although I am not usually attracted to mutations I find the Isabella quite a charming bird.

Although not common along the coastal regions, the Cherry Finch occurs in eastern to the mid west of New South Wales, but not as far as Victoria. It extends north-wards into Queensland almost as far as Cape York. The Cherry Finch has one of the smallest area of distribution of all Australian Finches, only the Red Eared Firetail Finch and the Beautiful Firetail appear to have a less extensive range. There are no sub species recorded.

Although it has only a small distribution area the Cherry Finch is not common and they are usually seen in pairs and occasionally in small flocks in the breeding season, always close to water which they visit frequently. Out of the breeding season they have been known to gather in much larger flocks up to several hundred strong. Pair bonding is very strong both in aviary and the wild where pairs tend to stay together all year long. Body contact, such as preening is rare and only occurs with partners in a bonded pair.

I have never had any trouble persuading two birds to accept each other, providing I have kept cocks and hens apart, but once paired I tend to leave the two birds together permanently. Once paired, breeding is simple providing the hen who can be fussy accepts the nest box. I use the standard half open type nest box approximately 4.75 ins x 4.75 ins x 6 deep and I place at least two of them in the breeding cage. With a bonded pair eggs have appeared in as little as five days but any thing up to fourteen days, I have never known a bonded pair NOT to produce eggs quickly. When breeding with a pair for the first time I would not expect eggs for at least fourteen days but certainly before twenty eight days. If they have not produced fertile eggs by the thirtieth day then I assume that they will not accept each other and I would look to giving them different partners.

Last year I lost an Isabella hen that I had bred with for several years and the cock that had been her partner still looked fit and capable of breeding. After a few weeks I introduced another hen into his flight cage and after approximately six months, November 1997, I tried them in a breeding cage. I placed two nest boxes in a double breeder which was the third row down in a block of four. I then introduced the cock bird and about an hour later I put in the hen. I had half made the nest in both boxes and it did not take the cock too long before he was examining the boxes, one was chosen, I had supplied some fine grasses for him to finish constructing the nest. The first egg was laid on the tenth day and then one a day for the next four days. By the time the fifth egg had been laid the hen had been badly plucked, however, this did not appear to bother her and she sat her eggs well until they hatched and then she just abandoned them with no attempt to feed them. This is a problem common to Cherry finches, in my experience. Five days later she laid the first egg of her second clutch, a further four were laid which were then fostered under Bengalese, of the five eggs four chick were reared.

After this I decided to alter the nest box and so I made another box but made it a little deeper than usual and placed it in the same position as the box they had previously used, as usual I half made the nest but supplied Coconut fibre for the cock to use to complete the construction. Both hen and Cock accepted the box and the cock finished the construction. The eggs were duly laid and the hen sat lower and out of sight in this new box. I refrained from inspecting the nest and started offering more eggfood after they had been sitting for 10 - 11 days. After a further six days it was obvious that the chicks were being fed, which was very pleasing as II had not got that far with Cherry finches before, however, on the twentieth day of the sitting I found the first chick dead on the floor of the cage and then a further two over the next couple of days, at this point I intervened and removed the nest box which contained two chicks both of which had empty crops. I am not very good at hand rearing especially when the chick are so small and so I hung the nest box in a flight cage containing a few cock Bengalese, within a few minutes the cock Bengalese had adopted them. In the past I usually used a trio of cock Bengalese to foster, I had never tried it like this before.

I finally split the Cherry Finches up with the idea of trying them again in the summer in the outside flight, which would enable them to construct their own nest in a conifer bush which would leave them with more privacy.

Reproduced from The Grassfinch, April 1998 with thanks.


NATURAL FEEDING - IS IT THE CORRECT WAY FORWARD?

by Russell M. Liddiat (1999, Vol. 22, #1)

As a child in the 1950s my mentor was that great Edwardian bird keeper, Alan Silver. Alan, probably one of our country's greatest foreign birdkeepers, always instilled in me the same message, "20 per cent is in the breeding and 80 per cent is in the feeding. To really succeed in breeding you need to know what they eat in the wild and try to supply the same or similar."

When you read Victorian books, certain seeds mentioned which were "natural" to the bird's habitat, no longer appear in nearly all today's diets. I recently read an early 1700s canary book that talked about feeding plantain seeds, and many Victorian books and even Morses 1950s book Wild Seed and their Uses, talks about the medicinal properties of certain seeds and berries such as plantain, clover, juniper, mountain ash etc.

So what do we mostly do? Feed diets that are not suitable to our birds' lifestyle and phases of the year. The best example must be the basic parrot diet. Science does not know of any parrot species that lives in an area full of growing sunflower and chillies.

The aim of a diet is not just to give you fit and healthy looking birds, but to give you birds that are indeed healthy, long-living, and are fit enough to give you full nests of youngsters.

However, it is not sufficient to just hatch youngsters, you also need to raise them to adulthood and in sufficient numbers. The diet that takes a pair or colony through the winter will be a different diet that takes them through the spring and ready for breeding. Then we have the question of what diet do they need to feed their young?

Before jointly setting up Double Dutch Avian some four years ago, I wondered why old stagers like Alan Silver were breeding things I very rarely see any more, if at all, and why on my trips to Holland and Belgium, their top fanciers were breeding birds we in Britain seemed unable to keep, let alone breed. And why with other species they were producing far more birds per pair then we were.

I recently did a nutrition talk at a club where a top novice fancier wanted to know why he should change his feeding regime to a more "natural" method. He had won big shows, but when pressed admitted his pairs produced three or four youngsters in a season, while his Dutch equivalents were regularly producing 12 to 18. I contend that it is all down to the differences in diet. The "Continental" experience is the same not only with large and small foreign birds, but with British also.

Being curious by nature, I asked all the right questions and the answers were really always the same "we look at what they eat in the wild and give them similar diets." Their breeding diets for finches included wild grasses, chicory, onion, radish, wild seeds, thistles, perilla, lettuces, clover, garden cress, etc., and in many cases dehydrated insects were given with egg food, as well as live food. (As you can see, many of these items are not part of any normal seed manufacturers mix or even on their list as a straight).

Mike Fidler (Grassfinch August 1997 issue), like myself, is obviously also curious about how the stock he keeps behaves in the wild -- daily nutritional habits and how they feed their young. Thus, he has come up with his own mixes, made up to match his own observations. So far these more "natural" methods have done the trick for him.

We were pleased to be involved with him in formulating "Forest Edge." He has found the key to success by trying to copy what Parrot Finches naturally feed in the wild. At a recent Touraco Society meeting it was stated by an expert doing field research in Africa on the Hartlaub's Touraco, (which is a difficult bird to bring up babies) that they just found out that for the first three weeks of their life the nestlings are fed not a normal diet, as was originally thought, but only insects -- so with this new piece of information and a diet change, maybe more will be raised in captivity.

The strange thing is that many of the bird food companies are moving even farther away from a "natural" approach. The question is does this modern technology, pushed by scientists, nutritionists, etc, work? The problem here is that the large companies who keep birds for research, keep them in controlled flocks and do not breed them and the smaller ones who push their food or additives/supplements through the trade or club meetings have never kept more than a pet budgie -- yet they are "experts" in bird behaviour! How did we ever manage before without them or their products?

Two significant failures of "modern technology" in the USA have been dry lory diets and finch/Canary crumbs - all have resulted in fit birds that do not breed yet they are still pushed.

Most seed diets are deficient in many areas and need supplementation of minerals and vitamins - but again, does the sales hype outweigh the products' worth?

So to me, as a birdkeeper, this must be a backward leap. Most seed diets are deficient in many areas and need supplementation of minerals and vitamins -- but again, does the sales hype outweigh the products' worth. Do we really need them and can they do what is promised? There are some good and some doubtful products out there.

I am skeptical. Probably Mike Fidler and maw of you are as well so before I use or recommend I need to know the product's track record; what field research has been done on it (where and how long); has the company any real expertise in keeping birds or have members/consultants who do so, and does it come from a country with a real background in bird keeping?

Being a third generation birdkeeper with a partner who is a trained nutritionist as well as a birdkeeper, our approach at Double Dutch is maybe an unusual one for Britain. We have approached many successful breeders at home and abroad and developed with them and Witte Molen, many new "natural" condition/tonic or herb mixes for special breeds/ species. It scientifically may seen a retrograde step -- but it works well. Why change it for something that maybe does not work as well?

Our Gold Rosette range made by Witte Molen in Holland, contains special mixes for Australian Finches; Waxbills; Hooded Siskins, Bengalese, Zebras, Bullfinches and Crossbill/Haw finch.

Of course "natural seeds" such as chicory, evening primrose, mountain ash, or plantain and shepherds purse are relatively expensive, so seed mixtures are costlier than your average cheap, plain and cheerful. But we think that breeding results, using these seeds, far outweigh the little extra cost. Such mixes, have given our customers a number of First Breeding.

The most prolific breeder of Bullfinches in the country developed the only Bullfinch mix on the market, with us. As the Mountain Ash berries, makes it slightly more expensive than conventional mixes, sales are relatively small. The average Bullfinch "breeders" attitude is that so we bred nothing this year and lost a few hens, but we can buy more next year. The good lads who use the product are only too pleased that the Witte Molen Bullfinch mixes are a little bit more expensive as the less enlightened buy their excess stock.

The world is changing, imports are becoming more difficult and this attitude will only result in species disappearing from our bird rooms. We need to stop being possessed by silly statements -- like how much protein does it contain? When we do not understand what is meant by either assimilation, raw protein or crude protein, or their importance. Instead we need to ask, "Will this mix improve both condition and breeding results?"

We must congratulate Mike for being so brave as to share the knowledge of his success. Unlike many who write in the fancy press and whose work is taken as gospel, he is successful and knows what he is talking about; but as he said, follow the diet fairly closely. Unlike, a Gouldian breeder who recently mentioned to us that he could not breed as many youngsters as the present World Champion and then asked us to find out what he was feeding. On being told, he came back with the reply; "I don't like that, it's all new fangled and strange. I prefer what I am doing."

But to the Gouldian in the wild, eating grasses and insects is not strange at all. It is just "natural."

Reproduced from the Aviary Bird Journal, November 1998 with thanks.

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