Two of the most dedicated aviculturists that I have had the pleasure of being able to call friends are the Oliver brothers. They reside just south of Hobart and have a number of aviaries housing a wide variety of Australian grassfinches, African waxbills, Cardueline finches and African Weavers. With their meticulous husbandry practices they have consistently bred large numbers of the species that they hold despite the best, or rather worst, that the climate can throw at them!
Firm believers in the benefits of constantly updating their flock care management they are frequently sort after for their avicultural knowledge, which is based on both extensive experience and wide reading of all things avicultural!

The aviaries are constructed of timber and are all placed on concrete footings to deter any rodents from entering. These footings are set almost 30cms and sit up on a bed of crushed glass.
All of their aviaries are fully enclosed and contain a number of sliding windows and shutters that allow for airflow during warmer periods. The greatest problem that they always mention is whether you build your cages for the 12 hot days of summer or the 245 colder days of the year!! Guess there’s no contest really. Many locals frown upon such closed in box aviaries but the Oliver’s allow their breeding results to speak for themselves!
The Red Bishop weaver aviary measures 13.6 x 6.1 metres; the napoleon aviary 8x6.4 metres and the rest of the birds are kept in 4 aviaries arranged in a block with each compartment measuring 4x7m. One of these flights has been divided up into 6 smaller flights – each 3 x 1.2m. In these are a number of Parrotfinch mutations, which are producing large numbers of offspring. Originally these flights were built for the Pytilias so that Allan could control the amount of livefood being supplied to them as we don’t’ have the luxury of white ants down here.
The reasons for enclosing the aviaries are a combination of protection from the harsh winters we experience down here and a desire to keep their flock as a ‘closed system’. Basically this means that the birds are not exposed to the diseases and parasites carried by wild birds that pass overhead. It also enhances the effectiveness of treatments for protozoal parasites (Giardia, Cochlosoma.), coccidiosis and internal worms. Thus saying they are not naive and adhere to a strict worming and coccidial regime as they give great respect to all intestinal parasites. Also, being close to the beach as they are, there are large numbers of ants about which, so a few vets have told us, are great intermediate hosts for all thing parasitic!

Fig.1. Napoleon weaver Aviary

Fig.2. Large Planted Aviary.

Fig.3&4. Closed in Yes, but well Planted Out!!

The Oliver’s have a diverse collection of finches. The Australians are Black-rump Double Bars, Diamond Sparrows, Masks, Pictorellas, Plumheads, Gouldians and Stars. African Fires, Red faced parrotfinches (normals, pieds, sea greens and sea-green pieds); Red Strawberries, Red-wing & Yellow-wing Pytilias, Jacarinis and Tanimbars are all well represented. Two members of the weaver family are kept - the Napoleon & the Red Bishop. Cup nesters are also held with the Grey singer, Red Hooded siskin, Mexican siskin and the Oriental Greenfinch amongst their favourites.
We all reminisce over the ‘old days’ when we first became more than ‘trading acquaintances’ but the season when between the three of us we managed to breed near 100 Yellowrump manikins is always a highlight! Of course we don’t mention that we couldn’t give them away at the time and ended up sending them to a well-known Melbourne dealer for $10 a pair!! What would we give for that many these days!

Having closed aviaries hasn’t prevented the Oliver’s from heavily planting their aviaries as in one flight there are 8 different grass species thriving! On a windy summers day, with all the shutters open, the sight of 2 metre high grasses waving in the breeze while Napoleon weavers and Tri-coloured parrotfinches strip the seed heads is a sight to behold.

Fig.5.Emblema Cock.

Fig.6. Tri-Colour Males.

Fig.7. Red Siskin.

So, having given you a brief run down of the Oliver’s aviaries I have managed to pin Allan and Tony down between racing from aviary to aviary and shall ask them a few questions.

When Did You Start Keeping Birds?

Tony started in 1958 and I started in 1962, so it’s been a while now we come to think of it!

What Species Did You Both Start With?

Well, like many I suspect, we both started keeping Budgies, as they were easy to cater for, readily available and it was easy to dispose of their youngsters. Given the lengths we go to now for some of the finches we breed maybe we should have stuck to Budgies!
After the Budgies it was into King Quail, Zebra finches, Bourkes and Scarlets.

What Were The First Of The "Better" Finches That You Went Into?

These would have been the Longtails, Double Bars and Stars as they were freely available and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. They also allowed us to gain the experience and desire necessary to move onto the more "troublesome" finches.

What Would Be the Best Birds You Have Kept?

We’ve kept a fair few but I reckon the Napoleon weavers we got from Henny Denholm would have to be the top of our list.

Is There Any Finch That you Have Seen That You’ve Never Wanted to Keep?

Thought you’d ask us that one ‘cause you already know the answer don’t you as I’ve told you that one, those African Silverbills that you used to breed like flies! Never had ‘em and never wanted to! Wait, I suppose there is one that has worse habits than them and that would have to be the Java sparrow, a sod of a bird! Suppose we’re not real big fans of the Asiatic Nuns either really.

Ok, Ok! How About the Three Finch Species You’d like to Keep if You Could Choose From Any of the World’s Finches?

Tony: The Pin-tailed parrotfinch, the Violet-eared waxbill and the Purple grenadier waxbill.

Allan: The Pin-tailed parrotfinch, the Rosy twinspot and the Black-cheeked waxbill.

What About the Your Three Favourite Finches of All Those You Have Kept?

Tony: the Mask finch, the Sea-green Pied Red-faced parrotfinch and the Pictorella.
the Napoleon weaver, the Masked finch and the Grenadier weaver.

You’ve Both Had a Great Deal of Success Over the Years What is your Best Effort?

Look, bird keeping has a great many ups and downs as you are painfully aware and sure, we’ve had some good years but that must be balanced against those seasons when, despite everything, nothing goes to plan!! So, with that in mind, I guess the years when we bred 77 Golden Song sparrows, 133 Black-rumped Double bars, 240 odd Red-faced parrotfinches, 35 Red Siskins and the 27 Yellow-wing pytilias would be our best efforts.

Fig. 8. Closed in Section for Siskins. Fig.9. Heater for Siskin Chicks!

You’ve Just mentioned the Ups and Downs Care to Give us an Example?

Well, no surprises here to you we think, but the season we bred 74 Pictorellas from 3 pair was fantastic but those pairs have never picked up a blade of grass since. So it’s been two seasons now without another youngster reared or egg lain. Why? I guess we say to all those people that profess to know all about birds that we have a real long way to go before any of us can claim to be "experts"!!

What Bird has Given you the Most Trouble?

Easy son and we suspected you’d ask this one! Those blasted Yellow-wing pytilias! One great season and you think you’re gunna do it every time and then nothing! Glad to be rid of the damn things, pretty bird though. Remember the year when we couldn’t do anything wrong with them? Reared nest after nest on maggots and the small mealworms then for 3 flaming years they just sat there!
Must mention your old favourite the Blue-cap here as we couldn’t keep them alive here and the only time they did breed we got three ruddy males, again beautiful to look at but you’re welcome to them!

You’ve Bred Down Here in Tassie for a Number of Years Can you Give us Some of the Advantages of Being Here?

You’re kidding aren’t you! Well, one thing’s for sure, we don’t have to worry about sunstroke when we are in the aviaries! Jeez, advantages? I guess, at a pinch, the lack of humidity does mean we have fewer problems with fungal diseases, coccidia and some worm infestations – although, even here, you must be on guard all the time. Nope, we can’t think of any other advantages, maybe when we get some Beautiful firetails ask us again then!

OK, How About Some of the Disadvantages of Living Here?

The bloody weather son! You remember, sleet, sunshine, frost and that’s just before breakfast. What about those glorious days when the temperature never gets over 8 degrees, for weeks on end! Like you we just hate that long cold winter where you just waste your time trying to breed birds for as soon as they leave the nest they freeze – literally!

Apart from our glorious weather there is the very limited availability of new stock and all your products and the like have to be imported from the Mainland. Remember how good the local bird seed was we had to buy when Peppers ran out one year? Normally wouldn’t have fed the crap to chooks!

The other aspect of being here is the very restricted market which makes it extremely difficult to dispose of your surplus youngsters locally.

Don’t think we left anything out did we? Hey, how about the joys of doing the water bowls every morning in winter?

In Hindsight How Would You Change Your Aviary Designs?
We would install safety lanes in all aviaries and have an automatic watering system at the front so that all watering could be done from the outside of the aviaries to avoid breaking our backs every day and save us from lugging those damn water buckets everywhere!!

Which Avicultural Societies Are You A Member Of?
The Avicultural Society of Australia and the Queensland Finch Society.

Do You Have a Favourite Bird Book Or Periodical?
The Queensland Finch News isn’t too bad and we have Russel Kingston’s ‘Finches and Seedeaters’ book and get Australian Birdkeeper and Finches and Seedeaters magazines now.

What Supplements Have you Found Beneficial to your Finch Keeping and Breeding?

One of the commercially available ones we’ve had success with is Passwell’s Finch Soft Food. We’ve just started using the John Alers Softfood Mix and the birds sure do seem to be taking to that well. Like you we’ve had great success with using the program that Dr Colin Walker designed for us over the long winter months – that is the addition of his Polyseed Oil and Nutribloom to the dry seed. We also add his Golden Boost Multivitamin powder to our soaked seed when ever we feed it.

Here’s One I’ve Always Wondered Myself! As You Both Started Off With Hookbills What Made you Concentrate on Finches Rather Than Parrots?

I hope we don’t offend too many people but we just found parrots plain boring. I mean you walk past their aviary every hour and they are usually just sitting in the same spot! Nah, finches are like little dynamos, always on the go and if they do sit still for long you start to worry! Don’t mind those Lorikeets but couldn’t suffer with the mess they make, guess it might be a bit better now with all the prepared diets but still reckon we’d rather look at ‘em in someone else’s aviaries!

Despite all that we always had in mind building planted aviaries and parrots and vegetation just don’t appear to mix too well! There’s always a challenge with finches, especially here with the weather and just about everything else against you. Never a dull moment!

Finally guys, How about a Few Pearls of Wisdom For the Beginner Out There Reading This?

Start off with the cheaper varieties and make your mistakes and "earn your stripes" with them before moving onto the more difficult species. Just because you can afford a certain finch doesn’t mean you are going to be able to breed it! Learn as you go in the hobby, check out as many aviaries as you can and talk to people that breed the finches you are interested in and that should stand you in good stead for the frustrating years ahead! Only kidding, but you do need steady nerves at times!

With the Internet it is pretty easy to research finches and contact other breeders but remember what works for one breeder may not always work for you but still strive to get as many opinions as you can then make up your own mind I guess!

Again don’t just buy finches because you can afford them without having too many clues as to their needs!

When you are breeding finches place a few sticks of Tea-tree horizontally along the back wall so that any chicks that leave the nest early have somewhere to perch that is up off the ground – especially good if you breed Red-faced parrotfinches.

Move somewhere warmer!