On the outskirts of the urban sprawl that is Sydney, NSW, is St. Mary’s’ and the home of Doug Hill a keen finch breeder and president elect of the Finch Society of Australia.

A few years ago I submitted a number of articles to an Australian magazine and received an e-mail from a fellow writer called Doug Hill and the rest, as they say, is history!! From exchanged ‘pleasantries’ across the ether it was a meeting at his home in Sydney and a trip to the legendary Gunnedah Bird Sale. Now I would never dare bypass Sydney on a mainland trip!
Doug and Heather have a normal suburban block with little room for huge aviary complexes but this has not deterred them from keeping and breeding a number of exotic and Australian finches. The aviaries themselves are of steel construction and, so I am well informed, started life as bed frames many moons ago! They have been through a few moves with the Hills and now grace the yard at St Mary’s’ – the stories those beds could tell!!!

Fig.1. Doug's Aviaries. Fig. 2. Far End of the Block. Fig.3. Doug's Holding Aviary.

Doug has 9 breeding flights and these are 1.2 metres wide, 3.6 metres long and around 2 metres in height. For the ever-increasing number of youngsters that he breeds he has a holding aviary that measures 1.5 metres in width, is 4.15 metres long and 2.1 metres high. Apparently the colour scheme was a sight to behold but, following the now habitual trips to the Hunter Valley, a uniform colour scheme was introduced!!

Doug and I agree on a large number of avicultural topics but his love of mutations leaves me much bemused I must admit, we have agreed not to mention Gouldian finches anymore!!! Doug love of mutations sees him keep a good selection of Parrotfinches, Stars, Ruddies (African Fires) and naturally, the Gouldian finch. I have tried to remember the types of Gouldian mutations that Doug breeds but must admit to not having much of an idea! Suffice it to say he had many mutations of this finch and, if his new found friendship with Mike Fidler is anything to go by, he will have a few more no doubt!

Fig.4. Doug behind wire!! Fig.5. Picking Guinea Grass. Fig.6. The Terminator!!

Beware of Doug’s sense of humour as he can land you in strife from time to time. For example he once found me some Red Strawberries and dutifully rang and said they were ready to go. I obtained my permit and proceeded to the airport where the Quarantine Officer was dutifully counting the contents of the box. "Eight birds, the permit says 6, care to explain sir". As I was as confused as he was I shrugged and looked in the box. There dwarfing the Strawbs was a magnificent pair of Red-headed Gouldian’s! After much bowing, shuffling of feet and exchanges of blank looks I crawled off with a promise to ‘fix the paperwork’ ringing in my ears. When I asked Doug he just said "Knew ya didn’t like ‘em so I sent ya a pair anyway!!" That’s Doug. Must admit they bred like mad things though but what an ear bashing I copped when fellow breeders saw Gouldian’s in my aviaries, thanks Doug!

Just to show he held no hard feelings he even took me to collect White ants next time I was in NSW, just what I needed to see coming from an area where there are none!!

Not content with just breeding birds he took over the helm of the Finch Society of Australia and set about trebling the membership in a short period of time. Doug credits himself with being the gruff voice of the president while he marvels at the behind the scenes work that Heather does in ‘her spare time’!!! A real partnership is involved here and one with finch keepers being the main benefactors, and not just in Sydney either. Doug also writes a bit too and his finch work has graced the pages of a number of avicultural magazines and, word has it, he has even about to go ‘off-shore’ in the near future.




A Selection of Doug's Birds.

Recently Doug found the time off from his busy bird schedule to sit down with a fellow member of the Finch Society and here is the transcript of that ‘interview’ to help you get to know Doug:

When and where did you start in birds?
I started around 50 years ago at about 5or 6 years of age when my brother and I were allowed to get some pigeons from the poultry auction at Penrith.

Who most influenced you in the keeping/breeding of birds?
Don my older brother who showed me how to trap birds and have a respect for them as well as showing me how to keep them.

Have you always only kept finches?
No, at around 11 years of age I gave pigeons another go for a couple of years but saw the error of my ways!

What are your plans for the future in birds?
Keep ‘em as long as I can look after them properly.

What birds are you do you have at present?
I have Pied Cordon Bleu’s, Sea Green, Pied and Pied Sea Green Red-face, Pink Ruddie’s, Gouldian’s - White Breasted, Yellows and normals, Red Faced Pytilia, Strawberry’s, Pictorella, Fawn Stars and Zebbies.

Are any of your birds breeding at present?
Yes, I have Pytilia’s, Pied Ruddie’s, Red-faced Parrotfinches, Pictorella’s, Zebbies and some straggler Gouldian’s that I haven’t separated yet for the moult.

What would be your favourite species?
Cordon Bleu without a doubt closely followed by the Pied Red Faced Parrot finch.

What is your least favourite species?
Cut-throats and Java sparrows

What species would you most like to keep?
Now there’s an interesting list! If I had to choose one species I think it would be the Violet-eared Waxbill.

How would you change your aviary designs?
I have mega changes in mind for my new aviary complex. The main change would be that the enclosed section that is used for breeding would take up most of the aviary area. In an aviary of 4 meters the enclosed section would be of at least 2 ½ meters.

Which avicultural societies are you a member of?
I am currently in my 4th term as President of The Finch Society of Australia Inc.
I am a founding member of the Finch Society of Australia, Hunter Branch.
I am also a member of the Australian Birdkeepers Association.(A.B.A.)

 What species have you had the greatest success with?
Zebbies (as everyone in the world has!!) and Cordon Bleus’ without a doubt.

Which species has given you the most problems?
Red-faced pytilia. They will feed their young both termites and gentles (maggots) but whenever the termites run out they chuck out the young.

Best moments in aviculture?
Seeing my first Pied Cordon Bleu young on the perch and purchasing my first pair of Pied Red-faced Parrotfinches.

Worst moments in aviculture?
Treading on 3 young Pied Cordons hidden in some grass on the floor of the aviary.

Favourite bird book or periodical?
Australian Finches by Klaus Immelmann and The Finch Society of Australia’s journal The Finch Breeders Review.

What is the best bird you have bred?
It is out of two that stand out for me and they are a cock Red-faced Pytilia and a hen Black-faced Zebra Finch.

What is the worst bird you have bred?
The ugliest looking pigeon that you could ever lay eyes upon.

What is the best bird you have seen?
A cock Violet-eared Waxbill sitting in the early morning sun, words just would not do it justice.

What is the worst bird you have seen?
That poor ugly bloody pigeon that I bred!

What do you feed your birds?
I feed a seed mix, Endive daily, fresh seeding grasses almost daily (I say almost daily as the drought certainly stopped a lot of it), Canundra shell, oyster shell and shell grit, calcium in the form of cuttle-bone, charcoal, eggshells which have been heated in the oven for 20 minutes at 200c.
For live food I give them termites and gentles (maggots).

Do you make up your own finch mix if so what seed do you use and to what ratio?
Yes I have my mix made up for me and I have a summer mix as well as a winter mix they are made up of canary seed, French white, red pannicum and Japanese millet.
The breakdown of the mixes is; summer mix…red pannicum 30% Japanese millet 30%, plain canary 25% and French white millet 15%.
The winter mix consists of red pannicum 15%, Japanese millet 30%, French white millet 20% and plain canary 35%.

Red-faced Pytilia. Pictorella. Pied Cordon.

Do you feed any extras to your birds?
Yes I feed a soft food mix that I am changing to give the birds a bit of variety. I am about to try the John Alers mix, which can be found on the Clifton Finch Aviaries Site.

What is your view on austerity diets fed to birds in the off-season?
I have not and do not feed an austerity diet to my birds. It is very difficult to feed an austerity diet when the birds are in a mixed aviary.
Some birds are at their non breeding times to other birds so if they are in a mixed aviary how do you work out who should not be fed the good tucker and who should get it? Unless you have multiple holding aviaries or same species aviaries then I would say it would be too hard to accomplish.

How many aviaries do you have at present?
I have 9 breeding aviaries and 1 holding aviary.

Are there more aviaries on the drawing board?
Always more aviaries on the drawing board, but a backyard can only take so much and dearly beloved can only take so much as well!!

What size are your aviaries?
I have 8 aviaries 3.5m deep and range from 900 wide to1200 wide and 2m high. The other two are 900 wide and 2.5 deep.

What flooring do you have in your aviaries?
All of my aviaries are coarse washed river sand I find that it is easy to maintain and keep fresh.

Do you use brush in your aviaries for birds to breed in?
Yes I do use brush in the aviaries. I just nick out into the bush and cut a bit of tea-tree. I find that it is the best brush to use. I try to replace it twice a year but now I’m getting older I only do it once a year.

What nesting receptacles do you favour and why?
All birds have different likings for nesting receptacles some like to build in budgie boxes and some prefer the smaller finch boxes. I like to have finch boxes and cane nesting baskets along with wire cylinders for them all to have a pick from. I don’t necessarily favour one from the other, but just give the birds a choice.

Are your aviaries fully enclosed on the roof?
After having Noisy Miners (Manorina melanocephala) and Currawongs (Strepera versicolor) along with the White Plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostemos penicillatus) running up and down the open roof section of the aviary I decided to fully roof all of my aviaries and now I wouldn’t have it any other way, the best thing I ever did.

Are all of your aviaries made from steel or timber?
All of my aviaries are made of steel.

What way do your aviaries face?
All bar one face NNE to catch as much sun as I can mainly during the winter. The other one faces east.

Do you have much weather problems where you are now?
We have had some storms rip through here forcing all of the birds into the protected rear section of the aviaries. We also get some pretty savage frosts here at times. I have recorded a temperature of 45° C in the backyard in summer last year, 2002.

Do you enclose your aviaries in the winter?
I did this year and I am pleased I did as it kept the aviaries warm on those sunny but cold windy days. I used clear plastic for enclosing the aviaries.

What water system do you use?
I still use the good old watering can to do the birds - only for the exercise because of the CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) that I have.

Do you use night-lights?
No I don’t want the neighbourhood cats having a field day when I’m sleeping!

When do you worm your birds?
I worm my birds every 3 months and try to use a different wormer when I can

What do you use when worming?
I use Ivomec and Cydectin for gizzard and roundworm and Droncit for tapeworm.

What protection do you use for mice and cats?
The best protection is of course an electric fence but I read somewhere that you cannot use them anymore. I have continuing bait traps out for mice and rats.

What is the best bit of advice you have had and from whom did it come?
The best of advice I ever received was from my brother who told me if I go poking my fingers into any of the nests he would give me a punch in the head. I still do not do it unless I really need to, but I have a look around first to see if he’s about!!

What advice would you give to someone just starting up?
Join a club whether it is a specialty finch club or an avicultural society. Listen and learn. What the specialty breeders tell you cannot be far from being spot on. The main piece of advice I could give is, be patient and have a look to see if my brother is around before you check a finch nest!!

Well, there in a nutshell is a little about Doug Hill and his finch keeping. Always ready to adopt new innovations and keen to do anything that will benefit the members of the Finch Society. He will probably be very annoyed with me (and I will no doubt suffer for it!!) but I feel it would be remiss of me to finish without one final word.

Doug, as he mentioned, suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has severely impacted upon all aspects of his life. Despite this his birds lack for nothing and his breeding results are excellent and he suffers far more than most for the energy he throws into his ‘presidency’. So the next time you are tempted to grumble when you have to go and care for your finches spare Doug a thought, it sure works for me!!