By John & Truis Alers.
East Africa - Ethiopia through to Tanzania.
Grassland steppes, light scrub and thorn veldt bushes where they feed on insects and grass seeds.
Male - Entire head blue; mantle, back and wings earth-brown; rump and upper tail coverts blue, belly to under parts tail coverts buff brown; iris red; bill pinkish-red with the tip black; legs and feet pink.
Female - Paler overall than male, crown and nape buff-brown with a number of blue feathers scattered through this blue area.
Juvenile - Similar to adult female, but paler and has a black mandible.
The Blue-capped waxbill is the largest member of the Cordon family.
|Cock Blue-cap.||Pair - Hen on Left.||Hen Blue-cap.|
Bluecaps can be housed in any sized aviary that has a covered section and is well protected from cold winds and drafts. The aviary floor should be composed of well draining material and turned over regularly so that it is free from any possible fungal infestation. If you have a soil floor, garden lime should be added about 3-4 times a year to 'sweeten' the soil and reduce the acidity of the soil, which should create an environment that is less conducive to parasitic worms and protozoans.
The covered section of the aviary should have some dry brush attached to the inside walls at different heights to provide a variety of potential nesting sites.
Bluecaps breed best in single pairs or when housed with other small, placid finches or other waxbills. We tend to house them with the St Helena waxbill, Estrilda astrid.
Owing to their quiet nature they should not be housed with aggressive species such as Melbas, Pytilia melba, Cutthroats, Amandina fasciata, Chestnuts, Lonchura castaneothorax, or Yellowrumps, L. flaviprymna, or more 'boisterous' species such as Red-faced Parrotfinches, Erythrura psittacea. This is especially true if you intend to house them in smaller flights.
They should not be housed with the Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, U. bengalus, as they will hybridise with the resultant offspring fertile, which can only detract from the pure strains of both species.
They usually build an oval shaped nest from dry grass stems -a word of warning here is to give them a variety of nesting materials rather than JUST swamp or November grass. The reason for this is that Bluecaps tend to be poor nest builders and just using swamp grass will often lead to chicks and/or eggs falling through the bottom of the nests! - With an entrance more to one side than in the middle. The inside is lined with white feathers and is generally placed high up in a dense shrub or small tree. On occasions they will make use of wicker/cane nesting baskets.
As previously mentioned they are poor nest builders and it is a good idea to watch your pairs and you may need to give extra support to the nest such as an umbrella underneath the entire structure!
We breed our birds as single pairs in an aviary as we feel that they can distract one another and fight when 2 or more pairs are housed together. It is strongly recommended that pairs are not housed side by side in smaller flights.
The hen lays from 5-6 eggs (we have had some nests with 7-8 eggs!) and the incubation period is 12-13 days. Both sexes incubate after the first eggs are laid. The young will remain in the nest for around 19-20 days
Bluecaps must be provided with live food at least twice a day for the first 5-7 days after hatching. We feed the parents with termites (white ants) and bush fly pupae during this critical 5-7 day period but the breeder must be careful not to over feed the feeding parents with live food because too much protein, when fed to the nestlings, can cause constipation and may even lead to liver damage.
Together with live food we feed them a variety of green grass seed, soaked or cooked seed and other green foods, such as Lebanese cucumber, and egg food. We freeze a large amount of green seeding grass heads, which are fed out when the grass has long since died off in the garden. At the start of the breeding season we feed the birds a small bowl of seed treated with Wheatgerm oil twice a week and, as the pairs begin to incubate, we decrease this to once a week.
In the mid 1980's we lost several young birds in the nest. We realised that the parents were overdosing their chicks with too many mealworms! As most mealworms were commonly grown in wheat bran we now know that we were depriving them of much needed calcium due to the presence of too much phytic acid in the wheat grown mealworms. A recent suggestion to avoid this is to grow your mealworms in oat bran rather than wheat bran.
Following these findings we supplied far more calcium to the feeding parents and reduced the quantity of mealworms fed. A lack of calcium is also the cause for Rickets in the young, also known as 'rubbery legs'!
After 7 days we do not cease feeding live food, just simply reduce the quantity offered to the birds.
Nest inspection should only be performed during the first 10 days after hatching because the young may leave the nest prematurely and it is extremely difficult to return them all to the nest before nightfall. We have had young leave the nest in this manner when the weather was cold and, if we had left them in the aviary, they would surely have frozen over night. We round up such youngsters and bring them inside for the night in a half open wooden nest box filled with fine grasses and return them to the aviary at daylight - the box is kept at between 20-22 degrees Celsius. The nest box is simply placed in the back of the shelter section of the aviary and the parents would continue to feed their chicks. On some occasions the chicks would remain in the nest box all day with their parents feeding them in the box!
Sexing young Bluecaps is easy for the first four weeks after leaving the nest. The young males show more intense blue colouration than the females. After four weeks this difference is much less noticeable until the birds go through their adult moult. We separate the young from their parents at around 3-4 weeks of age. When the young are taken we put the young male and females into separate cages, which are out of sight of one another. We keep them like this until we are ready to select the pairs for breeding or selling at around 3 months of age.
It is essential to manage the different bloodlines to ensure you keep good size and colouration in your birds and to avoid inbreeding.
Due to their propensity to lay large numbers of eggs they need a large amount of extra calcium in their diet. We supply them with cuttlefish, baked eggshells and dry seed with '4-in-1 flow pack' stirred through it and fed the following day. Calcium deficiency in Bluecaps appears to be the main reason for egg binding, as are cold, damp aviaries and the tendency to over produce eggs!
When egg bound the hen appears distressed and often sits on the floor of the aviary with its wings extended, drooped or, at best, flies very poorly from the floor to the perches. Most commonly seen in the late afternoons, especially after a change in the weather conditions, we suggest you treat IMMEDIATELY as by the next morning your hen will be dead. When you pick up the hen check to see that she has food in her crop and, if not as is usually the case, we suggest that you crop feed her and place her in the hospital cage. The hospital cage should be set for between 30-35 degrees Celsius and a bowl of seed and a fresh water container should be included.
Also a shallow bowl of water placed in the bottom of your hospital box will supply the cage with humidity ensuring that you don't desiccate your subject!
We also supply the birds with Cod liver oil 2 times a week in winter and wheatgerm oil in the warmer months and both are fed the same way - mixed with dry seed in a small bowl and fed as the only source of dry seed. We feed only what will be eaten in one day, as the oil will make the seed rancid after a short period.
One point here is to ensure that you purchase your Wheatgerm oil from a Health Food store and it should always be kept in the fridge.
We feed our birds a good quality finch mix with Niger seed added. Each day a small bowl of wild seed mix is presented to the birds. Other supplements include egg food, cooked seed, cuttlefish, medicated grit, baked eggshells, charcoal, plus plenty of half ripe grass seeds and other green foods on a daily basis. Vitamins, minerals and extra calcium are added to the softfood or placed in the water.
Live food is a must for breeding Bluecaps and we recommend termites and bush fly pupae.
As a final note we would like to answer one of the commonest questions that we have encountered from would be breeders of Bluecaps - and that is:
"Why do my Bluecaps lay clear eggs?"
Hens lay eggs on a fairly regular basis, even when they are separated from the males! However, many of the males are not ready to breed. So then, what do I mean by this statement?
Bluecaps are, by nature, a 'lazy' bird in the aviary and require exercise to bring them into breeding condition. Further to this during the period from June through to Early September they should be maintained on a diet of dry seed and green grasses. This should be done whether you separate your pairs or not and this Austerity period is essential, in our opinion, to successful breeding.
Many people fall into the trap of feeding their Bluecaps plenty of live food during the non-breeding season when they are not physically active and this may cause them to become too fat - especially if this live food consists of plenty of mealworms. Hence when they commence breeding the males may be far too overweight to be bothered constructing a fully completed nest or even to copulate 'properly' with the hen.
To this end we must here state that we nest inspect on a regular basis, as some hens have the nasty habit of laying fresh eggs in with the clear eggs, which is not desirable! In our experience the birds show little distress when the nests are inspected.
We trust that there is something in these writings that will allow you to obtain better results from your Bluecaps and that they will never again threaten to disappear from our aviaries as they almost did in the 1990's. With some
common sense feeding and diet regimes they should freely reproduce for you as they do for us. Remember to scrupulously maintain your bloodlines and watch their intake of live food and you will surely be able to produce large numbers of this avian gem.