Gary McCrae from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
Or: Kalgoorlie or Bust!!
|Fig.1. "The Car!!"|
Twas a morning like any other. Little did the intrepid four realise what the
day held in store for them in their quest to reach Kalgoorlie!
Beginning to sound like I might have the great Australasian novel in me yet! Suffice it to say that the invitation to visit Gary’s aviaries was an adventure in itself so I shall alter the usual ‘avian’ format to enlighten you further! Of course, whether you like it or not!
We set out from the home of John Alers, well-known WA finch breeder, for the bright lights of Kalgoorlie some 600 kilometres away. Gary himself was along as our intrepid guide, John Barrett from Birds R’ Us fame, our host John Alers and myself made up the rest of the crew. Debate was rife about the best way of getting to Kalgoorlie with John B. keen to opt for flights and/or a hire car but John A. assured us that he had just had his car serviced and we were taking it and that was that!
As designated driver I was chaffing at the bit to head off on our trek. However, 120 km’s later we were in trouble with a temperature gauge in the red. We limped into a small roadhouse and were sent ‘round the corner’ to find ‘Jacko the Mechanic’, who, as it was a Saturday, was ‘thrilled’ to see us. After much opening of bonnets and poking of various pieces of rubber hosing he announced that, if we took it slowly, we ‘should’ reach Kalgoorlie in one piece but he did stress the ‘should’ several times. Our intrepid leader John A. pointed towards Kalgoorlie and said "onwards"! By this stage poor John B. was beginning to wish he’d opted for his flight to Kalgoorlie and tentatively suggested we return to Perth and ‘reassess’ our options for reaching our destination rather than perishing by the side of the road – or let him do so at any rate! Did John A. suspect a mutiny in the ranks? His next words left us in no doubt as to his intention, with a quick point in the general direction of Kalgoorlie, he simply stated "Drive Marcus!" Good enough for me I thought, so off we went with a, by now, very nervous John B. in the rear seat!
Well, hats off to ‘Jacko the Mechanic’ because he was right on the nose! We
proceeded on in a sedate manner until the conversation got round to Tasmania’s
Nature Conservation Branch and the Beautiful Firetail when, I must admit, that I
got a little hot under the collar, forgot the safe, sedate speed and allowed the
car to become as hot as I was!! After Gary had banned those particular topics
for the rest of the trip the rest of our journey was reasonably uneventful. No
sense of humour!
On one of our many forced "let the engine cool down stops" I was fascinated to see a heap of melons growing by the side of the road. John A. informed me that they were called pig melons. So, adopting the theory of what a pig can eat so could I, I tasted a piece of one of these succulent fruits. For the more delicate reader I shall omit the reaction that tasting one of these revolting things had upon my taste buds and vocabulary!
I should have known by the smirk on John A’s face that I had been ‘mislead’ when he told me that they were called that because pigs wouldn’t even eat them! Now I know why!
Must get my own back here as once I screeched the ‘birdmobile’ to a jarring halt and pointed towards the abundance of what looked to me to be swamp grass and duly set off to gather a bag. Our West Aussie natives simply looked at me with a look I suspect they kept for members of the flat earth society and shook their heads and stated that the grass was no good for finches. Ha, showed them didn’t I! Only found out later that one of Gary’s mates drove 400 kms to collect the very same ‘useless’ grass for…………..wait for it………..his Orange-cheeked waxbills! I know grasses fella!
Upon arrival in Kalgoorlie we were whisked away for a tour of the local
‘attractions’ which included the famous red light area (just looking I might add
– for a ‘historical perspective’ of course!!), witnessed karaoke with ‘the black
Elvis’ and visited a skimpy bar – was thinking about the Tasmanian franchise of
these establishments but the frostbite clause was to be the killer, damn! What
Was recently reminded by none other than Mr McCrae himself of John B’s reaction when a ‘rather well muscled’ "young lady" approached the car. Gary couldn’t quite remember his actual reaction but it had the words drive and quick with a few other adjectives thrown in!! What a trip it was, non stop madness from start to finish!
So, following upon these nights adventures, next morning it was an early rise to get the guided tour of the McCrae bird collection first hand.
The following interview with Gary was originally conducted by Doug Hill and I have taken the liberty of throwing a few more questions at Gary myself!!
Fig.2. Mr Gary McCrae in his native habitat!
Fig.3.Part of the Back Aviaries.
|Fig.4. The Entire Back Complex.||Fig.5. Side Aviaries.|
When and where did you start in birds?
I RECALL FIRST BEGINNING WITH A PAIR OF ZEBRA FINCHES WHEN I was PROBABLY 10 YEARS OLD (1973). THEY COST MY DAD 25 cents FOR THE PAIR! FROM THERE I GOT INTO BUDGIES AND SOME WILD CAUGHT EUROPEAN GOLDFINCHES AND GREENFINCHES.
ALL THIS HAPPENED BACK IN SUNSHINE, VICTORIA.
Who most influenced you in the keeping/breeding of birds?
I GUESS IT WAS PREDOMINATELY THREE PEOPLE.
THE FIRST WAS A NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOUR, WHO BRED SHOW BUDGIES. HE GAVE ME A FEW WHICH WEREN'T quite UP TO SCRATCH!
WHEN WE MOVED TO MELTON, VICTORIA I MET A LOCAL FINCH BREEDER NAMED CHARLIE BRIDEGMAN. HE OFTEN TOOK ME OUT TO THE BIRD DEALERS, BIRD SALES AND TO OTHER BREEDERS. IT WAS PROBABLY THIS EXPOSURE TO WHAT TYPES OF BIRDS WERE AVAILABLE THAT GOT ME REALLY INTERESTED.
AFTER MOVING TO KALGOORLIE IN 1988 I WAS WITHOUT BIRD’S FOR ABOUT EIGHT YEARS. AFTER FINALLY BUYING A HOUSE, THE AVIARIES WENT UP ONE AT A TIME AND THE NORMAL STANDARD TYPE FINCHES OBTAINED. ON A TRIP BACK TO MELBOURNE I WAS FORTUNATE TO VISIT JEREMY WHITE IN MELBOURNE – wow! What an experience. THE BIRD’S I SAW WERE DEFINITELY WHAT I WANTED TO GET INTO! I learn’t so much about not only species that I had seen in books before but about housing and feeding - AVIARIES WHICH HOUSED LESS BIRDS AND LESS SPECIES OF BIRDS AND ALSO A TREND TOWARD SPECIALIZING WITH CERTAIN SPECIES OF BIRDS. I ALSO SAW FIRST HAND HIS AUTO WATERING SYSTEM (HUGE TIME SAVER WHICH LETS ME HAVE MORE AVIARIES) Visiting Jeremy was, I believe, the best thing aviculturally I have done, not only for the subsequent greatly improved breeding results but also for a general greater enjoyment with my bird keeping.
Have you always only kept finches?
NO! APART FROM THE BUDGIES, I REMEMBER GETTING INTO THE YELLOW PEACHFACES, CINNAMON PEACEFUL DOVES MASKED DOVES. LATER I WENT THROUGH A NEOPHEMA STAGE. THE LAST NON-FINCH BIRDS I OWNED WERE BUTTON QUAIL (PAINTED, LITTLE, BLACK-BREASTED, RED CHESTED AND RED-BACK) AND A PAIR OF PLUMHEADS (I HAD WANTED A PAIR OF THESE SINCE I SAW THEM AS A KID BUT THEY WERE UP AROUND THE $2000 PER PAIR MARK SO PICTURES HAD TO SUFFICE TILL I PICKED UP A PAIR IN 1997. EVEN THESE ARE NO LONGER IN THE COLLECTION!
What are your plans for the future in birds?
I HAVE A COUPLE MORE AVIARIES ON THE DRAWING BOARD. ONE WILL PROBABLY BE MORE A DISPLAY AVIARY TO HOUSE A MIXED COLLECTION OF AUSTRALIAN FINCHES. I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO MODIFY THE AUTO WATERING TO A COUPLE OF THE OLDER AVIARIES AND MAKE THEM A BIT MORE AESTHETICALLY PLEASING!
ON A BIRD SPECIES SIDE I BEEN TRYING TO FIND SOME DYBOWSKIS TWINSPOTS, WHITE-EARED MASKS, WHITE BELLIED BLOODS AND FAWN PAINTEDS BUT I’ve BEEN A BIT SHORT OF TIME LATELY SO MAYBE NEXT YEAR!
What birds do you have at present?
PAINTEDS, YELLOW-RUMPS, Red-eared firetails, AFRICAN FIRES (PINKS, CINNAMONS AND PIEDS), RED-CHEEKED CORDONS (PIEDS), BLUE-CAPPED CORDON BLUES, TRI-COLOURED PARROT FINCHES, RED-FACE PARROT FINCHES (PIEDS, SEAGREENS AND SEAGREEN PIEDS), BLACK BELLIED BLOODS, RED STRAWBERRIES, AND ORANGE CHEEKED WAXBILLS.
|Fig.6. Red-Eared Firetail.||Fig.7. Too Good For Just One Photo!|
If you could select from any, and I do mean any, 3 finch species to keep what would you choose?
Red eared Firetails are definitely up there. Choosing between Green Twinspots, Pin-tailed Parrot Finches, Bamboo Parrot finches, Peales Parrot Finches, Purple Grenadiers, Pin-tailed Whydahs, Jacarinis and European Bullfinches and Redpolls would be the hard part!
If you could import and 3 finch species not
curently in Oz what 3?
Definitely the Green Twinspots, Pin-tailed parrotfinches, Bamboo parrot finches and European Bullfinches.
What are the best birds you have bred?
STRANGELY ENOUGH I WOULD SAY THE LUTINO MUTATION OF THE BLUE-FACE PARROT FINCH IS PRETTY SPECIAL. I HAD GREAT SUCCESS BREEDING GOOD, PARENT REARED AVIARY BRED STOCK. SELLING OF THESE BIRDS AND THEN MOVING ONTO THE SEA-GREEN MUTATION OF THE REDFACE PARROT FINCH IS WHAT GOT ME STARTED ON THE COLLECTION I HAVE TODAY.
PURELY AS AN ACHIEVEMENT THE BEST BIRDS I BRED WOULD HAVE TO SAY THE ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILLS AND THE BLUE-CAPPED CORDON BLUE.
|Fig.8. Pied-Cordon Cock.||Fig.9."Odd" Emblema.||Fig.10. Yellowrumps & White-ear Masks.|
What are the three best finches you have kept and why?
The first that comes to mind is the Blue-faced parrot finch. In 1994 I bought
10 uncoloured birds which turned out to be five pairs. They bred phenomenally
well with the funds generated from the sale of the young birds enabling me to
purchase the lutino mutation which bred equally as well. From the sale of the
young lutinos I was able to then move on to some of the more expensive
The second would be the Orange-cheeked waxbill. After only ever seen them in books and magazines I found myself in front of an aviary housing some 50 orange cheeked waxbills in a single holding cage when there were only 60 registered in the country. It was an awesome sight. I ordered a pair on the spot. Two years later I received the phone call that they were ready. Now came the tricky part, letting my partner of 18months, Leonie, know that I was about to spend $2000 on a pair of birds. Thankfully she only batted one eyelid. The birds arrived and were taking seeding grasses out of my hand within minutes of being let out of their freight box. They had me hooked. Leonie didn’t even batt the second eyelid when I immediately ordered the second pair! Apart from owning these fantastic birds, I guess they showed Leonie how serious I was about my finches.
The third would have to be the Red-eared firetail. Spectacularly coloured, rarely seen, difficult to breed and an avicultural challenge with very little avicultural literature available.
What is the worst bird you have bred?
THAT’S AN EASY ONE! I WAS HAVING A BIT OF A COMPETITION WITH A MATE IN PERTH AS TO WHO WOULD BREED THE FIRST SEA-GREEN PIED RED FACE. I HAD A SEAGREEN PIED LEAVE THE NEST NOT ONLY ONE DAY AFTER MY MATE IN PERTH HAD A SEAGREEN PIED FLEDGE, BUT THE LITTLE BUGGER COULDN'T AND STILL CAN’T FLY.
What is the best bird you have seen?
BEST IN TERMS OF QUALITY WOULD HAVE TO BE A MALE PAINTED FINCH OWNED BY A BREEDER IN PERTH. THE BIRD WAS FULL RED-FRONTED WITH THE RED FRONT BEING A MINIMUM OF 10 mm WIDE!
IN TERMS OF RARITY THE PURPLE GRENADIER WAXBILL AND THE PETERS TWINSPOT ARE PRETTY SPECIAL!
What is the worst bird you have seen?
EASY! THE FIRST SEAGREEN PIED THAT I BRED!
Three worst finches and why or ones maybe you'd never want and why?
That’s easy. Sick ones, dead ones, and the white Red-billed (Hecks) longtail!!
The sick ones and dead ones I do as much as I can to be without. The third were a "gift" but were quickly dispatched once they were bred.
I would and probably have tried most species that I have stumbled across and really they all have their own qualities which make them endearing. It’s after having kept them and hopefully bred them that I try and decide whether their qualities are endearing to me.
What do you feed your birds?
PRETTY MUCH A STANDARD FINCH MIX AND GRIT ARE AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES.
EACH MORNING THE BIRDS ARE FED A MIX OF SOAKED SEED AND A HOME MADE SOFTFOOD (EGGS, SPONGE CAKE, FINCH CRUMBLES, MOLASSES, SALT, VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS, CALCIVET, BREEDERS AID, VITAMIN 'E' POWDER, WHEATGERM OIL, COD LIVER OIL, GRATED CHEESE AND SPARK), MEALWORMS, MAGGOTS AND A WEDGE OF LEBANESE CUCUMBER. THE AMOUNTS OF EACH OF THESE FED EACH DAY DEPENDING ON WHICH BIRDS HAVE YOUNG. NO TERMITES ARE FED!
SEEDING GRASSES ARE FED WHEN AVAILABLE.
IN WINTER I ALSO FEED SEED WITH SOME COD LIVER OIL AND WHEATGERM OIL. I DID THIS FOR THE FIRST TIME LAST WINTER AND DIDN'T LOSE A BIRD THROUGH EGGBINDING (MAYBE I WAS JUST LUCKY!)
What is your view on austerity diets fed to birds in the off-season?
TO DATE I HAVE BEEN PRETTY LUCKY WITH MOST BIRDS BREEDING WELL AND SO I HAVEN'T REALLY HAD TO LOOK FOR WAYS TO ENCOURAGE BIRDS TO NEST. OCCASIONALLY I HAVE PULLED ONE OF A PAIR OUT AND SEPARATED THEM FOR A WHILE WITH GENERALLY GOOD RESULTS.
HOWEVER NOT GIVING THE BIRDS A BREAK CAN AND DOES GET TIRING ON THE BIRDKEEPER. MAYBE THIS WINTER I WILL SPELL THE BIRDS AND MYSELF!
How many aviaries do you have at present?
26 IN TOTAL
Are there more aviaries on the drawing board?
What size are your aviaries?
ONE IS 4.8L X 4.8W x 2.4H
ANOTHER IS 4.8 x 2.4 x 2.4
EIGHT ARE 4.8 X 1.2 x 2.4
SEVEN ARE 4.0 x 0.6 X 2.4
TWO ARE 3.6 X 2.4 X 2.4
SEVEN ARE 2.0 X 1.2 X 2.0
What flooring do you have in your aviaries?
ALL ARE BEACH SAND OR RED LOAM.
Do you use brush in your aviaries for birds to breed in?
YES. VARIOUS FORMS OF TEA-TREE. I HAD A HEAP OF TOMATOES GROWING IN THE AVIARY. THERE WERE MASKED FINCH NESTS IN THEM EVERYWHERE!
What nesting receptacles do you favour and why?
PREFERABLY NATURAL NESTS BUILT IN BRUSH. I FEEL THEY DON'T OVERHEAT AS OFTEN IN OUR HOT SUMMERS. IN WINTER I LIKE THE PARROT FINCHES TO NEST IN BOXES (GOULDIAN TYPE) BECAUSE I FEEL THAT THEY STAY WARMER.
Are your aviaries fully enclosed on the roof?
GENERALLY NO. BUT SOME OF THE SMALLER ONES ARE JUST AS A MEANS FOR KEEPING THE FOOD DRY.
Are all of your aviaries made from steel tubing?
ALL BUT ONE BANK!
What way do your aviaries face?
THE AVIARIES PRETTY MUCH GO AROUND THE BACK YARD WITHOUT ANY REAL PREFERENCE.
Do you have much weather problems where you are now?
CLIMATE VARIES QUITE DRAMATICALLY BETWEEN WINTER AND SUMMER. IN SUMMER TEMPERATURES are ABOVE 35 DEGREES AND UP TO 42 IS THE NORM. FOR THIS REASON ALL AVIARIES HAVE EITHER DOUBLE OR INSULATED ROOVES. A SPRAY COOLING SYSTEM HAS FINALLY BEEN INSTALLED ON THE ROOFS (IF FEEL HAVING SPRAYS INSIDE THE AVIARIES PROMOTES THE GROWTH OF FUNGI AND SO THE MOVE OF THE COOLING SPRAYS TO THE AVIARY ROOFS).
IN WINTER/SPRING ON THE OTHER HAND, SUBZERO TEMPERATURES ARE QUITE COMMON AT NIGHT. THESE ARE USUALLY FOLLOWED BY DAYS OF TEMPERATURES IN THE LOW TWENTIES THEREBY GIVING THE ADULT BIRDS A CHANCE TO "CHARGE UP".
OCCASIONALLY LOW WATTAGE GLOBES ARE ATTACHED TO NESTBOXES WHEN YOUNG ARE AT THE CRITICAL STAGE. IF A NUMBER OF PAIRS HAVE YOUNG AT THE CRITICAL STAGE FAN BLOWER HEATERS SET ON TIMERS ARE USED.
THIS PROBLEM WITH SUBZERO WINTER/SPRING TEMPERATURES PROBABLY OCCURS FOR APPROXIMATELY 30 DAYS A YEAR AND SO DOESN'T WARRANT THE SPELLING OF THE BIRDS OVER THIS PERIOD.
Do you enclose your aviaries in the winter?
NO DIFFERENTLY THAN IN SUMMER
What water system do you use?
PRETTY MUCH A COPY OF THE ONE I SAW AT JEREMY WHITE'S. THAT IS AUTO WATERING (AND BOWL FLUSHING) 4 TIMES A DAY. OVERFLOW WATER IS DRAINED AWAY TO PREVENT THE FLOOR GETTING DAMP.
Do you use night-lights?
NO, BUT NOT FOR ANY PARTICULAR REASON.
When do you worm your birds?
I TRY TO DO IT ABOUT EVERY SIX MONTHS. I HAVE BEEN USING AVITROL PLUS AND DOING IT BY CROP-NEEDLE AND SO it TAKES A WHILE BUT YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHOSE GETTING WHAT. YOU CAN PROBABLY DO 60 BIRDS IN AN HOUR - ONCE THEY ARE CAUGHT UP.
Fig.11. Gary's Cooch grass.
|Fig.12. Heated Nest Box.|
What protection do you use for mice and cats?
I HAVE MOUSE BAIT OUT AT ALL TIMES. THE DOGS SEEM TO DETER THE CATS BUT I DID BUY AN ELECTRIC FENCE ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO. IT’S JUST A MATTER OF FINDING TIME TO INSTALL IT!
What is the best bit of advice you have had and from whom did it come?
A GOOD FRIEND OF MINE IN PERTH NAMED JOHN ALERS ALWAYS SAYS TO ME
"IF YOU HAVE LIVESTOCK YOU HAVE DEAD STOCK"
IT DOESN'T MAKE IT EASIER WHEN YOU DROP A BIRD BUT IT DOES AND WILL HAPPEN!
What advice would you give to someone just starting up?
THERE WOULD BE A NUMBER OF SNIPPETS, WHICH I THINK MAY HELP:
1: DON'T IMPULSE BUY. KNOW WHAT IT IS YOUR GETTING INTO.
2: HAVE SOME SORT OF PLAN AND TRY AND STICK TO IT.
3: IF BUYING BIRDS SIGHT UNSEEN BUY FROM REPUTABLE PEOPLE.
4: DON'T JUST GET ONE OPINION ON ANY PROBLEM OR QUESTION YOU MAY HAVE! GET AS MANY AS POSSIBLE AND THEN FORM YOUR OWN.
5: LEARN FROM BIRD DEATHS. DON'T GET DOWN AND OUT AND CONTEMPLATE QUITTING BIRDS BECAUSE YOU GET DEATHS. SURE IT’S EXPENSIVE BUT LEARN FROM IT, EVERYONE HAS DEAD BIRDS.
6: TRY THE LEBANESE CUCUMBERS. THE INCREASE IN MY BREEDING RESULTS HAS BEEN PHENOMENAL SINCE I INTRODUCED IT! WHETHER COINCIDENTAL OR NOT I'M NOT SURE, BUT UPON BEGINNING FEEDING IT THERE HAS BEEN A DEFINITE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF YOUNG PRODUCED.
7: DON'T FEED BIRDS AVOCADO. A FRIEND LEARNT THE HARD WAY (5 DEAD PIED REDFACES).
As a final word mate how about a few pearls of wisdom as to what you put your excellent breeding results down to for us mere mortals!!
That’s quite a question and probably requires a fairly lengthy answer. In point form I would say
· • I have tried to gain experience on the easier, more common species.
· • I have taken note of what experienced breeders have to say but haven’t always taken it as gospel. I have learnt more the hard way than any other way, and so have heard the words "I told you so" a number of times. Once though for each particular reason has generally been enough!!
· • I have found more often than not that the cheapest bird has not been the best bird to buy. I now try and buy the birds I want rather than be dictated by the dollar.
• Looking back over the years I think when I first started I wanted to be the modern day Noah having a pair of every single species I could get my hands on. Having specialised in a lot fewer species I have noticed that over the years breeding successes have escalated.
• Where possible I now have aviaries with fairly limited numbers of inhabitants.
· • I have adopted a feeding regime which I can comfortably and consistently perform without it becoming a chore
· • If possible I have had dead birds autopsied. The information gained from such procedures can assist in preventing potentially many further deaths.
· • I was once quite blasé about quarantine and settling in periods but not now. I can still hear the "I told you so" ringing in my ears.
• Observation is I believe one of the aviculturist greatest tools. So much useful
information can be gathered by observing and not just looking.
What! No mention of that beautiful nesting grass from up your way that I
‘discovered’! I’m shattered! Thanks for your valuable time Gary and we all hope
that you continue in the same vein with your breeding for many more years to