At Last ! The Bluecap Saga.


Hi! I'm one of the small number of demented birdkeepers that keep the Blue-capped waxbill (Uraeginthus cyancephalus) here in Tasmania. I've had pairs of these magnificent birds over the past 20 odd years. Most die of old age but none have ever managed to put a youngster on the perch!! Down south here in Tasmania we lack the vital ingredient for successfully rearing this birds- namely the termite or white ant. They even learn to cope with our 'variable' weather and cold winters but without white ants young are rarely produced.
Many pairs have readily incubated eggs and hatched youngsters only to decorate the aviary floor with their lifeless bodies a few days after hatching. This is, apparently, quite a common occurrence with this species as a breeder in Benalla told me that his birds turfed their young out on a regular basis even with white ants in their diet. But this birdo was determined not to be completely dominated by a mere 13cm of blue finch!!!

During 1999, I was fortunate enough to obtain 3 pair from a Victorian breeder. One hen decided that our 'four-seasons-in-one-day' weather was not to her liking which left only 2 pair to work with. These were doted upon all winter and looked magnificent for the start of the breeding season (usually
mid-September here in Hobart). Each pair was introduced into an aviary that was 1.5 metres wide and 4 metres in length. The rear 2 metres of the floor were concrete while the front section was a thick layer of river pebbles. Each aviary was completely enclosed with a sliding window at the front for airflow.
The only other inhabitants of these flights were pairs of Red-headed pytilias (Pytilla hypogrammica).

All birds were fed Golden Cobb finch mix plus a locally available wild bird mix with extra Phalaris sp. Soaked seed was provided fresh each day. Livefood consisted of mealworms, maggots (reared using the 'bran and whey powder' medium) and fly pupae. The birds would firstly 'massacre' the mealies by decapitation then would consume the maggots and pupae before returning to 'squeeze out' the mealworms. I've often wondered why the blue waxbills always seem to decapitate all the livefood before actually eating any of them?
 A friend suggested that if you kill all the insects first they can't escape and will be around for future meals - sounds a reasonable theory to me!!

BREEDING - Only one pair went straight to nest and they repeated the usual trend of chucking out their young - in this case 5 chicks - the air was very 'blue' that day!!! Well, I'd had enough of this so the next clutch was 'pinched' and given to a pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus (U. bengalus). I guess this is the point where a number of readers will throw this article down in disgust - "Another birdkeeper fostering birds!!" Let me tell you that setting up foster parents, touching nests and changing eggs are nowhere near as easy as they sound. It took a lot of trial and error to be successful at fostering - before scoffing, try it!! Anyway, the Cordons duly reared 4 beautiful young Blue-caps, my first in 20 odd years. By this time the parent Blue-caps had lain again so I took their eggs and replaced them with cordon eggs to give them a rest from egg laying. To my amazement the blue caps hatched and fed the Cordons right up until they were feathered. The young Cordons died when only about 5 days from fledging with full crops.

One noticeable difference between cordons and Blue-caps as parents is the amount of livefood fed to their chicks when they are near to fledging. Blue-caps feed almost entirely animal matter with no seed present while cordons feed almost 90% seed at the same stage.

As foster parents cordons are devoted parents and my pairs never lost a Blue-cap once it left the nest. Yet these same pairs would often bring their own young out of the nest too early and lose them. In all this excitement I misjudged the next sitting from the blue caps and they reared 3 chicks on their
own on fly pupae, maggots and mealworms. A nest of 5 and another of 3 followed this. By this time the other adult pair nested and followed the usual trend of parental neglect and would not rear anything - so enter the ever reliable cordons again!!

An interesting observation made was that fostered Blue-caps never showed the scours that was common in parent reared birds. All birds were fed the same livefood so I guess it is the quantity that can cause the problem? For the next season I have started pairing up the fostered birds and can't wait to see the results as all these youngsters avidly attack the livefood that I produce. Can we do it without white ants - sure hope so!! If you start to laugh now and say "He'll be wasting his time, fostered birds are useless!" remember that without fostering there probably wouldn't be any Green Strawbs or Tanimbars left in Australia.

I guess the point of this article is to say that if you are prepared to persevere you can breed anything, anywhere. Do your research, surf 'the Net' and talk to people that keep and breed the species you are interested in and who knows! Good luck!

                                       Written by Marcus Pollard.