THE SEEDS OF AN IDEA!
Like most keen bird people the desire to keep ahead of the ‘bird-pack’ and to
gain an edge when dealing with difficult species I like to read everything that
comes up on the topic of finches.
With that in mind I once purchased a copy of "African Birds in Field & Aviary" from Indrus Productions (Indra & Russell Kingston, Queensland, Australia) looking for just that edge. At the time I remember thinking not a bad read but nothing out of the ordinary but little would have prepared me for the future benefit that I was to gain from that book!
Again like most serious bird people the desire to keep and breed difficult
species is always there and it was with years of frustration in the past at the
hands of the Blue-capped waxbill and the Yellow-winged pytilia in mind that I
decided to have "another go" at these species – well, at least the Red-winged
pytilia given the rarity of Yellow-wings these days!
So what I intended to ‘invent’ was a recipe for a waxbill seed mix just like ‘mother used to grow’ back in the big aviary of Africa!
Now I don’t wish to bore you witless with the tales of woe and misfortune
because we do not have termites here or the lack of continuous green seeding
grass because of the dry but what I desired was a way of finding a food source
that these guys would find irresistible to compensate for the woes! In the past
I found these species to be very ‘boring’ eaters. They wouldn’t touch
soaked/sprouted seed, vitamin and mineral supplements and very little interest
was shown in our limited forms of green food. What to try?
Burrowing in the dark recesses of my then dormant brain came a flash back to something I had read in that very same South African publication. There were the usual descriptions of each species but as a final note there was a detailed description of what the field naturalists had observed the birds eating in the wild. Could it be what I was looking for?
Red wing pytilias
Time to research further me thinks! So, a list of each waxbill species mentioned that was available in Australia and another listing of the favourite wild seeds that these finches were recorded eating was compiled. From this list came a selection of seeds that were well represented in all the reports for these finches.
Fantastic, but then reality sinks in with the realisation of where on earth
would I get these seeds from! Couldn’t actually see Customs allowing me to
import them directly from South Africa even if I could afford to!
Well, that part actually turned out to be the easiest with a simple on-line Google search! Up they came, pages of references to the seeds that I was chasing from a number of different sources, I was like a kid let loose in the lolly shop! However, at this point I must confess that I let my enthusiasm run riot and ordered a heap of kilo lots before fully engaging in further research.
My samples duly arrived and over half were fluffy type seed heads and completely useless for attempting to feed to finches! That’ll learn me, must admit the Painteds had fun making nests out of them all so I guess it wasn’t a total waste, but the cost!
After then returning to the books and internet to refine my search and needs
I settled upon a mix of seeds for my trials – seeds that looked like ‘regular’
seeds I might add!
From early days I remembered that finches enjoyed some of the specialty seeds that I used to get from the Queensland Finch Society so I included two of these but I needed to run a few ‘tests’ before I was ready to present the ‘fruits of my labours’ to its intended targets with my ‘new’ seeds!
So a ‘test cast’ was assembled for the important job of quality control. The ‘volunteers’ group consisted of 2 hen Orangebreasts, 6 cock Fires, a hen Red-cheeked Cordon and a hen Blue-cap. Fairly representative of the waxbill group I thought. Maybe not a statistically significant sample size but beggars can’t be choosers!
Each ‘proposed’ seed was presented pure in a small plastic D-cup to start with but this had to be ‘modified’ in later trials. Several seeds were trialled in this manner and the ones that were unanimously accepted went into the final mixture. I must admit the judges were very fussy in their allocation of scores to the seeds – they either devoured it or didn’t touch it – 10’s or zeros!
The seed trials began upon my return from work (in order to actually pay for this experiment!) and the subjects were presented with the seed to be tested in their D-cup. The typical reaction could only be called pandemonium as they struggled and fought to get at the seeds before their neighbours could eat them all! The sight of waxbills vainly trying to eat and defend a D-cup at the same time lead me to give them a round bowl which allowed great access and reduced the fighting! Didn’t I say it was ‘scientific’! Or maybe it could be called ‘Arthur’s round table’ model!
What happens when they were given a seed they disliked? I know birds have no facial expression but one didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that when a finch lands on a bowl and looks from the contents and then back to you repeatedly before flying off in disgust that they were thinking "what on earth is this in my bowl"! Might add that this was usually reserved for the cheaper seeds, of course!
So from these brave few came a waxbill specialty seed mix that I and they
were happy with. About this time I divulged my experiments to another grass and
seed man from Queensland who immediately threw himself into making this mix.
However, it would be remiss of me not to report on his findings. Basically he
found his birds would not eat it! Why? Because he fed all his finches piles and
piles of fresh green grass seeds which he picked daily, many of which were the
green component of my dry mix. Would you eat the dry stuff if somebody gave you
the milky green form, probably not me thinks!
All very well if you live in tropical climes too and can grow all these seeds.
Undaunted by his ‘research’ the big day came and I presented it to the Blue-caps and Pytilias. Suffice it to say that it was a fantastic hit and I now had something which these species liked. Fill the small coop-cup that I presented it in and the Blue-caps would land and begin feeding while you stood there!
An interesting aside is that this mix is also preferred by sick birds and I have had some success in restoring the stools of ill birds to normal consistency with this mix, but time and more research will tell on that aspect.
Ok, Ok………I hear you say, what’s the down side?
Unfortunately these seeds are not cheap but a kilo of each will last you a long time when mixed and fed sparingly. Most are only seasonally available as many are from pasture seed companies so there is either a feast or a famine in them. Also the stockists are in tropical areas so freight is a big factor and the quality of seed tends to be very variable, with some samples containing a lot of husk. Make sure that you check with your Quarantine or Agricultural Departments as some grasses are prohibited imports into some States of Australia.
Seeing as how you’ve struggled through this dissertation THIS is the part you’ve been waiting for!!! The seeds themselves!
● Guinea Grass – Panicum maximum
● Sabi Grass – Urochloa mosambicensis
● Signal Grass – Brachiaria decumbens
● Bambatsii Panic Grass - Panicum coloratum
● Purple Pigeon Grass – Setaria incrassata
● Red Panicum – Panicum milaceum
● Setaria Grass – Setaria viridis (Bristle grass)
All are fed in equal proportions except the Guinea grass which is added in at double the amount.
I might add that the decision was unanimous for all the seeds except for the
Setaria which I mistakenly purchased as Green Panic and had to get rid of
somehow! The Red panicum was added because waxbills love this small seed anyway
and I reasoned that it might sway fussy eaters to try the entire mix – results
suggest that I need not have bothered!
Also there are many different varieties of Panicum maximum available but the test group preferred the straight Guinea grass as against Gatton panic, Green panic and a few other variations – yep, you guessed it; the Guinea grass is the dearest one!!
If you are still sceptical we have found that all of the common waxbills consume this avidly and know of breeders that use it with Green Strawberries, Orange Cheeks and Yellow-wing pytilias. Of course there are my Blue-caps to add to that formidable list! At worst you could plant it all and feed the green heads to your birds – if only that were true for down here as this is not the best growing area for tropical grasses!
|In a Coop Cup.||The Mix Itself.|
Finally, there are a number of small seed mixes available out there but if you want one that is strictly designed for the finch species – usually with no regard for economic production - you keep then I feel you need to do your own research and see what you can come up with. I bet your "seeds of an idea" are slightly different than mine in that respect. Don’t just sit there get to work!