THE PAINTED FIRETAIL OR:
When thinking back on all the finches one has ‘dealt with’ over the course of a lifetime in birds there is one species that keeps cropping up and that is the Painted finch or, as commonly known in Australia, the Emblema (Emblema picta).
I remember my first pairs after the initial 4,000 Zebbies had made way for something a bit more challenging it was to these guys I turned. Seem to remember that they took off just like the Zebbies and they did allow me to meet a brilliant bird-man with whom I’ve been friends with ever since…….some…..no, that would be telling far too much………suffice it to say "for a long while now"!!
This species is one of the most confiding finches that you could include in
your collection as they will take very little notice of you and nest in all
manner of ridiculous places! Near doors, on top of doors, in seed trays, between
window frames, in grass containers………..you name it and I bet they’ve nested, or
at least tried to, nest there!
As many know I was lucky enough to visit their wild home in the Kimberley as part of the Save The Gouldian Fund work one September and now know where their trusting nature comes from. Sitting at water holes at 4:30am watching finches puts you in tune with what is going on – especially in regards to sharp, pointy rocks and ants with sharp, pointy fangs – and it was noticeable how cautious most finches were in approaching the water. Ok, ok, a group of dodgy looking humans may have had something to do with that!
When the Double Bars, Longtails and Gouldians came down to drink they were skittish and called to others of their species before descending in numbers. Also, they only drank from small puddles (more like footprint depressions really) and would not drink directly from the main water body. The Painteds? No such nervousness! You would simply become aware of being ‘stared at’ and then you would turn and see several sitting in a near-by tree watching you then down they would all come and start drinking, not from the puddles but from anywhere they damn well pleased! When the other birds would nervously fly off the Painteds more often then not simply had a good look around, shrugged, and continued drinking – well, it looked that way at least!
It was interesting to see that their behaviour in the wild bore so much resemblance to their captive temperament.
Fig.1. Group in Fine Colour.
Fig.2. Cock Bird
Fig 3. Another Male!
The Painted comes in an ever increasing array of mutations and colours these
days! The first mutation I was aware of was the Yellow Painted where the red was
replaced by yellow. They never did much for me I must admit yet I recently saw a
chap’s birds that had the yellow right down the front which looked a tad better!
As I have always maintained we are 20 years behind the rest of the bird world down here it may not come as a shock to learn that this year my normals (some true breeding for 4 generations!) bred 2 yellows! That’d be right!
As the two that I bred were a pair I would be bold enough to suggest that Yellow Painteds are an autosomal recessive mutation.
I have heard of fawn Painteds but have not seen them and on one occasion I
bred 2 young males that were the colour of silver King Quail - a bluey colour.
The only picture I have of them was a very bad still from a video camera as it
predated my splurge on digital cameras! The parents fledged them but ceased
feeding both 4 days after leaving the nest and I kept them alive for a further 2
weeks by hand.
Many moons ago I did see a pair locally that had striking fawn wings which I pleaded to be allowed to purchase/borrow/lease/steal to try and establish. You guess what’s coming. That’s right, the owner left them in with the 300 other inhabitants of the aviary until they died out and I’ve not seen their likes since. Unfortunately an all too common occurrence one finds!
Also when visiting an aviary in NSW I was shown black Painteds where the red was non-existent and the birds were simply black with white spots. Must admit it didn’t do much for me and haven’t heard much about that strain since. However, I did see a frozen specimen in Western Australia so maybe we’ll see more of this mutation in the future. A bit like Jacarinis with attitude!
|Fig.4. i'm A Comin' Out!!||Fig.5. Pile In The Nest!||Fig6. Sittin' Pretty!|
The present ‘trend’ would appear to be the development of a red-fronted
strain where the aim is to breed birds with a full red stripe down the front
unbroken by any black. After 3 years at it I have bred just such a few ‘animals’
but to do so required weakening the gene pool I had to work with to dangerous
levels! One wag did say that it was Ok to do that in Tasmania – what a nerve!
This season saw 4 males with the full red fronts plus a number of ¾ birds which was very pleasing after the initial trials and tribulations! Some have gone up to the Hunter Valley so they’ll be pretty common next year knowing him and his breeding prowess!!
This season I outcrossed the ‘good’ birds to several unrelated strains with lesser red markings and hope to select the best of these F1’s for next season.
There appears to be some debate on the hens in the red-front strain. Some maintain that hens must have ‘X-amount’ of red on the chest to ‘pass’ as red-fronts yet my original breeding hens which produced the full red birds are no brighter than any hen you’d see in any bird shop! Not being prepared to speak on something I don’t really know that much at present let’s just say don’t be fooled by the lack of colour in the hen. The male either is or isn’t but the hens can have lots of red or little red and still produce the birds you are after. My experience only I might add!
Not the worlds most fussy eater and will thrive on most good finch mixes. Ours are fed Peppers Superior Finch Mix from Quirindi, NSW. Most millets are taken but little in the way of plain canary seed – unlike another member of the Firetail family, the Diamond Sparrow.
If you wish to supplement your finch mix then I strongly suggest extra White and Siberian millets would be appreciated by these guys.
Anything green is appreciated and mine get Endive, Kale and Lebanese cucumber on a regular basis. Veldt Panic grass and Oats are fed when available plus a mix of Pepper’s Greens n’ Grains and a local Tasmanian wild seed mix which is great during the long periods of no green grass at all!
Soaked/sprouted seed is available at all times. Some Painteds live in the livefood bowl while others rear chicks without it – there appears to be no hard and fast rule with these birds.
Most supplements are taken as these birds are not that fussy when it comes to food sources!
|Fig.7. Young Red-front.||Fig.8. Young Normal.||Fig.9. A Vicious Killer!!|
The cock birds will begin calling around August down here and a friend likened their call to a demented metronome! A male whirring his head from side to side while making this call is never forgotten and, as it is usually done right in front of you, it is a real delight!
Four – six eggs comprise the usual clutch and if a chick hatches it is more often than not reared. This season I have reared around 78 youngsters to date and had a nest of six washed out in an out side flight. After placing them in the hospital box and reviving them I fed them with a crop needle and took them out to the aviary where I delicately shoved them into as many nests with chicks as I could find. I obviously didn’t check the numbers in some of the nests too well for one nest flew 9 and another 8 youngsters – must admit the parents did look a tad frazzled!! Guess that means I should add that they are usually (note no use of words "always" and "never"!!) brilliant parents!
As mentioned they will nest literally anywhere and everywhere, although I must admit that only a few have used nesting boxes here. Wicker & wire baskets and clumps of Bracken fern are all firm favourites as nest sites. However, most prefer to build their own nests in the Tea-tree or whatever brush you attach to your aviaries.
The nest itself begins life as a platform of sticks, stones, large pieces of
shell grit, basically anything solid! I’m told that this habit comes from where
it nests in the wild – usually on top of a Spinifex grass tussock. Having felt
the sharp ‘leaves’ of the Spinifex I can appreciate why they bother to put so
much ‘padding’ between them and the Spinifex!
One piece of material it would be remiss of me not to mention is their love of the pulped bark from gum trees (especially the stringy bark, Eucalyptus delegatensis in Tassy). If you see it on the roadside looking well squashed and frayed collect it because they love it as a foundation material.
The rest of the nest is composed of any available grasses, Couch runners and
November grass just to name a few. The lining is composed of feathers, cotton
wool and cotton lintus. It is a very snug place!
Interesting again is the bird’s love of cotton lintus (waste from the cotton plant) and they will hoard and lug huge amounts of this into their nests. While tromping around the Kimberley I was fascinated with these large green passionfruit-shaped pods that hung from a small tree common throughout the region – the native Kapok Tree. When the pod bursts open it releases a mass of soft downy material identical to cotton lintus so maybe that explains the Painteds love of lintus – told you it was dangerous to let me loose in the Kimberley!
One problem with the Painteds if you live in cooler climes is that once they leave the nest they will not return – yes, regardless of how many times you try to force them to!! This often means that they can freeze on frosty morning so we try to place clumps of nesting material in one corner of the shelter and drop all the youngsters into it and, usually, if they are up above the ground they will be fine. As the youngsters also form large clumps of individuals from different nests this also helps keep them warm – was telling Paul recently of a large clump of 20 young Painteds from 4 nests that I almost stepped on one morning inside the doorway of the aviary. Not that I was rubbing it in of course!!! Brilliant sight to see a number detach themselves from the ‘colony’ when their rightful parents would alight on the floor to feed them!
|Fig.10. Yellow Between two Normals.||Fig.11. Yellow Cock.||Fig.12. Yellow Hen.|
Apart from the wife of someone I once knew who claimed their long beak made them look evil they are pretty well-suited for the mixed collection!
Males will sometimes squabble at the start of the breeding season but generally nest near to or on top of each other most of the time!
I have outlined that some have a habit of acquiring nesting material from their neighbour’s nests but apart from that I can not list too many vices. Maybe that they breed so many youngsters that they take over the aviary! – is that really a vice?!
I have stated that they spend long periods on the ground and that puts them
very much at risk of parasitic and protozoal problems. A regular worming program
and the use of Baycox for coccidia are stressed.
We use Cydectin Plus, Equimax and Panacur 100 for flock treatments and, if a bird is ill, I use Avitrol Plus direct to the crop and/or a solution of Ivomec in alcohol to the back of the neck – the latter is particularly good for stubborn gizzard worm.
It has been found that birds with parasites recover well even from severe attacks and after a few short months they are fighting fit and ready to assume breeding duties once again.
This habit of spending long periods on the ground can lead to problems with cold, damp weather so it is advisable to leave a pile of nesting material in one corner for them to sit on rather than cold concrete or worse, a wet floor. A friend also leaves a couple of branches of tea-tree lying on the floor for a similar reason. If you have a dirt floor pour the concrete first and then put the nesting grass on it – I did and works fine….so far!!
If it is a confiding species that you are looking for then you could do worse
than to grab a pair or three of Painteds. Placid as well as colourful they are
free-breeders and offer little disruption to the mixed collection as long as
ample supplies of nesting materials are supplied. Again some have a propensity
for lots of live food while others ignore it altogether.
Remember when breeding these guys the trick is not to walk outside the aviary with their youngsters attached to your anatomy as is there common habit!