SOFTBILLS: Buying, Acclimating and Keeping Insectivores


Because of their sleek beauty, insectivores such as bee-eaters, flycatchers, robins, minivets, redstarts and the tiny babblers have always held a special place in aviculture. But in spite of their success in captivity, insectivores still appeal only to the specialist aviculturist since they are generally perceived as being difficult. It is certainly true that they are more demanding than omnivores like magpies, jays, and laughing thrushes, but once acclimated, insectivores are quite hardy and easy to keep.


Proper acclimation is the key to any kind of success. If you are acquiring birds that have already been successfully established by their previous keeper, simply continue with the same kind of food and husbandry tech-


niques. In theory, newly imported birds should also be acclimated and in good condition by the time the federal quarantine is complete. But in practice this is not always the ease, and such birds may be in rather poor shapeyou really need to see them yourself before making a purchase or ask a friend to select them on your behalf.

Buy birds that are lively, wide-eyed and can preferably be seen feeding. Feel the breast muscle to assess their overall body conditions and avoid specimens with respiratory problems or pasted feces around the vent. Do not worry greatly about feather condition since newly imported birds may be a little scruffy, and imperfect plumage alone is not an indication of poor health. It could, however, point to external parasites so examine the


plumage carefully, especially under the wings and around the vent. If the birds are otherwise healthy hut just look a little raggedy, you may he able to negotiate a discount into the bargain and, once in your aviaries, they will quickly molt into beautiful specimens.

Having said that newly imported specimens may he scruffy, insectivores tend to emerge from their period of federal quarantine in fairly good condition. That is because they are best quarantined singly or in pairs and, if the diet is reasonable, the lack of cagemate competition· or aggression produces good specimens before the quarantine process is complete. I would be suspicious of specimens that look poorly, or even birds such as Scarlet Minivets or Carmine Bee-eaters that have lost the vibrancy of their red plumage. Although in itself this does not imply poor health, it does mean that the diet has lacked the necessary red coloring agent (such as canthaxanthin); and if this detail has been overlooked, other aspects of the diet may also have been deficient. As with most newly imported birds, the plumage of insectivores often benefits from being misted with a plant sprayer. This produces a cosmetic improvement as the birds begin to clean their feathers hy preening. But more importantly, being cleaner, the birds are able to fly better and generally experience an increase in morale, leading to an increase in physical activity and food consumption. This is especially important with bee-eaters, which often lack the confidence to feed if their flying ability is impaired.