Breeding The Box Cage
Breeding one's birds has to be the primary aim of every serious birdkeeper and to accomplish this a pair is best housed alone. Box-cages are excellent in that they can be stacked one on top of the other, so a selected pair of waxbills can have interference-free breeding - or can they? Let us not forget that our just passing the cage can be enough to bring the sitting bird off the nest, so we need to be especially thoughtful when positioning a wicker nesting basket or half open-fronted nest-box. I like to position mine high up in a corner of the cage and surround it with the leaves of a pot-plant.
Pot-plants are so underestimated in waxbill aviculture and yet they can make such a difference to one's breeding success; they also add to the aesthetics of the birdroom. Good garden centers always have small specimens of weeping fig, Ficus benjamina, and philodendrons, P. erubescens or P. scandens, available. These should be placed in front of the nesting receptacle or, particularly for ground nesting species such as quail-finches and Estrilda waxbills, on the floor of the cage. Spider plants, Cbloropbytum comosum, are excellent for this as they resemble clumps of grass. Never put actual turfs of grass on the cage or birdroom floor. I once did and on lifting them up with a view to replacing them with fresh ones I noticed that the area in which they had been positioned had become moist and moldy - extremely hazardous to a bird's health! Lesson learned, I now only place plant-pots in their saucers on the floor, keeping the area nice and dry.
The Free-flying Birdroom
The recommendations outlined here can also be applied to large flights.
I am fortunate in that I have owned four very large birdrooms, three of which I turned into free-flying ones. By far the best of all was the one I constructed in the back garden of my first house in Whitefield. It was a magnificent brick-built affair measuring 17 feet by 10 feet. Incorporated into one end of the birdroom I built an observation room of 8 feet by 4 feet, complete with a large viewing window behind which I sat and studied my charges for many a contented hour. A safety corridor ran
between the doors of the birdroom and my observation room, so that if a bird should actually get past me as I opened the birdroom door it would still be denied access to the outside world.
Half the length of the roof was covered with translucent sheets, so plenty of light could penetrate the birdroom, which was as essential as much for the various plants as it was for the birds. The wooden frames of these sheets proved a bonus as it was to these I attached the nesting baskets. First of all, I gently hammered u-shaped staples into the wood and thereafter merely slotted the hanging wire of the baskets into these. On the wall opposite my observation window and directly underneath the nesting baskets I drilled holes in a long length of narrow planking and the wall itself and affixed the planking with the use of rawl-plugs. Wider holes were then drilled approximately half way into the planking at various intervals and into these I slotted lengths of dowling for perches. I also hung up a length of dowling from the ceiling as a swing and, of course, the large Philodendrons, measuring over
six feet high, provided natural perching and cover. At night the birds loved to roost in them. ·
My birdroom had mainline electricity and water, so heating, lighting and water for washing utensils and for drinking and bathing was never a problem. I decided to concentrate on keeping Goldbreasts and the red eyestriped Estrilda waxbills, the Common, Black-rumped and Rosy-rumped (the Arabian was never available).
The birds loved my set-up and I was blessed with many nests and plenty of young. All the species got on well together. Over the years I have also experimented with Blue-headed Cordon-bleus, Uraeginthus cyanocephala, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, U. bengalus, and Orange-cheeked Waxbills, Estrilda melpoda, all housed with the above species, but gave up as they were too assertive. The Orangecheeked Waxbills would usurp the more timid Black-rumps, Rosy-rumps and Goldbreasts from their nests and the Cordon-bleus would take. over which ever nest they had designs on. This is why when choosing birds for colony breeding their companions have to be selected carefully. The more assertive and less gregarious species are best housed one pair to a cage.
Goodwin, D. 1982. Estrildid finches of the world. Brit. Mus. (Nat. Hist.), London.
Restall, R. 1996. Munias and mannikins. Pica Press, Sussex.
Sparks,]. 1969. Bird behavior. Hamlyn, London.