Estrildid Finches in Mixed Flights- the Death Blow


Favorite bootleg Rush CD: "Over the Europe"

Favorite TV show: "Oprah Winfrey" In fact, when people call us, they hear on our answering machine that we do not pick up between 4 and 5 p.m., as this is when her show is broadcast in our area.

Mixed community flights, however, are not one of our favorite things.

As Josef Lindholm, birdkeeper at the Ft. Worth Zoo, once said to us - when it comes to breeding finches, America is a nation of amateurs. This is, indeed, true as, being the world's number one importer of wild-caught birds, we have very little to show for it. As the number of species declines in our country, it is getting harder and harder to argue against the case for stopping importation.

Finch species are not established in this country for the simple reason that Americans took the easy road. We are sure you have all read somewhere the question, "I have an aviary so and so by so and so, and how many finches can I put in it?" This is an amateur question and is asked by the bird keeper, not the bird breeder.

Breeding finches in mixed flights is an accepted procedure in the U.S.A. and has less to do with breeding birds but more with convenience and collecting. We have yet to find an example where this method actually works. Generally, what breeds is the more dominant species and the rest suffer.

If one wants to learn how to breed finches successfully, one should look towards the experts, primarily the Dutch and the Germans. Generally,

they are not interested in large collections but, rather, limit themselves to a few species set up one pair per flight, breeding their birds indoors. By successful finch breeding, we mean having quite a few pairs of a particular species with which to work, breeding them generation after generation, and being self-sufficient, acquiring new blood only when needed.

The basic situation in this country is that someone gets a pair of some species, breeds them, sells the offspring and then loses the hen. They then place an ad somewhere, looking for another hen. This is certainly not successful finch breeding.

A few years ago, we were bringing some birds out of Europe and were quite surprised at what was offered to us: Chestnut-breasted Negro Finches Nigrita bicolor, Grey-headed Olivebacks Nesocharis capistrata, Locust Finches Ortygospiza locustella, Rosy Twinspots Hypargos margaritatus, Blue-breasted Parrot Finches Erythrura tricolor, and we just missed the Black-masked Swee or Dufresne's Waxbill Estrilda melanotis on two occasions. The Europeans have these birds because they are willing to work with them and take them seriously. We did, in fact, bring in some of these birds and regret not bringing in the Rosy Twinspot, as in a later conversation with Jayne Yantz, well-known Bird Talk columnist and acknowledged for her work with twinspots, we learned she would have loved to have had the opportunity to work with this species. We feel she would have certainly had success with it


since she even managed to survive one of our barbecues. We know of no importations of this bird into this country, but would not be surprised if it was brought in and died out, along with such rarities as the Grant's Bluebill Spermopbaga poliogenys and the Black-masked Swees. Rare birds have come into this country and the community "mixed flight" breeding situation has been the death of them.

We once saw an ad by someone with a Black-masked Firefinch hen Lagonosticta vinacea, looking for a cock. We contacted him and were told he would not part with the hen until he was sure he could not find a mate for it. We were sure the bird he had was Lagonosticta uinacea nigricollis as we were certain this was the only type of masked firefinch imported and, at that, being a very rare bird. The other variety is the Black-masked Firefinch Lagonosticta larvata, the largest of the firefinches and looking superficially like the Rosy Twinspot. Eventually he did call us back, informing us that he could not find a mate for the bird, and that it was indeed a larvata, looking and acting like a cross-over between twinspots and firefinches. We found this hard to believe, being sure that the bird was a nigricollis, but did not want to argue with him as we wanted the bird to pair up with one of our cock Black-faced nigricollis Firefinches. He informed us he would have to make a trip to the East Coast, we agreed upon a price, and he would bring the bird with him.

Imagine our surprise and amazement when he came through the door. We looked into the cage and there was, perhaps, one of the rarest finches in the world of aviculture - a hen larvata. It was obviously much larger than nigricollis and, indeed, did look like a small twinspot. When he saw our Kulikoro Firefinches, he remarked that that was what the cocks looked like but with a black face mask. Apparently, he had procured a cock and two hens from an importer. The birds must have accidentally arrived with a shipment of Rosy-rumped Waxbills Estrilda rhodopyga. He had kept these birds in a mixed flight and could not tell us what they had been eating as they were probably being chased away from the food dishes and all he had left was the one hen.

The pair should have been kept in their own breeding cage, separate


from any other birds, and any cock
offspring paired up with the extra hen.
These birds are so rare that in an anide
in the February 1991 issue of
Gefiederte Welt, a German ornithological
publication, Professor Dr. Jurgen
Nicolai was quoted by the article's
author, Lieselotte Hanisch, stating that
the Black-masked Firefinch larvata
had never been imported into Germany.
We agree with the author that
Dr. Jurgen Nicolai's competence is
without question, making the larvata
a truly rare bird . The fact that these
birds were "dumped" into a community
aviary with other birds adds fuel to
the fire that Europeans look down on
the competence of American breeders.
If they sell us rare birds at all , it is
usually their "junk" and perhaps that
is what we deserve.