|Breeding Bullfinches........My way.|
By Paul Girvan.
Breeding Bullfinches is by no means an easy task and many fanciers who attempt to do so can fail for a number of reasons. I am in no way claiming to be an expert on Bullfinches, nor do I claim to hold any medical or nutritional qualifications, but I have been successful at breeding Bullfinches down through the years and would like to share some of my experiences with you including tips on housing and diet etc.
For a start Bullfinches are prone to what is commonly referred to as "the gapes" or "gasping" which seems to be associated with, and brought on, by a diet that is far too rich and fattening, especially for birds kept in cages or small flight cages.
Bullfinches are by no means cheap to buy and if a fancier loses a few birds in the first year or two of trying them, it is usually enough to put them off Bullies for life.
I have learned the hard way myself, and admit to having lost Bullfinches in the past, way before their time should have been up. I have found that when Bullfinches are fed on a mixture that contains Hemp, Sunflower and Safflower, this can lead to their early demise. This is not so much the case if they have the luxury of a large aviary where they can burn off the excess fat, but in the confines of a cage or small flight the above seeds seem to cause problems and can lead to symptoms referred to as the gapes.
I used to feed a well known brand of Bullfinch mixture to my birds when I had outdoor aviaries, and whilst I would lose an odd one or two to gasping, most seemed to do alright by it, but when I moved house and had to downsize the room allocated to my birds, I found that gasping became a serious problem and I set about trying to rectify it.
I had heard that a rich diet could be a contributing factor, so, gone was the Bullfinch mix. I started to feed a canary mixture made by a Belgian company. This went down a treat. Around this same time I had visited a prolific Bullfinch breeder in Scotland who advised me to administer Intradine in the Bullies drinking water for the first five days of every month. Again, over the years since this helped bigtime, and I now have Bullies living to five years old on a regular basis.
There are also a couple of treats that my Bullies get and it seems to help keep them alive. First of all is a small slice of Red Apple at least 3 time a week. I also like to give them a pinch of Blue Maw seed at least once a week and of course, plenty of wild food depending on what is available at the time.
In the build up to the breeding season I like to feed plenty of Dandelion heads. Bullies are also fond of the leaves and roots of this plant and they should all be fed ad-lib as part of conditioning your birds. Now, one important factor that I feel I should mention here is that Bullfinches, especially the hens, will show signs of breeding condition from as early as February or March. Don't be fooled. These are only signs of well being. They will carry any nesting material that they find, in their beaks, and be active and even be heard singing, yes hen Bullies are one of the few birds whose song matches that of the cocks. Some fanciers, especially inexperienced ones, see this behaviour as a go ahead for the nest pans, but believe me it is far too early. There will be exceptions to the rule, but putting Bullfinches down too early is a recipe for disaster and is another reason why some people fail with these delightful birds.
I have always found May, June, July and August to be the most productive months when breeding Bullies, and anything bred before this would be an exception.
I now house all my birds in small indoor flights measuring 3ft x 2ft x 2ft and they have adjusted to these with no problems at all. The amount of cover I use is minimal. I now place a nestpan inside the flight by hooking it onto the wire, and attach a small sprig of Conifer, or more recently, artificial Christmas Tree on the outside to obscure the nest. Again, this works perfectly well with all my birds including Twites, Redpolls, Bullfinches and Greenfinches. The photos should explain it better.
During the breeding season my birds' diet consists of their usual seed mixture plus as much Chickweed as they will eat. I have always noticed that my breeding returns are much better in the years that I have access to an abundant supply of Chickweed as opposed to years when I stuggle to find a good supply.
I include other wild plants as they come into season such as Sow Thistle and Groundsel. Alongside the wild food I feed them eggfood, which is a mixture of CEDE and Quiko Fauna at the ratio of 2kgs of CEDE mixed to 1 kg of Quiko. I throw a handfull of mini mealworms into the dish, also slightly dampening the mixture with cold water. Just enough to make it crumbly moist. They also have soakseed daily. I personally use Versele-Laga's germination mix and find it adequate.
Bullfinches can make great parents, and I always try to leave the young with their natural parents. Unfortunately, some cock birds can be troublesome and occasionally I have had a cock bird throw the chicks from the nest. The problem with this, is that it is usually too late when you find out, but if he does it once never trust him again. To prevent this happening again in the next round, after the hen lays her clutch, you can then place him in another flight or cage. Some fanciers prefer it so that the hen can still see the cock bird but I have had no problems with moving him out of sight.
When hens are incubating they can become very broody and trustworthy towards us so don't be overly concerned about checking eggs or chicks for fear of the hen abandoning them. A little tip that works well, is to provide some fesh eggfood or chickweed just before you intend to inspect a nest, this will keep the hen occupied while you have a peep to make sure all is well.
I leave ringing young Bullies until approx 9 -10 days. Again, other fanciers tend to ring much earlier but the above works for me. At this stage the chicks have started to defacate over the side of the nest and the parents no longer remove the faecal sac or clean out the nest. Ringing chicks before this can sometimes result in chicks being dragged from the nest by either parent, mistaking a ring for a foreign object or faecal sac, whilst cleaning the nest.
When the young leave the nest the parents will continue to feed them, and the cock should take over feeding if the hen decides to go back to nest early.
As soon as I notice them feeding by themselves, I wean them, because when left with the parents, they seem to beg forever and it takes far longer for them to become self sufficient. I provide no hard seed at all to my young Bullies, and until they are through their first moult, their diet consists of soak seed, eggfood and wild food. As usual, Chickweed is beneficial at this stage. Dock is also widely available and this is a particular favourite. Ash Keys are also starting to ripen from late August onwards, but the best wild food I find at this critical stage when they are moulting, is Mountain Ash berries, also known as Rowan. Wild Bullfinches will spend their days feeding exclusively on this until all are gone. They have a soft fleshy outer, with a hard stone/seed in the centre. They are also high in carotenes, which helps put some colour into the birds just at the right time. I find these a great stepping stone for young Bullies as they progress to hard seed.
I also like to colour feed my birds for exhibition purposes, and I use carophyll red mixed at approximately half a teaspoon per litre of water.
Good Hygiene and cleanliness is essential for the well being of young Bullies, and if both are not practiced, you might well lose the newly weaned, which would be a terrible shame and a waste. I put mine on a course of Intradine [sulpha drug] from approximately 5 weeks old until they are completely finished moulting. The rate at which I use it is, 5mls per litre of water, 5 days on and 2 days off. This is easy to remember: Monday-Friday, intradine, Saturday and Sunday, fresh water.
So don't be afraid to give these wonderful birds a go. Treat them with the respect they deserve and you will enjoy them.
When you get a bit more experience with them you could then maybe try your hand at hybridising with them, remembering that only the hen has ever proved fertile in this field.
If you do ever notice the dreaded gapes or gasping, try giving them Tylan at the rate of one level teaspoonful to 1 pint of water for 10 days. Remember to dissolve the Tylan in a small cupfull of warm water first, then make it up to a pint with cold water. I never had great faith in this "cure" before, because I never believed that a medicene would be a cure for a diet related illness. On two occasions before I adminisitered it, results were poor, but since talking to a couple of fanciers, I learned of the dose I recommend above, and believe me it works. I have "cured" a hen this season which had been gasping for two years, and another that just started earlier in the year. Both went on to nest this season, and their symptons completely disappeared.