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The Blue Faced Parrot Finch (Erythrura trichroa)

by Dr Dylan Dukas

Introduction

This simply coloured but beautiful bird needs no introduction as it has been readily available in South Africa for many years. Recently, however, there has been a surge in demand for this species. Once cheaply acquired the asking price now is in the region of a respectful R800 p/p. I hope that this new status will mean breeders afford this beautiful finch the accommodation, diet and attention it deserves.

The blue faced parrot finch is widespread in its distribution in the wild ranging from northern Australia, New Guinea, Micronesia, the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides. This wide distribution means there are about ten recognized sub species with varying shades of green, size and extent of blue on the head. Disregard for subspecies in aviculture has resulted in birds atypical of any real subspecies and our domesticated strains are probably best described as small and large specimens. You may notice that different breeder’s birds may exhibit large differences in size and colouration and these smaller birds are not necessarily weaker specimens, just from differing original stock.

Some blue faced parrot finches are easily sexed (also depending on different lines!) and some will require surgical or DNA sexing. The most obvious phenotypic difference between the sexes is the extent of blue colouring on the head with males showing a bigger bonnet that extends further back on the head and across the cheeks (see photo). This difference is not always easy to appreciate and not 100% reliable. I prefer surgical or DNA sexing to be able to supply true pairs.

Blue Faced Parrot Finch. Copyright Nevil Lazarus

Blue Faced Parrot Finch. Copyright Nevil Lazarus

Housing

Having been bred for many generations in captivity these finches are not fussy with regards to accommodation. Successful breeding can occur as single pairs in double breeders (recommended especially for the lutino mutation), single pairs in small breeding aviaries or colonies in large mixed species aviaries. In large, planted aviaries these birds really show well and you’ll be amazed at their speed and agility in the air. I avoid keeping blue faced parrot finches with any other parrot finch species however as hybridizing occurs easily and needs to be discouraged to keep our species as pure as possible. Lone males are especially dangerous as they will tire out any other parrot finch hen by chasing her down and repeatedly mating resulting in worthless, if beautiful, hybrids.

Breeders of finches internationally are moving towards aviaries that are completely roofed over. Clear corrugated sheeting can be used and this massively reduces your bird’s exposure to wild birds and their faeces which potentially carry a host of parasitic diseases.

Feeding

Not fussy! These finches will devour any regular finch mixture and seem to thrive on it. They also readily take to any soft food offered and will appreciate fruits such as cucumber, apples, orange slices, paw paw and mango. I don’t feed my finches any live food as I don’t have access to termites but I understand that they will take to mealworms and termites especially during the breeding season.

I separate my breeding birds into single sex aviaries during the non breeding Winter months and place them on a seed only austerity diet. A vitamin and mineral supplement may be added if you wish and make sure that the birds have their normal supply of grit, cuttlefish bone and sterilized egg shells (wash and place in microwave for 1-2 minutes). Depending on your local climate this austerity period can last 3-4 months and will allow the birds to rest, moult and their testosterone and oestrogen levels to fall. In the Spring I start adding green foods and soft food to their diet and within 2-3 weeks they are rearing to go with the males singing and the females flitting back and forth trying to get to their mates. The real benefit of doing this is that you can synchronize your breeding birds making management easier, especially if you use fostering as a tool.

Breeding

These birds are ready breeders and the main obstacle to breeding is ensuring that you have a true breeding pair. I always prefer to buy birds from a breeder that I know and trust as opposed to pet shop birds where some unscrupulous breeders dump their old, infertile and dummy birds. This statement may ruffle a few proverbial feathers (and it is not the pet shops to blame as they merely sell the birds presented to them) but we all know that this happens so I avoid being caught out by buying from a reputable, traceable source. Buy DNA or surgically sexed pairs or buy 6-8 birds and allow them to choose their own mates.

Any nesting receptacle will be used, from small “finch boxes” to L-Shaped Gouldian boxes to half open boxes. These boxes should be hung at various levels in the aviary as some pairs prefer to nest high up and others only about 1m from the ground. I have also had a few pairs build their own, bulky nests in brush placed in the aviary but I find that most pairs prefer a nest box.

Large amounts of nesting material is carried into the box and again these birds are not fussy using course straw, tef, grass, coconut fibre (a favourite-buy from your local nursery) and feathers. Inside the tightly woven nesting chamber they lay between 3 and 6 large, white eggs. Incubation lasts 14 days with both hens and cocks involved.

Blue faced parrot finches generally make devoted parents and the young grow quickly. They leave the nest at about 3 weeks of age and are independent 3 weeks after leaving. Parrot finches are easily fostered under Bengalese and many breeders successfully use Bengalese to increase they number of chicks raised per season. I, personally, do not believe that finches fostered under Bengalese do not make good parents themselves and I have breeding pairs of both parent and fostered birds hatching and raising their own young. Over fostering, however, is not to be encouraged and I’ll generally allow my pairs to raise every second clutch themselves. This stops the hens turning into egg laying machines and wearing themselves out thus increasing the chances of egg binding and other stress induced illnesses. 3-4 clutches per pair per season can be expected.

Mutations are available and slowly becoming more available.

The best known mutation is the sex linked lutino. The lutino is a real beauty with its buttercup yellow body, pinky red rump and tail and snow white head. Being a true lutino mutation does come with its own challenges and these birds are best bred in cages as their red eyes are extremely photosensitive and their flying abilities often not fantastic. There are some breeders that manage to keep their lutinos in outdoor cages and they claim to do well but I have found my lutinos to be much happier and more confident in double breeders indoors. Avoid breeding lutino to lutino as the resulting young are often (not always) smaller, weaker birds with very poor eyesight. The best combination would be a split for lutino cock to a lutino hen, resulting in a mixture of lutino cocks, split cocks, lutino hens and normal hens. Being sex linked means that only cocks can carry the lutino gene, with hens either being visual lutinos or normals. Another useful combination is a lutino cock to a normal hen, resulting in strong split cocks that can be bred to visual lutino hens.

The pied mutation is slowly becoming more available in South Africa and there are reports of a sea green mutation too.

Health Issues

Generally blue faced parrot finches are hardy birds if they are fed a good diet, kept in draught free aviaries and prevented from over breeding.

All parrot finches are susceptible to roundworms, tapeworms, gizzard worms and coccidia.

Deworm your finches 3-4 times yearly and follow this up with an anti-coccidial.

I have used the following on my birds and think it’s best to alternate between treatments to avoid parasites building up resistance to commercial products available. Remember, all commercial anti-parasiticals are essentially toxins so don’t overdose them (or underodse and then they won’t work and the parasites may build up resistance), and try and become a regular dewormer for the health of your flock. I avoid deworming when the weather is very hot as birds may consume too much water and so inadvertently overdose.

Moxidectin (available as “Cydectin” for sheep) at a dose rate of 5 mls per liter of water. Provide this mixture fresh daily for 3 days. Moxidectin is highly effective against roundworms, gizzard worms and mites but ineffective against tapeworms.

“Mediworm” powder can be mixed into the softfood mixture for 2 days running. Effective against roundworms and tapeworms. If your birds are reluctant to eat the medicated soft food try adding a little honey.

“Equimax” suspension, available through your local bird vet. Very effective wormer against roundworms and tapeworms. 2 ml per liter of water for 2 days running.

Avoid deworming products containing levamisole as this is reported to be toxic to parrot finches.

All deworming should be repeated after 2 weeks to ensure adequate exposure of all cycles of the worm life cycles to the medication.

Coccidia is a common and often under diagnosed parasite. It doesn’t always kill your birds but will ruin a breeding season by weakening your birds resulting in egg binding, nestling death and general poor health. Damp, dirty surroundings encourage coccidial growth and a large infestation will devastate you flock in a short time. Avoid damp spots by completely roofing your aviaries and placing drinking vessels on a bed of stones or lifting them off the floor.

“Baycox” or Sulfazine 15% is effective against coccidia. Medicate for 3-5 days running, rest for 5 days then repeat. I treat for coccidia every 3-4 months, usually a few days after de worming.

An alarming increase in captive finches, especially parrot finches, of a disease causing neurological signs is being reported by many breeders across the country. Affected finches show progressive neurological signs including twitching, head bobbing, flying in circles or sitting on the floor for extended periods of time. Affected birds inevitably die and culling them as soon as they develop signs is recommended. Paramyxovirus 3 is being blamed as the most likely cause of this syndrome and is probably spread by wild birds such as doves and sparrows. This is another reason why completely covering your finch aviaries to prevent exposure to wild birds is really encouraged.

Conclusion

I love this species! It’s easy to breed, hardy and colourful. Always on the move and can be kept in the largest aviaries or a simple double breeder successfully. Both beginner and more experienced birders will enjoy these birds and the interesting and beautiful new mutations are adding interest for the more experienced breeders. Please lets work at keeping this avian gem viable in South African aviaries so future generations on breeders may appreciate it too!

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