Breeding Cordon Bleus
By Ian Hinze
(Continued from the Finch & Canary Focus in the February issue)
Question: I currently have two blue-cap ped finches; they lack the red spot on the cheeks so I think they’re blue-caps as opposed to cordon bleus. Supposedly, they are male and female, but they’ve shown no interest in building a nest although I did try last spring. In fact, they seemed afraid of the nest I put in for them, so I took it out of their cage.
I would like to add another pair of birds to the same cage – there’s lots of room. Is it possible to add a canary, or should I stick with finches? If I have to stay with finches, which type of finch would you recommend? And what would be the best way to introduce the new birds?
Answer: Feeding is done on the ground for cordon bleus, using a variety of seeds, principally grass, as well as the small seeds of other plants. Insects, such as termites or ants, are also eaten. Live food, such as fresh white-skinned mini-mealworms, tiny waxworms, fruit fly larvae and whiteworm, is essential for these birds in captivity, particularly when they are breeding. Soft food and soaked seed should also be given at breeding time.
During the courtship display, the male picks up a long piece of grass and then flies up next to the female on a branch. He puffs himself up, and the feathers on the top of his head become erect. He then bounces up and down, bobbing his head at the same time.
After this display, he emits a repetitive call while holding the nesting fiber. If the female is receptive, she crouches down horizontally across the perch and quivers her tail to solicit copulation. The male, which sidles up to her while performing his song and dance, will drop the nesting material and mount the female to copulate. It is not unusual for some mutual bill pecking or fencing, to occur afterwards. Both birds appear to jab at each other’s beak without any form of intended aggression.
If your birds successfully mate, the female will lay four to six eggs, and these are incubated by both sexes alternately for around 13 to 14 days. On hatching, nestlings have pinkish-red skin, dark bulbous closed eyes and tufts of fawnish white down on the head and back. Fledging takes place at around 18 days, and the youngsters are clearly discernible from their parents, being smaller and having paler blue and brown markings and shorter tails. They also have blackish beaks, conspicuous, creamy-colored gape marks and, just to the rear of these, a tiny blue dot. Independence is achieved at around 30 days.
While not being particularly aggressive, either to others of its kind or unrelated smaller species, the blue-headed cordon-bleu can be a real nuisance at breeding time if housed with the likes of Estrilda waxbills. I have observed black-rumped waxbills (E. troglodytes) be evicted from wicker baskets and, if they have nested on the floor as is typical, had their nests pulled apart, although there has been ample nesting material available elsewhere. Blue-headed cordon-bleus in captivity primarily build their nests out of coconut fibers. Place a small amount in the wicker basket to encourage them and place the rest in a corner of the cage where they can help themselves.
I strongly suggest that before you contemplate housing your cordon-bleus with other birds that you try to breed them by themselves (after determining their gender). All waxbills are in danger of being lost to aviculture due to the tightening import restrictions. It is therefore imperative that all keepers of waxbills do all they can to breed the birds in their care so that these wonderful birds are around for posterity.
The blue-headed cordon-bleu is a tremendous species to possess and offers excellent domestication possibilities. In Australia, breeders have, over a long period of time, managed to breed their birds without the use of live food Ñ providing soaked seed and eggfood instead. The challenge is there for all serious-minded keepers of this bird. I very much hope you are one of them.
Ian Hinze has been studying and breeding birds for more than 35 years. His articles on the subject are published regularly in magazines around the world, as well as on the Internet. He served as an editor of The Estrildian for five years and is a member of the Avicultural Society of Great Britain, the Avicultural Society of Australia and the American Federation of Aviculture. He lives with his family and birds in Manchester, England.