Doug Taylor, age 63, has been breeding finches for more than three years.
Instead of only looking to young people to keep interest alive in breeding finches, we may just find eager breeders in retirees. They have the time, a desire to keep active, years of experience to bank on, keen observational skills and patience.
Meet Doug Taylor, who, at age 63, was “gifted” a pair of zebra finches and his interest in them soon became that retirement project he was looking for. Fast-forward ahead three years, and he now successfully breeds difficult wild-caught African finches in his two-bedroom apartment on the Gulf Coast in Beaumont, Texas.
So how’s retirement going?
Busy. There aren’t enough hours in the day. I was looking for something that would keep my mind stimulated, keep the body toned and make a little extra money to supplement my Social Security checks. So far, we’ve got two out of the three. Instead of making money, though, I went back to work part-time to support my bird habit and keep breeding on new generations of the wild finches until they are domesticated.
Are there any regrets so far?
Only that I didn’t start working with finches 20 years ago. There are so many things to learn about the many species. I feel at my age it is a race against time to know and experience as many of them as possible. Some of the African finches are beyond beauty. I can hardly wait to get their breakfast prepared every morning and get into their rooms to see them.
You said rooms. What is your housing arrangement?
I refer to the place as a 2-birdroom apartment with studio. I moved my bed into the living room as I needed more space. It’s not something I recommend for everyone, but it works for me. The more finches I have, the happier I am. Yes, I’m hooked!
The breeding rooms are a bit different than most. You call them hybrids, right?
Yes, I wasn’t getting much production out of the Africans while they were caged, so I turned the rooms into free flights with cages. I wired-open the doors of many cages to let the birds come and go as they please. Simply giving them the freedom of flight changed the dynamics tremendously. Some returned to their own cages to breed, others selected cages that were different than their original ones, and some preferred to build nests outside of the cages. A few orange-cheeked waxbills tipped me off by squeezing out of their cages time after time, until I realized I had to pay attention to their needs. I put out nesting material — coco fiber and white feathers — and little coco fiber “tumbleweeds” started appearing in the corners of the room. A short while later they were producing as many babies as zebra finches.
How many species of finch do you breed?
Currently, I have more than 20, with 15 of them being African. The others are my favorite Australians. Of the African imports, 12 species have bred successfully and some of their first generations are ready to breed. They should be easier as they are on their road to domestication.
What are some of the African finches you have bred?
Orange-cheeked waxbills, goldbreasts, blue cap cordon bleus, red-ear waxbills, red- and yellow-winged pytilias, and Dybowski twinspots.
Wild birds can be difficult. How do you do it?
A good diet is the foundation. I developed a breeding diet that is easily digestible and supplies everything the finches need to stay healthy and reproduce. Giving them the conditions they will breed in is also necessary.
There has been some buzz about your diet. A breeder friend says it has a cult following.
It’s been dubbed “The Green Day Diet,” because most of it is fresh vegetables. Breeders here in the United States and in Europe have started using it and been happy with the results. It works.
Live food, such as mealworms, is said to be necessary to breed the wild finches. Is that true?
No, it isn’t. I use an egg food formula to complement the vegetables. It supplies better protein than live food and all of my birds have been raised on it.
The other question that usually comes up is do you foster or hand feed your chicks?
Again, no. All of my wild-caughts have parented their offspring by themselves. We have an expression in the finch breeder circles — PR/NLF — which is “parent-raised, no live food.” To us, it is a badge of accomplishment.
Come back next month to read the rest of the interview!