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The Parrot Finches

Interested in keeping and breeding parrot finches? Read this parrot finch article to learn how their history and how to raise them.

By Ian Hinze

Q: I'm interested in keeping and breeding parrot finches. I have two pair of pin-tailed parrot finches and would appreciate any information on them and any other members of the family. What are the best housing and feeding methods? Can these birds be bred or do they have to be fostered under society finches?

A: When it comes to Asian estrildid finches compared to their African and Australian cousins two, in particular, would always be in my Top-10 favorites list of the family as a whole. These are the outstandingly beautiful pin-tailed (Erythrura prasina) and equally enchanting bamboo (E. hyperythra) parrot finches.

Altogether there are 11 different species of parrot finch, which are characterized by their predominantly green or green and blue plumage. They range across the Indo-Malayan region south and east to the Philippines, New Guinea, the Samoan and Fijian Islands, New Caledonia and northeastern Australia. It was because of this "Australian species," the blue-faced parrot finch (E. trichroa), that interest in the group as a whole in Great Britain is so popular. The Australian Finch Society of Great Britain, wisely in my opinion, includes all parrot finches in its remit for captive-breeding and it is through its sterling efforts over many years that a number of breeders have specialized in them and brought the group the attention it so rightly deserves.

The Parrot Finch Look
The pin-tailed parrot finch (more often referred to in the past as the pin-tailed nonpareil) is around 6 inches including its long graduated tail. The adult male is a truly stunning chap having the forehead, superciliary, cheeks, ear coverts, chin and throat of dark blue. The lores are black, the crown to the lower back and wings are grass green and the rump, upper tail coverts and the outer fringes of the central pair of tail feathers are scarlet. Other tail feathers are blackish. The breast, flanks and under tail coverts are straw buff and the belly is scarlet. The largish black bill is unusual in that it has sharply angled gonys. The eyes are brown, and the legs and feet are brownish horn colored. The female has less blue on the face, no red on the belly and her tail is only about half the length of the male's.

First Encounter With Parrot Finches
It is often reported that pin-tailed and bamboo parrot finches are delicate on first being imported by dealers, but by the time I acquired my birds they were immaculate and a real credit to the dealer's quarantine methods. The only real worry I experienced was after about a week of all the birds having settled in. One of the males looked decidedly unwell one morning so I quickly administered a probiotic via the drinking water. Within 24 hours it was virtually impossible to tell this individual from his companions. Now, whenever I acquire a new bird I provide a probiotic every day for the first week and every day during the breeding season. The rest of the time I administer it at least twice per week.
There is an attractive color morph in which the red parts in both sexes are replaced by bright yellow. This color variant is believed to appear in at least eight to 10 percent of birds throughout the entire range and, even though I don't personally possess such individuals, I have seen them in the same batch of imports from which I obtained my own normallycolored birds.

The bamboo parrot finch, known also as the green-tailed parrot finch, is 4 inches long and, while not as gaudy as the pin-tailed, is as equally attractive but in a more subtle way. The sexes differ only slightly, with the male having the extreme front of the forehead black and the rest and forecrown turquoise blue. The remainder of the upperparts, right down to the central tail feathers, is grass green. The face, throat, breast and middle areas of the underparts are cinnamon buff-brown to straw buff. The eyes are dark brown, the bill is black and the legs and feet are flesh colored. The female is like the male but her coloration is more muted, the blue of her forehead being duller and less extensive and her green parts less bright.

Parrot Finch Nest Construction
In the wild, parrot finches construct typical domed estrildine nests with a small front entrance hole in bushes, trees, creepers and low down in high grass. This is why their captive environment must in some way replicate their wild terrain; hence I recommend large, bushy pot-plants in an aviary setting. Some breeders report that nest boxes are seldom utilized, whereas others speak highly of them. One of my own pairs of pin-tails constructed a nest at the very base of a weeping fig where I had positioned an old wicker lampshade. The shade had a large hole at both ends but this "commercial nest" was soon packed with dried grass, coconut fiber, sisal, moss and long strips of dried leaves from a six feet high Philodendron. The male tore of the strips vigorously, each success being carried about and displayed in his beak like some hard-won trophy.

Male and female constructed the nest, but the male tended to collect most of the material. Particularly interesting is that whenever I entered the birdroom all the parrot finches would fly to one end, and yet here a pair had built a nest low down and only about 2 feet away from the entrance door. It was also roughly the same distance from the feeding area, the busiest place in the birdroom!

Occasionally, I witnessed the male enter his nest with some nesting material in his bill Ñ only to be surprised on seeing him appear elsewhere in the flight but not having come out of his nest. He and his mate had left a hole in the rear of the nest so that they could exit or enter in either direction. The two-holed lampshade was being fully utilized.

Watching the birds construct the nest was made easy by the fact that I had a large window of approximately 6 feet wide by 3 feet high fitted in a special observation/study room. The room was painted entirely black so that if I kept completely quiet and still the birds tended not to be able to notice me. It was while sitting in this observation room that I also recorded some other incredible behavior. In the birds free-flying area, to the left of the observation window, I had positioned a large upward and outward growing Philodendron, and a male suddenly alighted on a horizontal stem and began singing. While his voice wasn't particularly loud, it was obvious he was putting everything into it by virtue of the fact that his throat was fully extended. Within a few seconds, two other males alighted close by and started to peer upwards as though in admiration, as if to fully appreciate the rendition.

Thanks also to this observation window I was able to fully observe the male's extraordinary courtship display. First of all, a pair would indulge in some bill-fencing and then later the male would rush to where his beau was perched, make small bows with his body, sidle up to her, with his tail twisted toward her, and then he would stretch his neck and arch it over her head. This was invariably followed by some mandibulation, whereupon his beak would be rapidly opened and closed as though chattering (perhaps he was!). There is also a stem display recorded in the species a number of times, and I recall seeing a wonderful illustration depicting this drawn by my good friend Robin Restall, who lives in Venezuela. Unfortunately, I never saw this display myself, though I saw what I believed to be a lead up to it.

Conserve The Parrot Finch Species
Because of their flocking to rice paddies to feed, pin-tailed parrot finches are considered a pest in some countries and have been heavily trapped and killed, so much so that they have completely disappeared in certain areas. It is especially incumbent on all keepers in possession of this species, therefore, to give it even greater attention. Most certainly it is the type of species aviculturists are at pains to highlight to wildlife organizations that could definitely benefit in captivity.

Obviously, species such as the pin-tailed and bamboo parrot finches should not be considered by anyone other than accomplished birdkeepers. As their breeding record testifies, it is one of desperate fluctuation and in the main the result of having to resort to fostering. Keeping small flocks of up to five pairs if possible in spacious well-planted indoor flights is definitely the way to go, as this is more akin to how the birds are found in the wild. They even nest in close proximity to one another, and the stimulation they receive from within the group, such as I witnessed during the peering session mentioned above, guarantees a greater chance of success.

Observing these beautiful Asiatic species flying in their group from one end of my birdroom to the other is a sight I shall never forget. These are the type of birds that lift the soul and make aviculture the unsurpassable hobby it is. They are undoubtedly a connoisseur's bird, but how much longer their beauty can be appreciated is difficult to say as their numbers are decreasing by both pest control and loss of habitat.

 Encouragingly, as one Bavarian breeder found 30 years ago, given the right conditions, they can be as prolific and as easy to breed as the more common species of the genus. The challenge is that, as yet no one appears to have been able to emulate him.

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The Parrot Finches

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intersting article
stephanie, no smithfield, RI
Posted: 1/26/2009 3:16:16 PM
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