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The Golden Pheasant – a Gorgeous yet Hardy Aviary Bird

As a small boy leafing through books on exotic birds from faraway lands, I recall being awe-stuck by a bird that, to me, symbolized all that was wild, foreign, beautiful and unknown – the golden pheasant (Chrysolphus pictus). The long-tailed males, which display gold, deep red, rust, blue, tan, orange, green, scarlet, yellow and chestnut feathers, are among the most richly-colored of all birds.

Beautiful and Tough

I was indeed amazed to learn, years later, that these central China natives are among the most commonly kept of all pheasants, and were quite reasonably priced.

Furthermore, although brilliant plumage had always signaled “delicate” to my inexperienced mind, golden pheasants are amazingly tough birds. Evolved to endure frigid winters in mountainous habitats, an open-sided shelter easily saw them through New York winters. In fact, hot summers prove more of a threat.

Natural History

Golden and the closely related Lady Amherst’s pheasants (C. amherstiae) are also called ruffed pheasants, due to the brilliant cape that encircles the nape. Courting males raise the ruff and leap about the hens, first on one side, then the other. Some populations appear to be monogamous, but most observers report that males mate with 6-8 hens in the wild.

Golden pheasants are native to the highlands of central and northwestern China, where their range overlaps with that of a familiar US transplant, the ring-necked pheasant. Shy and wary, it is said that the males’ striking colors are visible over great distances on clear days.

Captive History and Care

Goldens may be the earliest pheasants to have been taken into captivity, and have been well known in East Asian aviculture for centuries. They were brought to North America in the mid 1700’s, and were reportedly kept by George Washington.

Experienced aviculturists often recommend golden pheasants as excellent starter species. They adjust well to modestly sized outdoor aviaries and invariably become exceedingly tame. A trio that I kept was as confiding as chickens, even while nesting. Although usually kept in pairs, a trio or male and 3 hens is preferable, as males often drive a single hen incessantly and interfere with rearing the chicks.

Golden pheasants have been hybridized with cheer, silver, Reeve’s, Caucus and green pheasants, and even with domestic hens! Only golden/Lady Amherst crosses are consistently fertile, however.


Further Reading

You can read more about golden pheasants in the wild at http://www.gamebird.com/pheasantgolden2.html.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and first posted by Magnus Manske.

Breeding Lovebirds in Captivity: an Introduction

Despite the “love” part of their name, these tiny parrots (9 species in the genus Agapornis) are actually quite feisty and downright aggressive towards one another at times.  Introducing new birds is not easy, but once a pair forms the birds will be quite devoted to each other, and may well produce eggs.  Small size suits lovebirds well to indoor breeding, and renders them a logical choice for aviculturists with limited space.

Some Cautions

Before embarking on lovebird breeding, please bear in mind that this undertaking is not without its risks.  You may wind up with birds that do not get along, and if you keep more than 1 pair you will likely need separate facilities for the breeders (except perhaps in an outdoor aviary).

Health concerns may also arise – females may become egg bound, or produce too many clutches.  Also, even friendly, long-term pets usually become quite protective of their nests, and will remain aggressive towards you throughout the breeding season.

Distinguishing the Sexes

Unfortunately, males and females of the most commonly kept lovebirds – the peach-faced, Fischer’s and masked – are nearly indistinguishable by eye.  You will need to watch their behavior closely, or submit samples for DNA or feather sexing to be sure.

Abyssinian, Madagascar and red-faced lovebirds are sexually dimorphic, but these species are only infrequently kept as pets in the USA.

The Nest

Wild lovebirds nest in tree hollows or appropriate (sometimes forcibly ejecting the owners!) the nests of swifts and various weavers.  In captivity a specially designed lovebird nest box  will suit them well.  The nest should be positioned as high within the cage as is possible.

Wood shavings  should cover the floor of the box to a depth of 2-3 inches.  This will simplify cleaning and prevent the splay-legged condition that is often seen in chicks raised on hard surfaces.

Wild lovebirds repeatedly carry fresh bark into their nests, a habit which may increase humidity.  Captive lovebirds will readily utilize moistened cypress for this purpose.  Lightly spraying the female lovebird when she is out of the nest will also help in this regard (do not spray within the box itself).  Commercial nesting material should also be available.

Peach-faced and several other lovebirds tuck nesting material within their feathers to transport it to the nest…don’t miss watching this unique behavior if you have the opportunity.

The Eggs and Chicks

Female lovebirds usually lay their first egg 7-10 days after copulation, with an additional egg being produced at intervals of 1-2 days thereafter.  A full clutch consists of 4-7 eggs, and most females do not begin incubating until several eggs have been laid.

Usually, the hen sits and is fed by the male.  Male masked lovebirds, however, often sit near the hen, but it is not clear if they are actually doing anything useful, in terms of incubation!

The eggs hatch in 20-27 days, and the chicks leave the nest after 35-50 days.  They are fed by their parents for an additional 2 weeks after fledging, by which time they are usually completely independent.


Additional Reading

Please see my article on the Masked or Yellow-Collared Lovebird for information on the care and natural history of this and other lovebird species. 

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by TheAlphaWolf

The A&E Double Flight Cage: How Much Room Does a Finch Need? Part I

BullfinchIt seems to me that finches are often “short-changed” when it comes to cage space. Their small size, especially when compared to other pet birds, seems to pre-dispose hobbyists to providing equally tiny living quarters. But the facts that a bird “fits” in a cage, and can move about somewhat, does not necessarily mean that we are providing it with an ideal environment.

Cage Size…an Alternative View

Rather than using your pet’s size as a factor in cage choice, I propose instead that you carefully consider its habits and natural history. For example, finches do not climb about as do parrots, and hence cages offer to them much less “useable space”. Whereas a parrot might clamber over every inch of its home – roof included – finches use mainly flying and ground space.

Also, finches explore and will utilize toys, but not to the extent seen in most parrots. They spend more time foraging and otherwise moving about, and hence have little to “occupy themselves” in a small cage… space therefore is key to their well-being.

finchThen too, many finches tend to be high strung, and are ill at ease when closely confined. It is very hard to hand-tame finches, or to induce breeding in tight quarters. As most finches are not given outside flight time, cage size and complexity are important factors in their husbandry.

A Finch Mansion

At just over 5 feet x 2 feet x 5 feet, the A&E Double Flight Bird Cage is the ultimate in luxury housing for finches. Available in 6 colors, it can also be divided to allow for introductions or when separate facilities are otherwise needed.

The .5 inch bar spacing renders this cage ideal for even the smallest of finches, but its design also permits the accommodation of cockatiels, parrotlets, lovebirds and parakeets.

Large Finches and Mixed Species Groups

The Double Flight Cage is an excellent choice for those seeking to provide finches of any kind with additional room, and is perfect for housing larger species such as Gouldian finches, bull finches and Java rice birds.

You can also use this cage to create a striking mixed-species display for compatible birds such as cordon bleus, golden-breasts and painted finches.

Nesting and Breeding

Additional space always improves ones chances of breeding captive birds. Ample room is particularly important for shy finches, and for those that become lethargic in small cages and reproduce most reliably in group situations (i.e. yellow-rumped and gray-headed munias).

For many of the more sensitive finches, a large flight cage is the only reasonable alternative to an outdoor aviary if breeding efforts are to be successful.

The Double Flight Cage is equipped with 2 doors that allow for the installation of nest boxes. Nesting sites so situated are outside of the cage and therefore will not restrict available flight space.

My most memorable observations of captive finches have taken place before large cages and outdoor aviaries. If you are serious about your birds, please consider providing them with as much space as possible.


Further Reading

Working with mixed species collections is a favorite pastime of mine, and one that hooks most who give it a try. Click here for more information concerning finch species that forage together in the wild.

Image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jason L. Buberel.

Spring’s Affect on Parrots, Budgerigars, Canaries, Finches and Other Cage Birds, Part II: Nestlings and Fledglings (Nutrition, Perches, Feather-Plucking)

Please see Part I of this article for information on other nesting concerns.

There are few events more rewarding to bird owners than the discovery of a nest full of newly-hatched chicks.  But along with the excitement of the new arrivals may come a few potential problems.  Today we’ll take a look at how to avoid and handle some of the more commonly-encountered of these.

Protein Needs

Parrots, finches and other pet birds go from helpless chick to adult-sized fledgling in record time.  As you can well imagine, such rapid development must be fueled by the proper foods, and lots of them.  One of the most common causes of nestling loss is poor nutrition.

Parrots are generally easier to deal with in this regard, and most of the foods needed are readily available…please be sure to write in for suggestions.  Canaries and finches however, are another matter.  While adults subsist largely upon seeds, the young of most require a high protein diet that is rich in insects.

Live and Canned Insects

Be sure to provide the parents with large quantities of small live crickets, waxworms, mealworms and mealworm pupae.  Wild-caught insects offer nutrients unobtainable elsewhere, and were standard fare for many species when I worked at the Bronx Zoo.  The Zoo Med Bug Napper  is an excellent insect trap, and is well worth considering.

Canned Insects  offer a very convenient means of providing breeding birds with much needed dietary variety, and are well-accepted by most finches.  I am quite sure that their role in aviculture will grow in coming years.

Other Protein Rich Foods

Other foods that should always be available to chick-rearing softbills,  canaries and other finches include Egg Food, Finch Nestling Food and Anole Food (dried flies).

Feather Plucking

For reasons that are not yet entirely understood, otherwise attentive parents sometimes suddenly begin to pluck their chicks’ feathers.  The attacks often center on the base of the neck, and are usually instigated by the hen, but males may be guilty as well.  The behavior often intensifies over time, and can leave the chicks with severe wounds and stress-related (as you can imagine!) ailments, and in some cases can result in their deaths.

Feather-plucking of chicks is most commonly seen in budgerigars, lovebirds and, to a lesser extent, cockatiels.  A number of theories have been proposed to explain this odd phenomenon.  Captive animals of many species often attack or even eat their young (never clean the cage of a female hamster with a new litter!), but the birds involved in feather-plucking are most often well adjusted to captivity and excellent parents in all other respects.

Some have suggested that the behavior springs from an inherited, genetic defect or a misguided re-nesting instinct, but a proven explanation is still lacking.

Discouraging Feather Plucking

Short of pulling the chicks for hand-rearing, Bitter Apple Spray is the most effective solution to the problem.  When applied to the nestlings’ feathers, this product is very effective in dissuading errant parent birds.  In most cases, the attacks stop and the pair goes on to successfully raise their chicks.

Slipped Claw

Recently fledged canaries and other finches sometimes fall victim to a condition known as “slipped claw”.  The rear claw (the one which points backward, in the opposite direction of the other three claws) slides forward and remains in that position as the youngster attempts to perch, eventually crippling the bird.

Fledgling-Safe Perches

The condition is largely confined to young birds that are kept on hard, smooth perches.  You can avoid this problem by providing your fledgling finches and canaries with thin, supple perches for the first few months of their lives.  Cotton Cable and Rope Perches are ideal.

Further Reading

Please see my articles Feeding Insects to Pet Birds and Zoo Med’s Anole Food for further information.



Breeding Birds Use Song to Defend Territory and Discourage Mate Infidelity

Many birds, including parrots, finches and other favored pets, establish breeding territories which they defend against intruders.  Often both male and female sing or call together, in a show of strength, when others of the same species approach.  However, an article published in a recent (March, 2009) issue of Current Biology  reveals that pairs of Peruvian warbling antbirds (Hypocnemis cantator), and perhaps other species, alter their singing behavior from cooperative to competitive when an unattached female arrives on the scene.
Reaction to Another Pair

Oxford University researchers played recorded calls of antbird pairs to other pairs resident in a specific territory.  The resident pair responded as expected – male and female sang together in a vigorous display of unity, showing their willingness to defend their home. 

Reaction to a Single Female

However, when the song of an unattached female antbird was played, the situation changed dramatically.  The resident male responded with a mating call – in essence “flirting” with the new female.  Amazingly, his mate began singing loudly over his song, in an apparent attempt to “jam” the notes and render him less attractive to the interloping female!

Not to be outdone, the would-be Romeo then began altering his call in an effort to avoid the interfering song of his mate!

Female Inca Terns Tolerate No Nonsense!

Research is now being conducted to determine if other birds act in a similar fashion…I’m betting that many do.  The Inca terns (Larosterna inca) pictured here are part of a flock of 30 that I cared for in a huge outdoor exhibit at the Bronx Zoo.  I noticed a great deal of interaction during the breeding season, with single females vying for the attentions of males that were already paired and in possession of desirable nesting cavities.

Female terns are, however, a bit more “assertive” than their antbird cousins – a few sharp pecks to the male’s head generally put a quick end to any thoughts of “wandering”!

Further Reading

Antbirds are quite beautiful and interesting.  The common name arises from their unique mode of hunting.  By following hoards of foraging army ants, they are able to capture many fleeing insects that would otherwise be difficult to locate in the underbrush.

I was fortunate enough to observe this spectacle in a Costa Rican rainforest – it is a “must see” for birders, I assure you!  You can read more about antbirds and see photos of many species at http://www.arthurgrosset.com/sabirds/warblingantbird.html.





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