My Love of Finches

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JULIAN TEH

My association with finches began very early in life when I used to see Gouldian and Double-barred Finches in the pet shops where I lived in Perth. Ever since I have had a fascination with this group of birds and this fascination remained as strong as ever when we made the big move across Australia to Canberra in 2003.
In 2004 I managed to acquire my first finches—three beautiful female Zebra Finches. They were kept in a cage within our house and as the year passed I learnt how to look after them properly. I lost one of the hens which was subsequently replaced by a male. He was soon singing happily and I think that’s when I really decided that this is what I wanted to do in life!

In early 2008 my grandfather and I completed my first aviary—a small 3 metre x 1.5 metre structure made out of pine with a sheltered section at one end. The roof was constructed of clear polycarbonate sheeting to let in the sun. I let my Zebras loose in this new aviary and soon acquired a pair of Long-tailed Finches from a local pet shop. That same year I managed to increase my collection to include a pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus, a pair of Gouldian Finches, a pair of Orange-breasted Waxbills, a pair of Red-faced Parrotfinches and several King Quail.



My King Quail and Zebras bred like crazy in the new environment and soon my aviary was very overcrowded which prevented some of the other species from breeding. Realising this, I sold my birds’ progeny allowing my Orange-breasted, Cordons, Long-tails and Gouldians to settle down and build nests. Unfortunately, however, they did not have the opportunity to achieve breeding success since at that time I was not feeding live or softfoods of any kind.
In 2010 I had to move house and for nine months I ended up living at my grandparents’ house where a chook shed was converted into an aviary for me. At the end of this period I decided to sell off most of my birds while awaiting the completion of an aviary at our new house. The new aviary was a larger structure than any of my previous ones, measuring 3.5 metres long x 2.3 metres wide x 2.3 metres high. My mother and I built a sturdy foundation of bricks—four bricks high—for the wooden structure to sit on. Then Grandad and I set about constructing the frame. The whole idea of the aviary was to make it as rodent-proof as possible, seeing as we had had some problems with this previously. We therefore purchased mouse-proof (7mm) wire which we painted black to increase the visibility of the birds inside, and attached it to the front of the frame. We left a 1 metre wide sheltered area at the back and we filled in the frame with weatherboards. We used a secondhand metal door that we had salvaged from an old aviary and we added a 1m² safety door. We filled the inside divider wall with planks and then began work on the roof.

We decided that we would put clear roofing sheets on the north-facing side and corrugated iron sheets on the south side to protect my birds from bad weather. This has proved to be very effective—the birds still get plenty of winter sun, as well as shade in spring and summer time. We painted the whole aviary white and blue to match the house and garden shed.

We put down a thin layer of blue metal in the aviary floor, on top of which we placed a perforated drainage hose. We had left a half-brick gap in the foundation for this to poke out and we built a special cover to stop rodents gaining access through this. We then filled the rest of the bottom space with washed river sand.

Being a finch aviary we planted a young tea-tree and a small callistemon as well as several short ornamental grasses. I hope to add some Johnson grass to this shortly in order to provide more nesting sites for my birds. I also placed smooth riverbed rocks on the floor.

In the past year I have visited aviaries in Wollongong, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane and I decided to try and combine all of the ideas I had come away with to make a suitable feeding station for my collection. Eventually I settled on a metal frame made to fit a square tray bought at minimal cost from Bunnings Warehouse. This is easy to clean, fits all my little seed and assorted goodies bowls, as well as having the benefit of being deep enough to contain seed husks. This has worked very nicely and means far less sweeping of seed husks from the aviary floor. The station is positioned just above waist height on one of the flight section walls. It is located well away from any exterior branches where predatory birds such as currawongs may perch and so offers the birds some safety when eating. The water bowl is positioned on a length of ceramic pipe and the bowl itself is glazed ceramic which helps to prevent the nasty green algae that can grow in water dishes from forming.

The shelter area is furnished with three pairs of perch holders into which I have placed natural branches. I have tried to eliminate the use of dowel perching so as to provide my birds’ feet with as much variety in perching sizes as possible, but also in textures as well.

I have made several cylinders out of large mesh wire which I have filled with brush. The idea is that the birds will construct a nest there. I feel that this provides a more stable base on which to build a nest, rather than simply lining the walls with brush which can ‘flop’ over after a short while. It is very easy to interchange and clean each season. Various nestboxes and baskets have been positioned around the shelter area. On the floor, a small pile of hay and swamp grass provides the finches with nesting material as well as a place for my Little Button Quail to hide away.
The cleaning of the aviary is simple. I use an ordinary outdoor broom and a dustpan to sweep up droppings, as well as clean perches. I sweep up every week and clean the perches every second week.

I had asked many of my finch-keeping friends about which species I should keep and the prevailing opinion had always been to go with several species in single pairs and to choose species that all nest in different areas and heights of the aviary. I therefore chose and have purchased the following species:

One pair each of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus Uraeginthus bengalus, Tri-coloured Munias Lonchura malacca malacca, Jacarinis (Blue Black Grassquits) Volatina jacarini, Normal Yellow-headed Gouldian Finches Chloebia gouldiae, Tri-coloured Parrotfinches Erythrura tricolour, Plum-headed Finches Neochima modesta and Little Button Quail Turnix velox, as well as two pairs of Saint Helena Waxbills Estrilda astrild. I hope to add a pair of Ruddies (African Firefinches) Lagonosticta sengala when I next visit the Singleton Bird Sale. A well-known Victorian breeder very kindly donated the young pairs of Cordon Bleus, Jacarinis, Tri-coloured Munias and a pair of the Saint Helenas to my collection.
With my Gouldian Finches I have tried to make sure that I have reasonably pure birds. I am not a fan of Gouldian mutations and, if possible, I would like to try and produce pure strains of yellow-headed birds that are not split for mutations or other head colours.

I feed my birds a standard finch mix from Golden Cob, supplemented by the Greens ‘n’ Grains mix from Australian Wildlife Supplies. I feed them a vegetable mix that includes shredded commercial salad mix and pulverised peas once per week out of season, and every day in season. I am also experimenting with sprouted seeds and hope soon to try my hand at termite collection from one of my country friend’s farm. I do not currently use softfoods.

I maintain a good-sized avicultural library and try to purchase as many new books as possible. I recently came across a copy of Russell Kingston’s Keeping and Breeding Finches and Seedeaters at a secondhand bookstore and this now takes pride of place on my shelf alongside his newer book, The Finch. I also have many back issues of Australian BirdKeeper magazine and most issues of the Just Finches & Softbills magazine, all of which provide me with a wide and varied view on many bird topics. I try to purchase as many of the new avicultural titles published each year as possible so that I can keep up with modern advances.

Later this year I will be attending the Save The Gouldian Fund’s Open Day for the first time and I am very much looking forward to it. In April this year I also attended the Queensland Finch Society’s Finches ’11 convention, which was fantastic.

I find finch keeping to be a most rewarding hobby and I hope to continue being a finch keeper for as long as I am able to look after my birds well.

ABOUT JULIAN THE
Julian Teh is 14-years-old and lives in Canberra where he keeps several species of finch. He is very concerned with the conservation of birds, both in Australian aviaries and in the wild, and hopes that one day he can help save a species through either field work or aviculture.