As Dedicated as They Come
By Simon Degenhard
To recap on part I, it was several conversations with my good friend, Robert “King Parrot King” North that left me in no doubt that I had to visit Hunter Valley finch breeder, John Lane and his lovely wife Beryl. Having done so in the first half of last 2017, prior to compiling the first part of this article, I simply knew that I had to visit again in order to do part II justice, I certainly hope that you all enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed spending the day with John and Beryl. Incidentally, Beryl’s delicious homemade scones are possibly an even bigger drawcard than the birds!
After enjoying a couple more of Beryl’s delicious scones than my diet allowed for, John once again led me out to his impeccable aviary setup. Designed around a large gable roofed shed that measures 20m x 9m, incorporating a food storage and prep area and both indoor and outdoor flights. There are 7 indoor breeding flights each measuring 3.2m long x 1.6m wide and 2.1m high, 2 indoor holding flights 3.2m long x 2.4m wide x 2.1m high and 4 large planted flights that incorporate both indoor and outdoor sections that are equal in size, with each section being 4.5m x 4.5m x 2.5 high.
Inside the shed John has fitted black light tubes that come on at 4:30am and go off at 9pm, he says that these are an important addition when keeping birds inside with no access to direct sunlight. Each indoor breeding flight is lined with brush to the back and side walls, along with flowerpot nests (see photos) and cane basket nests. John tells me that he keeps a maximum 5-6 pairs in each of these flights, as when young are fledging this number climbs significantly, meaning that if more pairs were housed there would then be overcrowding issues during the breeding season.
Interestingly, I noted that John keeps Crimson Finches in all of these indoor breeding flights and in some cases Red Strawberry Finches are also housed in the same aviaries. I quizzed John on this as I have heard many times that Crimsons are far too aggressive to keep in mixed collections in smaller aviaries, especially with other species that display red plumage, however he assured me that he doesn’t experience any such problem in his aviaries and the fact that I saw fledgling Strawberry Finches in some of these aviaries stands testament to John’s comments.
There is an internal walkway within the shed that these indoor aviaries front onto, and the inside sections of the planted aviaries back onto. This walkway has a hail netting roof and at one end doubles as a catching area, whereby when John wants to catch birds out of any of the aviaries he simply opens up the barn style doors that are installed on each flight and herds the birds into the walkway, which is a far easier and trouble free way to do it. This method also means far less disturbance within the aviaries themselves. The barn style doors are simply doors that are split in two and can be opened either at the bottom, the top or fully. When John wants to herd the birds into the walkway, he simply enters the aviary, closes the bottom half of the door and walks to the back of the flight at which point the birds fly to the front and out into the walkway.
The indoor breeding flights are serviced from the front and the planted flights from the rear. All indoor flights along with the indoor half of the planted aviaries have coarse river sand covering the concrete shed floor. The indoor half of the planted aviaries has a relatively small (approx. 1m wide x 0.5m high) window leading into the outdoor section, which offers the birds maximum cover and privacy when needed.
There are doors at either end of the shed that can be opened to allow airflow and the high gable roof helps to keep the temperature down on hot days. Having a full concrete floor within the shed makes keeping rodents out of the flights easy, and also makes cleaning a much more simple task. It really seems that John has thought of just about everything when he designed this wonderful complex.
Within these aviaries John keeps a variety of both native and exotic finches, maintaining multiple pairs of all bar a couple of species. The list is as follows, divided into the species that he keeps only in the indoor flights, only in the planted flights and those kept in both:
Indoor flights only – Masked Finches, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus.
Planted flights only – Napoleon Weavers, Tri-coloured Parrot Finches, Golden Song Sparrows, Black-Headed Yellow Siskins, Pictorella and Yellow-rumped Mannikins, Black-rumped Double-barred Finches and Jacarinis.
Both indoors and in planted flights – Painted Finches, Crimson Finches, Red Strawberry Finches and Little Green Singing Finches. John tells me that these species do just as well in both situations.
John believes that one of the most important things to remember is to not overcrowd your breeding flights, always keeping in mind that the numbers can easily triple or more during the breeding season.
Another important design feature incorporated into John’s outdoor flights is the installation of electric fencing wires across the front and top of these. John tells me that not only are these invaluable when it comes to deterring cats from climbing on the aviaries, but it is also very effective in eliminating attacks on his finches from both Noisy Miners and Butcherbirds, as well as any other predators that may come visiting through the night.
Having discussed the aviary design at length, it was then time to quiz John on his feeding routine, as going by his fantastic breeding results it was clear to see that his methods certainly work, and very well at that!
John’s finch diet consists of a dry seed mix that is available at all times, green food, vegetables, sprouted seed, homemade bird cake, live food in the form of maggots, baked chicken egg shells and grit.
In terms of the seed mix, John starts with a top quality premixed finch mix, to which he adds 1 part in 10 of plain Canary seed and ¾ of a part in 10 of red pannicum. To this mix he then adds 1 teaspoon of fossil shell flour per 5kgs of seed, he tells me that this not only prevents moths from infesting the seed, but also helps prevent both worms and coccidia in the birds themselves. I will write more on this highly valuable addition to the dietary regime for your birds at a later date.
Next on the daily feeding list is sprouted seed, for which John uses only white French millet; he does so due to the fact that when sprouting mixed seed varieties not all will sprout at the same time, using only one seed type negates this issue. He feeds these sprouts as soon as he can see the shoots appearing, this may take anywhere from 24-72 hours depending on the temperature in the area that they are situated. For each 4ltr ice cream container of sprouted seed, 1 red capsicum, 2 medium size carrots, a medium size piece of broccoli and 3 large garlic cloves are placed into a food processor and then added to the sprouts. John then adds a cup each of frozen peas and corn. Then just prior to feeding out he mixes in a heaped teaspoon each of Africana seed and seaweed meal. For an aviary containing 5-6 pairs of finches, John provides one heaped tablespoon of this mix.
Small maggots are the only live food offered; these are fed to all the birds and are very readily taken. For an aviary containing 6 pairs one level tablespoon is given; this amount is adjusted according to the number of pairs that are rearing young at the time.
Each day John also feeds out the homemade bird cake that Beryl bakes. Once baked, the cake plus 6 slices of multigrain bread is put through a food processor until it is a crumbly consistency. Then 1 cup each of boiled plain Canary and finch seed mix, along with 2 tablespoons each of Breeding Aid oil and Soluvet, and 1 teaspoon of probiotic are then added to the cake crumbles. This mix is then fed out daily at a rate of one heaped teaspoon per aviary. The recipe for this cake is as follows:
800g of self-raising flour
250g of raw sugar
250g of polenta
2 tablespoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
500g of cream cheese
250g of melted margarine
Method – mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and then bake for 45-60 mins at 180 degrees.
The plain Canary and finch seed mix is boiled for 6 minutes.
John feeds a variety of green food depending on the season; his preferred types are green panic, milk thistle, chickweed and spinach. A slice of Lebanese cucumber is also given each day.
Good quality grit is always available, with 2 types being offered. The first is a mixture of ground up volcanic rock and fine shell grit, and the second is a product called Biocal. This is freshened up once per week, with enough being given to last the 7 days.
John includes a number of supplements in his weekly diet regime, which are as follows:
Prolyte-C – given 3 times per week (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) on the sprouted seed.
Soluvite Plus D-3 – given 3 times per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
Liquid Vitamin D-3 – given everyday on sprouted seed.
Apple Cider Vinegar – given 2 times per week in the water at a rate of 1ml of apple cider vinegar to 1lt of water.
H2.0 Salts – given in water for birds that are under or will soon be under stress e.g. prior to selling them.
Agriphor disinfectant sanitizer and deodorant – used at a rate of 5ml per litre of water to soak seed and also given in the drinking water twice per week at a rate of 1ml per litre of water.
When it comes to worming the birds, John uses Avitrol Plus, he mixes this with Baycox, which allows him to treat for coccidia at the same time. He uses the Avitrol Plus at a rate of 15ml per litre of water and the Baycox at 3ml per litre. He treats the birds at the end of every second month.
John is among the most dedicated aviculturists that I have ever met, his routine is regimented, his methods are meticulous and the results he achieves speak for themselves. I feel very privileged to have met both John and Beryl and have learnt a great deal in the short time that I have known them. I must extend my sincere thanks to both of them for their amazing hospitality and generosity with their time, and I must also thank my very good mate, Robert “King Parrot King” North for pushing me to make contact with John in the first place.
John, you are a true credit to the bird world!
Male Napoleon Weaver in breeding Plumage
Painted Finches selectively bred by John for extra red
Male Crimson Finch
Little Green Singing Finch
Male Black-Headed Yellow Siskin
Male Golden Song Sparrow
Male Red Strawberry Finch in breeding plumage
Pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus - male on right
Young Tri-coloured Parrot Finches
Feeding station for dry seed and baked egg shells
Feeding door on one of the indoor flights
Grit x 2 types
Ground volcanic rock mixed with fine shell grit
John's sprouted seed and veggie mix
Indoor flights and holding cabinets
Inside on of the Indoor flights
One of John's holding aviaries with some of the young birds that he has bred
View inside one of the planted flights showing palm grass and wire cylinders filled with brush for the birds to nest in
Wire cylinder filled with brush for the birds to nest in
John grows saltbush in all of the planted flights, he says that the finches love eating the leaves. He grows them inside the wire cylinders to stop the birds for pruning them too heavily
Painted Finches on top of flower pot nest
Fledgling Masked Finches
Female Black-Headed Yellow Siskin
Female Napoleon Weaver
Female Painted Finch
Female Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu
Fledgling Painted Finch
Female Crimson Finch on top of flower pot nest
Little Green Singing Finch
Male Black-Headed Yellow Siskin
Male Crimson Finch
Male Napoleon Weaver in breeding Plumage
Male Painted Finch - yellow mutation
Male Red Strawberry Finch breaking into colour
Red Strawberry Finch
John with yours truly in front of his fantastic finch setup