The terrible twosome

Even after 18 years of keeping them, I’m still captivated by the antics of two of my particularly feisty birds – a red-billed quelea and a yellow-crowned bishop.

In 1998, I bought a pair of red-billed quelea (Quelea-quelea) and a pair of Napoleon Bishops/ Yellow-crowned (Euplectes afer) to celebrate my 40th birthday.

Although both hens passed away a long time ago, the two cock birds are still going strong.

At the time, I also purchased a pair of pin-tailed whydahs (Vidua macroura) and a pair of paradise whydahs (V.paradisaea). These were great birds, but a real nuisance when kept in a mixed aviary. I brought these from Geoff Smith at Pet farm in Norfolk. Although Geoff no longer trades, he is still a keen breeder and does well with some of his rare doves. We both belong to the Norfolk Foreign Bird Association and meet up at least once a month.

Unfortunately, the red-billed quelea has been a troublemaker since his partner passed away. He dominates perches in the aviary and bullies other birds. I once put him into my cockatiel aviary on the pretence that they would not put up with his behaviour. However, when the Cockatiels had chicks, he would sit on the perch of the nest-box and wouldn’t let the cockatiels in to feed their chicks. The yellow-crowned Napoleon Bishop is just as bad around other finches.

During the breeding season, they both still build nests and weave amazing ball shapes out of coconut fibre. The Red-billed quelea often sits in his nests and has a look about him that appears proud, as if he is showing off his nest-building skills.

When I originally brought these weavers, they were fully coloured and in adult plumage. They were very wild and not youngsters, most probably at least two years old. I have had these 16 years now. I wonder if anybody else owns older red-billed quelea or yellow-crowned bishops than me. Bill Lowe wrote an article on the quelea in the November 6, 2013 cage & aviary birds magazine and even he said these birds were short-lived.

My Weavers are kept in an outside aviary all year round and have shared this with Australian and African finches, diamond doves, Canaries and Chinese painted quails. I would not recommend mixing weavers with finches, because of the problems I previously experienced with them. Really, they need their own flight.

I provide these birds with a varied diet of foreign finch seed, greens, vegetables, fruit, as well as dried mini mealworms and plenty of hanging millet. They also enjoy the added supplements of oystershell grit, eggfood and iodine.


DIARY FOR 2017

BIRDROOM: I put my birds down late this year, mainly because it was so cold outside so I kept my Australian Finches inside. In total I used 18 Breeding cages and placed a pair of Java Sparrows in each.

All cages are given streaded paper, white and brown coconut fibre and sizle for nest building. Did not put them in the birdroom until late May.

Added Consentrate Liquid Calcium to the drinking water to help the birds along and keep them fit and will stop any bird from becoming eggbound. I only do this once during the breeding season they are offered cuttlefish and mineral blocks as well. They also get a well balanced Foreign Finch seed diet as well as eggfood mixed with breedmax. I also give them dried mini mealworms which they all enjoy but have hardly any goodness in for the birds. I give them greens as well from grass, dandelions, chickweed, and any salad or vegetables going spare.

All cages are issued with fresh daily bathing water. Spirunlina is also added to the eggfood to help with chicks colour and moult. They are also given Millet Spray which they really enjoy munching on.


 

 

 

My Cockatiels. I started with one rescued Cockatiel. It came from HMP Wayland Prison. I was tasked with rehoming 80 birds and one cockatiel was all I was left with. It looked blind in one eye and had a badly clipped wing. I took it to the vets and he removed an old seed husk from it's eye which gave it an appearance of being blind. I had to treat this eye for almost 5 months every day. I called him Scrote because he came from the prison. He stayed indoors for a while but I build an avairy for him with branches specially displayed for him him get around the avairy.
I was then given a Cockatiel hen from a friend who parents could no longer keep her. Both the Cockatiels hit it off straight away and at the end of the year had three chicks. Unfortunately only the biggest chick survived.
That left me with three cockatiels and then I recieved a phone call from a chap who had found a cockatiel. I picked it up from him and placed it in the avairy. I carried out house to house enquiries in the area it was found to no avail. I advertised it as found on the Norfolk Foreign Bird Association "Birds for sale section". I always placed it on the national lost and found site advertised in C & A but nobody came forward.
Surprisingly both set of Cockatiels paired up and even more strangly they used the same nest box. 5 eggs were laid from the two pairs. Five chicks were hatched and all four parents would take it in turn to enter the box and fed the chicks. I now have all five chicks on the perch. Although very light feathered they are all fit and strong birds and flying around at ease. Three chicks from my orginal pair and two chicks from the new pair all in the same box. Everytime I went to check the avairy a different parent was in the box feeding. It was obvious that all parents were taking turns to feed all the chicks.
Funny thing is I have never wanted to keep Cockatiels and had no interest in them but as you can tell they have given me so much pleasure.

 My Java Sparrows!

My Java Sparrows are intelligent birds. Their capacity for learning and inquisitive nature makes them fascinating. The beauty of the Java is what first attracted me to them. They display beautiful colours and their comical behaviour patterns are interesting to watch.

My birds have bonded well with me. They look forward to my visit to the birdroom. Some perch on the egg food sticks, some hang upside down on the cage fronts and others bow their heads to get a good look at me and they all stare with knowing eyes.

Sometimes my job gets in the way of my bird keeping but my job and my birds both mean a lot to me. My career with Norfolk Constabulary is hard work, very strict and appearance is the utmost. My uniform must be clean and perfect, tidiness, a clean look and a polished finish is a must. Well the same has to be said about my Java Sparrows. You will never see a smarter looking finch then the Java Sparrow. Feathers always look perfect, almost uniform style. They all look well groomed and tidy, with only their nails needing the occasional clip.

They bond very well with their partners and are fascinating creatures. I enjoy watching the youngsters that have finished the moult, flying around the aviary with pride. It’s fun to watch them explore every nook and cranny in my aviary.

I have found the worldwide web an interesting experience searching for Java material, and it is amazing how popular they are around the world. The whole of Europe seem fascinated by the Java, America, Canada, The Far East, China and Japan all love keeping the bird. It a shame that the species is endangered in its native home of Bali and Java, but in captivity the Java is thriving and they are very willing breeders.

I must admit I have been keeping and breeding birds for 18 years now but this year has been my most exciting. This is the first year that I have had a bird room and I have found the daily routine of looking after my birds fascinating. I would say that out of all the hobbies that one could choose bird keeping is the most rewarding but also one of the hardest. No coming home from work for a hard earned rest, it’s straight down the bird room for their last feed and tidy-up of the day.

Feed time is always exciting, my Java’s get canary mix and foreign finch mix as well as mixed grit that includes baked eggshells, oyster shell, pigeon minerals, and charcoal all mixed together. I also give them paddy rice as well as egg food, couscous and greens, mainly chickweed, dandelion and lettuce. They also like millet spray and peck them to pieces. I also provide them with drinking water and bathing water daily. Occasionally I also give the Java’s some 50/50 budgie mix which they love. They also love a soak seed which I am now using.

I am lucky that my wife Tracey is also very keen on bird keeping. My daughter and son are also very keen on the hobby. My son has purchased his first ever birds. No, it’s not the Java Sparrow but he has gone for the Hecks Grassfinch. My Wife keeps the Gouldian Finch. My Daughter likes the Parakeets.

The highlights of the year for me was watching my first ever Java chicks being born. I must have checked the nest box about six times that day, amazing. I also enjoyed the visit to my home from Steve Nesbitt. He is such a knowledgeable person and is a credit to the Society.

Sunday October 5th 2008 was my first ever show. I have always enjoyed the bird shows but have never indulged myself. I showed six Java Sparrows including Normal’s, Silvers & Fawns. I knew I would be in with a lot of competition from my club mate Brian Rudling who won the first ever Java Sparrow Society Show with his superb silver Java. In fact the Java Sparrows on show were all in tip top condition. Almost 30 in total which made them the best turned out species in the show (except for the Zebra Finches). I know you all would like to know how I got on, so this is how my first ever show ended. I won Best in the Show with a CYOB Silver Cock. I also won Best Silver and Best Normal Java as well as Best AOC. All in all I won four Rosettes and three place cards. The second show that I entered was the Diss & District Cage Bird Society which took place on December 6th. The show had over 500 birds entered and I managed to win five firsts in different categories. Three of these were with Java Sparrow’s, I also won two further Rosettes. These two shows are the only shows I have ever entered.

Although Java Sparrows are my favourite birds I have now taken a liking to the Irish Canary, they are the first birds to start breeding and appear to spur the other species on.

 

                               Above: Long John Silver best in the show!

 

The Short Life Of Long John Silver

Born 24/06/08 Passed away 14/03/09

2008 saw my first breeding of a silver Java Sparrow. Even before the moult he was a beautiful, smart and tidy bird. I named him Long John after the pirate and also because he was very tall and long and was in my eyes ‘the perfect bird’.

He was always the bravest bird in my aviary and would drop down onto the feed table while I was restocking the seed trays. He always stood tall on the perches and would not be intimidated by my other birds. I entered Long John in two local shows in Norfolk as a current year owner bred Java and he won best Java  Sparrow in both of them. This was a very exciting time for me and Long John seemed to like all the fuss as well.

Long John was never aggressive and seemed to get on well with everyone including my Weavers, Canary’s, Finches and Waxbills. He brought a lot of joy to my 2008 breeding season. He was the first bird I would check on every day. He came from a large family of seven brothers and sisters, but he was the only silver with the rest being Normal’s. I purchased his parents form Steve Nesbitt in 2007 they were a pair of Normal’s with the hen split for silver. My Silver Java was not what I would call a singer but he would chatter away all day making a tuttering sound. He was offered every type of seed you could imagine but his favourite was the Mixed Canary seed with dried egg. He couldn’t get enough of it. I would say he was probably the greediest bird I have ever kept.

After a nice long rest at the end of the 2008 season and after conditioning up my birds I decided on February 7th 2009 I would pair him up with another one of my 2008 Silver hens. They seemed a good match and looked ready to breed. They got on perfectly and were building their nest almost straight away in fact they were the first in my Bird room to build a nest in 2009 .It wasn’t long before the hen Silver started to lay her clutch. In fact she laid 15 eggs in the nest which was so exciting. I couldn’t wait for them to hatch and would check the nest box every day.

On the 15th March 2009 disaster struck on checking the breeding cages I found Long John dead on the floor of his cage just 262 days after he hatched.

It really upset me and it was like losing a close friend. I wanted to know what the cause of death was. Was it through fighting, stress, fright or illness? I took him from the cage floor and gave him a close examination. It was so easy to tell how he died, my poor Long John Silver was egg bound, part of the egg was poking out. As you have most probably already guessed I had sexed Long John incorrectly. He was in fact a she, a beautiful hen bird. She must have been the smartest girl around, she definitely tricked me into thinking she was a male.

I know now that she was too young to breed but unfortunately I can’t turn the clock back, all I can do is learn from my mistakes.

Goodbye Long John, thanks for the enjoyment you gave me! R.I.P 

     Above: Long John Silver enjoying posing in one of my flights!

 The Re-homing of Inmates

On Saturday 21st November 2009 Steve & Tracey Downes attended Wayland Prison along with Carol Venables from the SCA. The reason was because the aviaries at the prison were being taken down to make way for new inmates. The two aviaries were in the grounds of E-wing. The inmates on this wing are classed as vulnerable prisoners and are being moved to the newly opened prison called HMP Bure in Coltishall, just outside Norwich. The Governor at the Prison ordered the closure to make way for new inmates who may take advantage of the aviaries as a hiding place for non-authority substances?

Two Prison officers accompanied us in the E-wing aviaries which we were really grateful for because no sooner had we got into the flights it was exercise time for the inmates and you can imagine what happened next. We were surrounded by prisoners all staring at us. It was really intimidating for my wife Tracey and Carol but thankfully it all past without incident even though there were some big old lumps looking through the wire mesh and giving us advice (well that’s what they called it). The aviaries were massive and it was a real task trying to catch the birds. I mentioned to the wardens that sometimes it helped to spray the birds with water which slows the birds down. One of the Wardens went away and came back with a garden hose all connected to the system and said, "Will this help if I spray them with this". Myself, Tracey and Carol fell about laughing and so did the inmates. The Prison officer was deadly serious and thought I meant spraying the birds with a hose would help slow them down. I’m still laughing now and most probably so are the prisoners. I must admit that the two Officers both called Mick were diamond fellows and made us feel at ease on our visit to Wayland Prison that has previous held inmates such as Reggie Kray, Jeffrey Archer, Gary Glitter and more recently Jack Tweed.

80 birds in all were removed and now been found new homes, they included 37 Java Sparrows, 14 Cockatiels, 13 Zebra Finches, 10 Rosa Bourkes, 2 Quails, 1 Canary, 1 Rock pebble and 1 Barraband parakeet. The birds were in very large flights and in very good condition. Carol took 14 birds back to Windsor with her to their new homes and Steve distributed the other birds amongst members of the Norfolk Foreign Bird Association. The Java Sparrows were shared between seven members of the Norfolk FBA and most of them do not normally keep them, so watch this space because the Java Sparrow Society UK might end up with some new members from good old Norfolk in the very near future?

The food provided for the Java Sparrows were Foreign Finch mix, Parakeet mix, Cockatiel mix, Pellets and loads of fruit including oranges. Their food and water stations were also spotless and you could tell that a good deal of time was spent looking after them. They had access to indoor and outdoor flights and many of the Java’s were 2009 bred. The wardens stated that they had to stop them from breeding by taking away the nest boxes because they were at it all the time!

One of the birds was not suitable for rehoming. It was a Cockatiel which we called Scrout. He had a clipped wing which was cut right back to his main flight feathers. He was unable to fly and was kept in a separate cage because he was bullied by the other birds. We had to keep this bird ourselves. It loves sitting on my shoulder and wolf whistling at everybody! 2010 we purchased a mate for him and low and behold August 2011 they had a chick. It was a beautiful looking Cockatiel that loves and looks after Scrout.

BLACKBIRDS IN MY SHED 

2012 Was when I was going to pull down my shed and build a brick one. Waiting for the nice weather or should I say dry weather to come before I could start on this project. The Winter was very wet and to my amasement a pair of blackbirds decided to build a nest after entering the shed through a broken window. At first when I entered the shed they would fly away but after a time they began to ignore me and just got on with nest building and nest making. Still in our winter they managed to lay four eggs and sat very tight on them. To my surprise they had one chick, they both fed the chick but the hen sat with her the most. The chick fledge the nest (still in wintertime). I thought I will make sure they have left for good and then knock down the shed. On the day I was going to knock down the shed to my surprise I entered the shed to find the parents back again using the same nest. Five eggs they laid and it was still only springtime. They had three chicks and all three chicks survived and fledge the nest. They were around for along while using my garden feeders for surplus feed. Well before I knew it was summer and my shed was still standing. Again the blackbirds were back in the shed and to my surprise they had total trust in me and would sit again in the same nest and watch what I was doing in the shed. This time they laid four eggs and all four hatched. The chicks were great and fascinating to watch. Both the cock & the hen would go searching for food and leave the chicks for me to admire. All four chicks fledged the nest but this time spent most of the time in my neighbours garden who had the pleasure of watching the chicks being feed. On first leaving the nest I noticed all the chicks would return to the nest at night, most probably wanting to be in the safe hands of their parents. I do hope they return next year but I haven't got a clue where they will be building the new nest once my shed has gone. I really enjoyed the Blackbirds company and I was surprised the amount of mouths and dragonflies that they were taking to their nest. They spent alot of time on my lawn searching for insects and it would not bother them if I was in the garden. Their nest was mainly mud with grass and afew twigs.

 
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