Although known for breeding colour canaries, STEVE LINES has a passion for other colourful hardbills, too. Here he shares advice for keepers of these exotic birds with Dave Brown

I first visited Steve Lines a few years back to learn about his successful stud of colour canaries. He was breeding colour canaries in big numbers at the time and the birdroom housed several of the more unusual melanin varieties such as pheao and opal.

 The quality of the birds was outstanding and notable wins with the canaries include best champion in both the lipochrome and melanin sections at the Canary Colour Breeders Association Home Counties Zone show one year. The canaries are still a big part of the Lines aviary, but over the last few years there have been new arrivals in the form of parrotfinches and other foreign seedeaters. 

Early stages

Steve started birdkeeping at about seven years of age. Foreign birds were always the bird of choice back then and as his birdkeeping ability developed, softbills and large parakeets featured in the collection. So, what caused this return to his birdkeeping roots? Steve obtained some exhibition zebra finches to keep for some additional interest alongside the canaries. This, in turn, led to visits to the southern branch meeting of the Waxbill Finch Society and parrotfinches joined the birdroom. To house the foreign birds, the canary shed was divided and flights built.

Most recently, Steve has had the opportunity to design and build a new birdroom for his canaries and seedeaters and it’s fair to say it is the envy of many a birdkeeper. Steve is often to be found out promoting the fancy at events on the Waxbill Finch Society stand.

The birdroom looks amazing. What’s the spec?

The new birdroom is split into two to accommodate both the canaries and foreign. The entrance is through the foreign section as, in the old shed, the design meant that the canaries were in the front half, so when it was dark you couldn’t walk through to the foreign section for fear of disturbing the canaries. It’s fair to say that the foreign have taken over a bit and they have the larger section of the birdroom. 

The entire structure is 8m x 4m (27ft x 13ft) and the canary section is about 2m x 4m (7ft x 13ft). It is set on a proper base of concrete, four inches of insulation and two inches of screed so hopefully there is no chance of vermin burrowing up through it! The entire structure is well insulated and the windows and door are double glazed as I aim to keep the foreign section heated to about 21°C. The canary section does not need heat.

There are nine 1.2m x 0.6m (4ft x 2ft) breeding flights and a larger holding flight. The front of the flight includes a metal cage front above the door – all the feeders, drinkers and the bath are fitted here and can be serviced from outside the flight which avoids the disturbance that would be caused if I entered the flight to feed and water. Although not the plan, the nest-box door in the fronts, intended for baths, have in some cases ended up seeing a nest-box fitted in response to some birds trying to build nests on the wooden ledge above the door. 

All this despite a range of nest-boxes and baskets at the back of the flight and some cover for self-built nests in the form of plastic Christmas tree branches fitted to wooden wine racks fitted about half-way up the back wall. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious favourite nesting site and pairs will move around from nest to nest. Rather than the usual welded mesh, I used black plastic horticultural netting for my flights. It was much more economical: I did all the flights for about £50. The black makes the birds much more visible and if fledglings fly at it there is less chance of a hard impact.

MOST of the cages are PVC. A row can be divided into one 1m (3ft) wide breeding cage with two 46cm (18in) breeders alongside, fitted with plastic nest-boxes. The canary section is kitted out with the wire cages I used previously in the old shed. The floor is tiled to allow for easy cleaning, which is particularly useful in the flights. The foreign section is lit for about 15 hours a day.

What’s in the collection?

SL: Alongside the canaries, there are parrotfinches – Mount Katanglad, Peale’s and pin-tailed – as well as tricoloured nuns, Moluccan mannikin, black and white mannikin, Cubans, lavenders, pearl-headed silverbills, chestnut-breasted mannikin, Gouldian, crimson finches and firefinches.

In the flights I house a pattern of three mixed pairs, next to two pairs. So, for example, the first and third flight house a pair each of tricoloured, Moluccan and Cubans. Next to them is a pair of lavenders with a pair of Katanglads. 

I’m also still working the zebra finches and have normals and pieds. While the focus and aim with most of the foreign is solely to achieve breeding success, the aim with the zebbies is to try and breed showable pairs.

Observation is key when setting up the mixed flights as temperament does vary between individuals but most species should live in harmony with other species in the collection. A word of warning on lavender and Cuban finches – two cock birds of the same species should not be housed together as fighting will occur, with male Cubans being particularly aggressive to other cock birds of their own kind. 

Do you have a favourite?

If I admitted to one, I’d say the Mount Katanglads – they’re very steady in nature, have attractive colouring and a bit of character about them. They have bred in both cage and flight. They want clean, light, airy accommodation and benefit from a large breeding cage as they are prone to putting on weight quickly, which will impact on breeding results. They love green millet, which I freeze so it can be offered throughout the year. Sexing is fairly straightforward, with the males brighter in the face.

Species where the sexes are similar in appearance, I will send off feathers for DNA sexing. Peale’s are a bit more flighty so need to be left undisturbed. The pin-tailed aren’t too bad but can moult twice a year so keeping the cock and hen in the same feather sequence can be challenging. To try and get around this I currently have three pairs sharing a flight so that hopefully there are always males and females in sync. 

What is the diet plan?

All receive a good quality foreign finch mix made up of a range of small millets. Parrot finches also receive a commercial parrot finch mix alongside this that contains a variety of seeds including grass seeds. Both red and white millet spray is also available, with French red appearing to be a favourite.

I don’t feed actual livefood but, instead, frozen pinkies and buffs (maggots) are defrosted and offered up in the softfood. This is mixed up daily. When rearing, birds receive this mix twice a day plus an offering of green millet morning and evening. I try to keep the feeding straightforward as my wife kindly feeds the birds several times a week and different individual diets would increase the workload for both her and anyone that feeds them if we are away. It is definitely a good idea to keep the diet consistent and not overfeeding.