With birds soon approaching breeding condition, GARY BRALSFORD recommends keeping potential mates close, but safely apart

WITH 2019 now past, we welcome 2020 and all that the softbill keeper/breeder wishes for!

Spring is only three month away and all our birds are separated from their pairings, but the need to get them into condition starts now. Plenty of vitamin additives and minerals are required at this most important time of the year. We need to keep a careful watch on our birds every day, with a moult just passed and the start of hormone changes; we need to be ready to put pairs together, in which case squabbles and chasing are likely and accidents can happen. It’s always at this time of year that we may lose valuable birds. Personally I always seem to have a disaster at this point in the calendar. 

The bird next door

Although most of my pairs are split from one another until March, I try to run birds in adjoining aviaries so that they can see one another but cannot chase each other and cause damage or worse. I run several species together like this; I just make sure the birds are compatible, that they are the same size and on the same diets. It has worked for me for several years doing it this way. My friends Shaun and Karl also do it this way with their British and foreign softbills respectively.

It is also at this time of year when any aviary additions or new builds get started. A couple of my bird-breeder friends of several years have started on some big new builds.

Stephen from Suffolk has come back to the hobby after many years away from it. His building so far is a massive walk-through aviary with several purpose-built aviaries to house different species such as woodpeckers. A big aviary to house waterfowl, cranes and storks has also been built and is just waiting for a massive roof to cover it all.

The softbill aviary was opened the week before last autumn’s Suffolk Softbill Breeders show, but then came the devastating news that vermin had gained entry to the roof section. They had chewed their way in and one morning Stephen discovered he had lost birds of several softbill species. 

War on vermin

He had used a nylon roof wire that came recommended by the zoo world. Now a rethink was needed, and he has decided to use steel wire panels across the whole roof. It will take considerable expense and time to put right, but after all his misfortune he is determined to enjoy the hobby once again. I will update readers on his progress in the future.

Another friend, Richard from north Derbyshire, has also come back into the softbill hobby after years away. Some weeks ago he invited me to see his new project, and I must admit it is stunning: a credit to him and his hard work.

Sit down to enjoy

He has a range of six or so large aviaries with a lantern-type roof in the centre, which looks beautiful. All are fully landscaped with waterfalls and jungle-type planting of palms, vines and fig trees. The display of turacos and various African starlings and mynas, plus roul roul partridges and white-rumped shamas, makes exciting viewing. A shelter is also provided with artificial lighting and heating for the winter months. A nice undercover seating area finishes off a really good and well-planned setup.

In the same area of Derbyshire, my fellow softbill enthusiast Karl has started his long-term project of a new walk-through aviary. Having made a start, he will be eager to get it finished for the spring and what we all hope is a successful breeding season.

Happy New Year for 2020 to everyone!

Gary Bralsford has specialised in breeding rare and unusual softbills for many years.