Above: a lightback and normal still in the nest. The normal has a promising head

 

An unproblematic early breeding season isn’t at all what DAVE BROWN is used to, so he’s enjoying a relative deluge of chicks – while not going overboard on the potential he sees

 

MORE often than not, my tales from the zebra finch shed at this time of year are full of woe and hindsight. Not so this year, however, with things running fairly close to plan. And while there has been the odd disappointment (such as a normal hen keeling over for no apparent reason, the odd clear round of eggs and a few squashed chicks), all in all things are running smoothly, with healthy rounds of chicks now leaving the nest-boxes with, as I write, 50-plus youngsters closed-ringed.

There are a few promising ones among them, with the predominant colour being normal (with a high percentage of cocks). There are also a good few lightbacks split black cheek that will be key, next breeding season, to achieving my goal of producing some decent full-coloured black cheeks. Finally, there is a single normal black cheek youngster which showed some promise during nest inspections. Youngsters can and do change as they mature, for better or worse, so it is always wise to remain level-headed with chick assessments at this early stage.

While limited in number, there are also some good looking chestnut-flanked whites emerging. But the focus as the season progresses will have to be on producing more of this variety to preserve the line. Most of the clear eggs and chick losses I have mentioned previously seem to have been particular to the CFWs. As a result, many CFW pairs have been split for a week or two to slim down and build up some extra eagerness.

When re-pairing, I will also trim the vents with scissors. (Due to the pressure of time I plucked vent feathers by hand as I introduced pairs to each other.) The problem with this method is that feathers can grow back rapidly, and my lack of observation meant that some pairs that were slow to lay, or had laid a second round, had already seen a thick layer of feather grow back over the vent. In some cases this may have prevented a clean mating and eggs being fertilised. However, all is certainly not lost at this early stage and perseverance with one particular CFW hen shows promise. This hen failed to lay during the 2018 season and was showing the same trait when originally paired up. But finally, after a couple of months, an egg has appeared in the nest-box. Hopefully more will follow and they will in turn be fertile.

A trick I have used for several seasons to avoid chick losses after chicks leave the nest-box is to place a daily bath on the cage. This makes water easy to find and ensures that chicks do not become dehydrated, creating the opportunity for stress and illness to take hold. One slight snag this year is that my new cages have a much higher front rail so the bath is higher up the cage than previously, with some youngsters appearing to be slow on the uptake. In response to this I have, on occasions, placed a dish of water in the actual cage, to good effect. The water is quickly soiled, however and needs to be changed regularly.

With a good number of new young birds to accommodate, I was very grateful to welcome master craftsman Gareth Hollings all the way from Devon over to my place to construct three very nice inside flights in my original birdroom. He has done a grand job and they are so well constructed that I’m sure they’ll last for ever! The flights will hopefully prove to be the ideal place for young birds to grow and develop.

 

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