Photo: Gary Bralsford. A new species Gary has acquired to try to breed from next year: fine-spotted woodpecker (Campethera punctuligera) 

With his breeding season nearly over, GARY BRALSFORD takes stock of some splendid highlights – and takes the opportunity to introduce a couple of potential stars for next year.

The breeding season is now closing with some softbills going into a moult. Asian softbills seem to follow the European birds and breed from late March to mid-August, whereas African softbills vary in when they go down to breed and when they finish. My softbills from South America seem to be later-breeding and will go on to nest in October with the right aviary conditions.

My royal starlings (Lamprotornis regius) had a second round of three eggs, but all were clear. At the time of writing, they have been building the nest up again. They do not seem as eager to build this time, however, so perhaps the mixed weather is having an effect and the moulted feathers will start to fall.

My Bali starlings (Leucopsar rothschildi) have been stopped for this year, while the Moussier’s redstarts (Phoenicurus moussieri) have three new chicks in the nest that will fledge any day now. The cock bird has been mating the hen again and a third round could be possible. I am trying to confirm that my Moussier’s redstarts are a UK first – indications are that it could well be.

Both have been unbelievable parents and feeding the chicks ever so well. They prefer mini waxworms and white skinned mealworm, of both regular and mini size. They also get size-three brown crickets and very small locust hoppers dusted on every feed with a top-quality calcium powder that is normally used for reptiles.

I have noticed for the first time that my broad-billed (cinnamon) rollers (Eurystomus glaucurus) are feeding each other and the hen will call at the entrance hole of the nest-box. This is at an angle, so the rollers can walk down the inside to a nest scrape of peat, sand and sawdust.

Jobs for this time of year include cutting back rampant growth of plants on the flights that could damage the aviary wire. I have had to do this already to mine. The nights are gradually getting darker, so preparation for this might as well start now. Replace daylight bulbs and fluorescents, and make sure night lights and timer dimmers are working OK.

My softbill friends have had a varied season, so here goes. Tony in Liverpool lost a nest of white-crown robin-chats (Cossypha albicapillus), but unknown to him they built a flimsy nest on top of a log and three chicks hatched. This was after he removed all the nest-boxes and nest material. It just shows that if birds are in condition, they will find a way to breed.

A friend in Hull has bred one blue-necked tanager (Tangara cyanicollis) and his burnished-buff tanagers (T. cayana) keep laying clear eggs. Colin Scott has had three young crowned hornbills fledge, but he is disappointed with his other hornbills and barbets.

Bob, at present, has had three Virginian cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) fledge and his Cape robin-chats (Cossypha caffra) and shamas were back on eggs. Another friend, Pete, has bred some rufous-bellied niltava (Niltava sundara) – a cracking breeding.

As discussed earlier, the breeding season might be slowing down, but you should keep a good stock of livefood just in case. There seems to be a shortage of morio worms (super giants) in the UK. This comes only weeks after a shortage of regular mealworms and minis.

This appears to have been compounded by some Continental breeders packing up mealworm breeding. It sounds like two big producers over there are no longer in business. At the moment regular mealworms seem to be OK after
a customer regulation on the amount you could buy. If you require morio worms, however, it might pay to search the internet. With the breeding cycle of these worms being three months or so, the shortage might last for some time.

Gary Bralsford has bred foreign softbills for almost 30 years.

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