Photo: Gary Bralsford. Gary’s montane and African yellow white-eyes in their winter quarters

This month, GARY BRALSFORD hits the ground running as he prepares his birds for the breeding season by employing an interesting tactic that involves playing wild bird calls…

WITH spring approaching in the next few months, all efforts are now in place to get my birds into breeding condition. Livefood is still fed very sparingly at the moment until early March. I only offer mini mealworms and mini waxworms at this time of year. Then from the first week of March I will introduce crickets – both brown and black – plus locust hoppers and waxworms. My thrushes will also receive a few Dendrobaena earthworms to get them prepared for using them when rearing.

Please note there is still a big shortage of mealworms of all sizes from the big suppliers and breeders. Make sure you have enough to start your spring preparations!

I use a lot of vitamins and additives at this time of year from a Dutch supplier and others in the UK that advertise in this paper. Vitamin D3 and calcium products are fed about every four days until the end of March. The little livefood that is fed is now dusted with a calcium supplement.

All my birds are split up out of the breeding season and, if possible, I will try to run cock birds at the side of the hen birds in dual flights or put the cock in a show cage inside the flight. This allows them to get used to seeing and hearing one another before being introduced.

When pairing up starts, most of the time it runs smoothly. Nonetheless, at times, you have to be ready with a net just in case one bird decides to attack the other. Early spring can be stressful for the birds and their owners and this is when potential losses occur.

I keep mostly African species of softbills and bought a few CDs featuring different song of African birds from all over the Continent. The idea is to play various songs of softbills in my collection over the coming weeks. This, I hope, will help stimulate my birds into breeding condition and get the cock birds singing.

I tried the CDs as an experiment and played the song of the brown-chested (aka chestnut-bellied) alethe (Pseudalethe poliocephala), montane white-eye (Zosterops poliogastrus) and African yellow white-eye (Z. senegalensis), plus others. The sound from my males in one birdroom was unbelievable. But the most amazing of the sounds came from my broad-billed rollers (Eurystomus glaucurus). Once the CD played the rollers calling, mine went into overdrive. I have hardly heard my birds make a sound in nearly two years, apart from a rattle call. They became very excited, and displayed and uttered calls I had never witnessed before.

I have stopped playing the CDs now until the end of March when the weather should be warmer and all the birds are ready to breed.

Recently, I have been in contact with my old friend Terry from Bristol, who has kept and bred many softbills for nearly 50 years. Terry loves his Asian bird species and breeds about 25-30 softbills per year. Look out for a future article on his time keeping and how he breeds softbills such as shamas and magpie-robins.

The next big bird event for me will be the Stafford Spring Bird Show on March 4. I hope there will be plenty of nice 2017-bred softbills available to purchase to add to my collection.

Gary Bralsford has bred softbills for some 30 years. His UK first breedings include chestnut-backed thrush, white-cheeked bulbul, green wood-hoopoe, lesser kiskadee and Moussier’s redstart. 

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