Photo: Austin Middlemiss. Two in one: the Siberian cock’s left side is more advanced than the right, showing the clear contrast between the first-winter and adult plumages

 

WELL the inevitable has happened: I’ve bought another flight. However, the reason is not so that I can keep an ever-growing number of birds, but to provide even better accommodation. At present I have four thrushes in the main flight with access to the inside flight. These are the young song thrush (Turdus philomelos) pair and the two ground thrush cocks: my Siberian (Geokichla sibirica) and orange-headed (G. citrina).

Although this is not an ideal situation, there has been no excessive bickering. A distinct pecking order has been established, with the Siberian as the “top dog” followed by the satinette song thrush hen and orange-headed cock, with the double split song thrush cock bringing up the rear. There are also a handful of finches in there, which the thrushes do not seem to bother apart from the occasional bill snapping by the Siberian if anything comes too close.

I arrived at this compromise primarily because of the easy access to bathing provided by my pump-system bath, which I described in detail in my aviary design article last year (see August 2 issue). The pair of song thrushes will occupy this aviary for the breeding season, so the two spare cocks will need to be removed soon anyway.

I was not happy with the feather condition of the Siberian cock, in particular, when he was caged separately. To provide bathing facilities for enthusiastic bathers such as thrushes, even in a decent-sized cage, is not easy and if the flight feathers start to appear drier and brittle, then condition will suffer. Indeed, when I first put him in the flight he was not the strongest flyer.

Yet now, in spite of my best efforts in turning off the pump shortly after lunchtime, I have on occasions found him basically soaked through, even on the coldest of afternoons, and he has taken no harm. I am pretty sure that he and some of the others roost in the outside quarters but can’t establish this for certain without risking disturbance to any that are roosting outside.

Meanwhile, with the adult pair of song thrushes inside for the winter since their flight was constructed as a “summer only” accommodation, I find I have the same problem trying to keep their plumage clean and in top condition. So the new flight is under construction. It is basically a 3.7m x 2m (12ft 4in x 6ft 6in) structure, but it will be subdivided into smaller units with effectively a safety corridor joining them all up. I have had to work round a tree that I did not want to remove, so the floor plan is as set out in the diagram (below left).

I purchased a basic box section flight covered in 6mm (¼in) mesh to exclude all rodents. Then I built a base using treated timber and again covered in 6mm (¼in) mesh. This stands on a concrete base that was a dog run when I had my English pointer, Jock. The rear has been clad with shiplap over the wire, and the roof and sides are completely covered with 16mm (2/3in) triple glaze polycarbonate sheeting to protect the occupants in winter.

The front section is double wired at any point where a hawk or cat could possibly gain access to the birds. When finished there will be a floor-to-ceiling 1.2m x 61cm (4ft x 2ft) flight just by the door entrance, and a floor-to-ceiling 2m x 91cm (6ft 6in x 3ft) flight on the right-hand side. The remaining 2.8m (9ft 4in) back wall will have four large flight cages measuring 1.4m x 61cm x 67cm deep (4ft 8in x 3ft x 2ft 2in), which can be turned into two 2.8m (9ft 4in) flight cages if required.

In the breeding season these four flight cages will be used for individual finch hybrid or mule pairs and provide individual winter housing for thrushes. The much greater size is the advantage, plus the ability to provide large hanging bath facilities on each flight without concerns about water splashing everywhere in a relatively small inside birdroom. I can absolutely confirm that this is the last new bird structure for the garden and as the old saying goes: “My wife is unanimous on that!” Good job she’s so understanding.

Not much to report on the majority of the thrushes themselves and I’m happy to say that the problems with the two satinettes that I covered last month (see March 7 issue) are completely resolved, albeit the hen will undoubtedly show signs until she completes the next month. The Siberian cock, however, is the exception to the “nothing to report” statement because he is near to coming into his magnificent adult plumage. This species has an interim moult and he is now almost complete.

If you compare the photos (see one to four) you will see a considerable difference. Most of the throat, cheek and breast markings have been replaced by the adult plumage. In addition, that little more than a hint of a buff supercilium (eye-stripe) has been replaced with a much more substantial adult white supercilium. The final photo shows him nearing his full adult plumage. Although it is slightly more complete down his left hand side, this helps to show off the contrast between the first winter and adult plumage. Of course, I am completely biased but personally I think the Siberian thrush is a stunning bird in any plumage. If only I could get a hen for him! A local contact had managed to source one, unfortunately not for me but another fancier who was also desperately looking for a hen. One of the big dealers on the Continent who I asked to look out for a hen did say that there were mainly cock birds available in Europe.

Of the various species that I have seen available on the sales websites the standouts have to be a pair of blue whistling thrushes (Myophonus caeruleus). No doubt this would have been extremely interesting to my mate, Tom, but, like me, he was looking for a hen to make up a pair.

Out of the British species that caught my eye, the pick were a pair of fieldfares and single mistle thrush offered by an Italian fancier. Given their scarcity in UK aviculture the fieldfares were a good buy, in my opinion, at a mere €250 (£223 approx) for the pair. But I did stipulate above that the new aviary is not intended to accommodate more birds, so temptation did not get the better of me. ■

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