Above: Chestnut-backed tanager: a fine softbill which has been bred recently by Peter Moore © Shutterstock.com/Andrew M. Allport


Fans of keeping and breeding exotic softbills must never forget the songbird crisis in the East, warns GARY BRALSFORD


WITH Christmas and New Year celebrations well out of the way, attention is now focused on getting through the rest of winter and into spring.

Chocolate eggs are now beginning to appear in supermarkets in anticipation of Easter and everything springing into bloom, while garden centres are stocking up on plants and bulbs and other useful items for the gardener and birdkeeper.

Bargains can be found right now on nest-boxes and baskets from garden centres and some are in the sales as new stock arrives. Even Christmas garlands can be picked up cheaply, and these make brilliant nest sites for our softbill birds.

The news is full of Brexit but, like most people, I am fed up of hearing about it on every news bulletin. What will the effect be on the birdkeeper once we leave, one way or the other, in March? Only time will tell.

The contacts I have in Europe tell me the movement of birds will become more restricted between European countries and it will become more difficult to bring birds into the UK from places such as Holland and Belgium. I have also been told there has already been a major crackdown by Dutch and German border controls on bird movement.

With the Asian Silent Forest campaign across Asia being promoted across the world, there is now more awareness of birds being illegally smuggled out of that continent. The main illegal softbills are not leaving Asia but are actually going into the songbird markets there. Birds from Sumatra, Borneo and other Indonesian islands are being trapped en masse to fuel Asian demand. A few might find their way into Europe, but not many. That said, a friend told me a Dutch dealer had had 45,000 Euros worth of birds confiscated because inspectors found a few pairs of white-rumped shama (Copsychus malabarcicus) and Oriental magpie-robin (C. saularis) in his birds for sale: both extremely popular as cage birds in the Far East, though also legitimately established in European aviculture.

With the authorities watching all animals in captivity, we all have to be seen to be whiter than white. It merely proves that we must breed what we have and exchange ideas and birds to continue this great hobby for years to come. When it comes to breeding our softbills it makes little odds whether they are  UK first-, second- or third- generation birds.

Which brings me to my long-term friend and top softbill breeder Peter Moore. I have known Peter for 15 years or more and his knowledge of breeding the most difficult softbills has to be commended.

He has had many UK firsts, with some recognised and some not being put forward for recognition. His breeding of the chestnut-backed tanager (Tangara preciosa) to the third generation is a brilliant achievement. He breeds from two pairs of these birds and, surprisingly, a cock bird that has only one leg, yet he manages to fill every egg the hen lays.

His big breeding achievement in 2018 was from a pair of chestnut-capped brushfinches (Arremon brunneinucha), originally classed as a softball, but as of 2017 placed into the family Passerellidae, the greatly expanded assemblage officially called “New World sparrows”.

This will certainly be a UK first. A Dutch breeder tried to breed them for four years and the longest they survived was for 10 days. He gave up with them and traded them into a dealer. Peter bought those and another unrelated pair and to date he has bred four young, although he lost one chick quite early that is a fantastic achievement.

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

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