Above: The ideal Bengalese finch has no white feathers at all: according to the show standards, they are not permissible. Photo: Tony Edwards
TONY EDWARDS has recently reintroduced self Bengalese into his stud and here outlines the challenge of trying to breed the perfect specimen – minus any white feathers
OVER the past couple of years, I have often referred to the re-introduction of self Bengalese into my stud. In this article, when I use the term “selfs” I am referring specifically to “coloured selfs” (self chocolates, self fawn and self chestnuts) as opposed to all selfs: noting that pink-eyed whites (albino) and dark-eyed whites are classified for showing as self whites.
I resumed with a small group of self chocolates of multiple origins, fostering chicks to variegated birds when I had small clutch sizes. Bengalese can raise a single chick, but some pairs (of any variety) give up feeding too early with one or two chicks, so fostering to another pair is a safer option.
It is often assumed that all Bengalese varieties behave in the same manner, but this is not always the case. At the peak of my previous breeding with selfs in the mid-to-late 1990s, I did not identify any significant differences between them and any of my other colours. My birds at that time probably had few, if any, hybrid ancestors.
Subsequent reported problems with breeding selfs may have resulted from the use of essentially “wild” birds into the domesticated stock. However, although clearly having mainland European influences, my current selfs have bred well and have been attentive parents – with just one exception. Recently a pair of second-generation self chocolates fed a nest of four chicks well for more than two weeks. Then one morning, I found all of the chicks dead. On close inspection (I don’t check nests daily), I think the weakest chick had died and the parents then stopped feeding the rest.
My next adventure was with self fawns. Last summer I set two pairs of self fawn to self fawn and a further two pairs of self fawn to self chocolate. I am using self chocolates with my self fawns, as the self chocolates are of a better quality for exhibition purposes.
Chocolate is dominant to fawn, so I will need to wait for at least one further generation to see if this works well for me. All four pairs successfully produced chicks. Interestingly, most of the self fawns and their descendants, including the self chocolates, are different from my other birds as they usually squawk loudly when being handled. They are also determined peckers. It is unusual for some Bengalese, especially hens, to peck when being held, but I am now very cautious with them. Pairs to breed more self fawns will be set after Easter.
I now also have a couple of self chestnuts that have been paired to self chocolates. Starting with only a few birds, I decided to pair them separately, as the failure of the hen to lay eggs or the cock to fertilise them, would have delayed the establishment of the chestnut gene in my stock. Although chestnut is dominant to fawn and chocolate is dominant to chestnut, I chose chocolate initially, as the quality of my self chocolates is better than my self fawns. The self chestnut cock was bred in 2015, hence my desire to get chicks from him as soon as possible. Five promising chicks have been closed ringed and I have another nest of two younger chicks.
One issue with breeding selfs is the common occurrence of white feathers which, according to the show standards, is not permissible. Even when breeding with multiple generations of birds without any white feathers, they can still occur. This is not surprising, as it is possible that many selfs are still genetically variegated; the absence of white not being a definite indicator that the bird is a “pure” self. The white feathers typically appear under the lower mandible, in the wing or tail, normally as a single feather or two, or in the lower breast, often as a small patch.
White feathering can occur with age, especially on the lower breast. This has happened recently with one of my main breeding hens. I take the view that no Bengalese can be a bad colour for breeding, but I will avoid any bird with more than a few white feathers or pairing two birds together if both display this fault. Ideally, I would like to eliminate all birds with any white feathers, but overall quality will outweigh minor feather faults when selecting my breeding pairs. If chicks are produced from a pair with easily visible white feathers at a young age, then I will also discontinue the pairing as soon as possible.
For the first time when breeding selfs, I have produced a self chocolate chick with white patches in both wings.
A sibling with the same fault died at a young age, but other siblings appear to have no white feathering. Question: would I use this mismarked self for breeding? The answer is a qualified “yes”, as I would consider using it with my chocolate and whites as an outcross. The determining factors will be its type, size and depth of colour.
A history of colour
THE Bengalese finch was first bred in Japan, circa 300 years ago, from white-rumped munias (Lonchura striata swinhoei), probably the subspecies imported from southern China. In the 1870s, variegated Bengalese (chocolate and whites and fawn and whites) and dark-eyed whites were recorded as being imported into Europe.
The original selfs were developed in Denmark by selectively pairing variegated birds to remove all white feathering. In the mid-1950s some of these Bengalese were imported into the UK and Germany.
Genetically these birds will still have been variegated. Subsequently, in Germany and later in the Netherlands, the colour of the selfs was darkened and the chest markings (often referred to as shelling) made more distinct by pairing them to other Lonchura species. Many of these European Bengalese were later introduced into the UK, so the colours and markings are now quite similar.
Tony Edwards is the vice-chairman of the National Bengalese Fanciers Association.
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