Photo: Dave Brown. Breeding is underway with the normals as Dave tries to enhance his line  

Heavy feather around the vent, late pairings, weight gain and human error were just some of the factors that made an appearance during Dave Brown’s early breeding season observations. However, with a few rapid adjustments, the birds now seem to be back on track.

IT’S now a new year and I have high hopes for a successful zebra finch breeding season. Good normal hens are like gold dust and, in an effort to preserve my line, a real focus is needed in not only producing quality normals, but reasonable numbers, too. With that in mind, my breeding team has been split into two. The first team is made up of 80 per cent normal-to-normal pairings alongside a couple of chestnut-flanked white (CFW) pairs. The second team, which will be run together in the spring, is predominantly made up of CFWs and a few lightback black-faced. 

The original plan was to have the “A” team paired in early November. Cock birds were caught from the flight cages and housed individually in preparation for this, and the hens showed signs of being really ready, with nest scrapes being made in the cage corners. However, a few judging engagements and exhibiting at canary shows meant that spare time at the weekends was in short supply and pairing just did not happen, despite the birds appearing ready. The hens started laying on the cage floors and the cocks stayed housed on their own.

Pairing up didn’t actually happen until about a month later than planned and the reaction of the pairs, when introduced, was mixed. Some mated instantly, while others just stared across the perches at each other. In my heart of hearts, I knew I’d probably let the birds go over the top and that was reinforced as clutches of eggs were laid and checked. The fertility rate was rubbish and something I’m not used to seeing in the shed.

Usually, my disappointments are centred around full clutches of fertile eggs suffering from a proportion of dead in shell and chicks not being fed once hatched. Not even to get past first base was a real setback. Looking to determine the cause of the problem, I realised that a lot of the birds were carrying really heavy feather around the vents and this probably explained a proportion of the failed matings. Although I’ve trimmed vents in the past, it is something I’ve not done over the past couple of seasons, with little negative effect.

My birds with a slight step up in quality, however, seem to have evolved in terms of density of feather and I have now returned to the routine of trimming the feathers around the vent. This exposes the vent but still leaves the ring of guide feathers. I hope this should see a drastic increase in future fertility. I should have taken more time to study individuals as they were paired. 

A second factor was that several of the cocks that had been housed alone had, in a relatively short space of time, put weight back on that they had previously lost while they were in the flights. Keeping birds on their own allows them to become all too sedate, and the two birds worst affected have been put back in the flights to burn this off. 

Even the few fertile eggs have met with various disasters. Two rounds of eggs have been broken overnight with night fright from high winds or bangs and flashes from fireworks being the likely cause. Then, of course, you have to factor in human error. One hen refused to lay in the box, so her eggs were moved under a pair of fosters. On New Year’s Day I made the mistake of checking a few nest-boxes while I was sleep-deprived and perhaps a little hung over. The pair of feeders had laid an egg after the clutch of good eggs had been set. Being easily identifiable by its smaller size, I decided to remove it.

However, in my delicate state I managed to let the egg slip from my grasp, allowing it to ricochet off the other eggs. This resulted in one cracking in half and small hairline cracks in another two. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the repair job with some clear nail varnish to seal the cracks would be enough to save the developing embryos.

Surrey-based birdkeeper Dave Brown is a Zebra Finch Society panel judge.

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