Photo: Tony Tilford. Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu. Thirteen WFS members took on the 2017 Target Species challenge and between them bred 120 chicks

THE WAXBILL FINCH Society (WFS) has challenged members to breed red-winged pytilia (Pytilia phoenicoptera) this year, to help reverse its decline in captivity.

Over the past three years, numbers of this species bred by WFS members have dropped: in 2015, 58 were recorded, but by 2017 a mere 19 were bred.

Now, the WFS has put special breeding emphasis on the red-winged pytilia by listing it as the 2018 Target Species. Any member who successfully breeds this pytilia and returns their 2018 breeding forms will be presented with a WFS medal and certificate at the 2019 AGM.

Three species had been shortlisted for the 2018 challenge: the red-eared waxbill (Estrilda troglodytes) and lavender finch (E. caerulescens) as well as the red-winged pytilia. The latter received the most votes.

Neil Bickell, WFS breeding records officer, said: “All three need focusing on. But, in my opinion, the pytilia looks more at risk. Numbers bred have noticeably dropped since a couple of members retired from the hobby or moved on to other species. Last year, only three members bred this bird and 10 were UK-bred.”

The Target Species award was introduced in 2016 to highlight and tackle declining species among WFS members. First up was the orange-cheeked waxbill (see News, June 22, 2016) after members recorded only one chick the previous year.

“This was the lowest breeding return since 2001. Numbers had been quite low before this date so the warning signs were there,” Mr Bickell explained.

The introduction of the award was a success: that year, 31 chicks were recorded from seven breeders and this improved to 55 chicks the following year.

According to the WFS, this scheme would benefit other specialist clubs too. Mr Bickell said: “It challenges members and gives a sense of achievement, especially when you see numbers increase.”

The species chosen annually for the Target Species award is based on WFS breeding returns, which date back to 1992. Officials also take into account each species availability and affordability. Currently, the WFS look at species that are a maximum of £150 a pair.

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