Breeding Softbill Song Birds –
Breeding Softbill Songbird
By Roland and Ilana Cristo
Songbirds have long been the most popular of cage birds in the world.
Indeed in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and through that area they raise Softbilled birds, Shamas , Magpie robins, bulbuls, White- eyes, Zoothera thrushes, Pekin Robins, Leaf-birds, And many other species for the purposes of breeding and having songbird contests.
In Brazil and other parts of South America they are working with birds like Bicudas (great- billed seed finch) ,Curios (lesser seed finch) Cuban bullfinch, Ultra- marine Grosbeaks, Cardinals, Siskins, many of the species in the Sporophila genus and others birds. They are breeding these species and many others for their song. They use regional song dialects from different parts of the country to teach their birds. They will have singing contests and also show them.
For species such as the Bicudas and Curios breeding is done with the co-operation of the Brazilian government. Indeed probably the largest Avicultural organization in the world is in Brazil. I have been told this organization has 30,000 members. They own their own meeting facilities throughout the country where they show their birds for confirmation and song.
NOTE— we have many people from these cultures now living in the US. In fact the Asian community, in the Los Angeles area, have these same song contests.
And of course the various canary species are bred in the USA and Europe for their song and show.
Definition of “Softbill”
The word “softbill” is strictly an Avicultural term that covers many, many species of birds.
There are many classifications of bird species, Anseriformes, Galliformes, Psittaciformes, Passerformes, etc.
Finches—( Passerformes) basically feed on seeds, they crack the seed using their beaks and tongue to manipulate the seed and take the “husk” off, parrot type birds do the same thing. Softbill birds do not do that. They may “swallow “or break it open by holding in their feet and pecking with their beaks, but they don’t process the seed with their beaks/tongue first. Softbills whether insectivorous, frugivorous, or omnivorous, basically eat items with little preparation.
They are called softbill because they feed on “soft Items”,,,,,such as fruit, nectar, insects , foliage and other food items. The most critical thing that determines whether a species is a softbill species is illustrated by this quote from Richard Mark Martins book “Unlike most seedeaters, softbills feed their “altricial” young by placing fresh undigested items in their beaks, and not by regurgitation.”
Shamas (Copsychus malabaricus)
They are from Southeast Asia, ranging from Western India, in the west, to Borneo in the east. There are 12 subspecies, from various areas differing mainly in length of the tale and markings on the head . They are an insectivore species eating and spending much of their time in the undergrowth of the forest ranging from sea level to six hundred meters in elevation. In areas such as Thailand and Borneo they range up to 1500 meters. Pairs spend their time separately only coming together during the breeding season. Males can be very aggressive in captivity and if a female isn’t ready to nest he can do extreme harm to her and if not watched carefully will kill her. Once they make a nest, problems are reduced, they will nest up to 4 or five times a year. Clutch consist of 4- 5 each clutch. There are a light and dark colored females. Dark colored females can be mistaken at first glance as males.
They are dimorphic.
Snowy Crowned Robin Chat (Cossypha niveicaplla)
They are from western Central Africa east to mid Africa. They range from sea level to 1500 meters in central Africa , to 2500 meters in Eastern Africa. This is another species much like the shama spending much of its time foraging in the lower part of the forest searching for insects. Again, like the Shama, male and female spend time apart until breeding season. Males can be very aggressive toward their hens.
They are monomorphic.
White- eared Bulbuls (Pycnonotus leucotis)
They are from eastern Iraq in the west all the way into northwestern India in the east .They inhabit dry woodland to semi desert scrub from the Lowlands to about 2000 meters. There are two subspecies in this genus.
Their diet is mainly fruit , flower buds and nectar, consuming some live insects (especially when they have young).
They are monomorphic.
Red Vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer)
They range from Pakistan in the west , east to Thailand .They live in drier deciduous habitant , forest scrub ,orchards ,and gardens.
Their diet is much like the white eared being mainly a fruit eater (feeding insects when they have young).
There are 8 sub-species.
They are monomorphic
Red crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronate)
They range from eastern Bolivia south to Argentina , including Paraguay and southern Brazil.
Habitant includes semi open forest , scrub forest, agriculture areas, parks, towns and cities They eat a variety of food ,seed, buds ,berries and insects foraging mainly on the ground.
They are considered by many to be a super-species with the Red-cowled (pope cardinal in the US) (Paroaria dominicana)
There are 5 “color” mutations being bred in Brazil.
They are monomorphic.
Pekin Robin (Leiothrix lutea)
They range from N.E. Pakistan in the west to eastern china in the east , from 75m-3400m in elevation.
Habitat includes thick under growth and mixed forest, bamboo clumps. They are basically an insectivore species consuming some seeds, fruit and berries.
They move about in the none breeding season in flocks of up to a hundred birds , breaking up into pairs to go to nest in breeding season. They build a neat open nest laying 3-5 eggs per clutch.
There are 5 sub species , differing in the intensity and amount of coloring.
They a monomophic.
Magpie Shrikes (Corvinella melanoleuca)
They range from north west Kenya in the north , south Zimbabwe and northern south Africa. Their habitant ranges from savanna woodlands, scattered acacia, more commonly in moist areas up to 1800M.
They feed on arthropods, termites , insects , lizards, mice, fresh or rotting meat and fruit.
They are a boisterous species and when nesting young birds from previous nests will help raise the current clutch. They build a neat open nest laying 4-5 eggs.
There are 4 sub-species, differing in the amount of white in the plumage.
They are Dimorphic
Blue-Black Grosbeak (Cyanocompsa cyanoides)
Ranging from Southern Mexico in the north south to Bolivia and N. Brazil and east to the Guianas, a wide spread species . Their habitant is evergreen forest thickets and dense vegetation ( probably the reason for being so scarce in captivity) from sea level to 1400 M elevation.
They are mainly a seed eating species , eating green food and some insects.
They build an open nest and a normal clutch is 2 eggs.
There are 4 sub- species the differanc is in the amount of blue coloring on the birds.
They are Dimorphic.
Black –crested finch (Lophospingus pusillus)
They range from southern Bolivia in the north east to western Paraguay and south to central eastern Argentina , up to 2000 M in Bolivia, living in grassy pastures adjacent to woodlands.
They forage on the ground in pairs or small flocks consuming seeds and some insects.
They build an open nest and lay 2-3 eggs.
They are dimorphic.
Attachment “A” (last page) shows how we mix our diet and what is fed to each flight/species.
We are presently working with insectivore, frugivore and omnivore species.All insectivore species are fed using a high and low feeder. We do this because the insectivore species can be very aggressive. The males can dominate a hen and not let her feed.
It is very important when working with these birds when they have babies, that they are fed first thing early in the morning- especially the insectivores. If they don’t have live food first thing in the morning to feed their young, chances are the young will be thrown out. So we make it a priority to be up just after sunrise to feed any of the insectivore species with babies.
At that time any other species with babies are also fed live insects. The insectivore species that have babies are fed every three or four hour intervals throughout the day. The fruit eating species are fed three to four times a day.
Automatic feeder- When we were working a full time off the premises job, we used an automatic (battery operated) feeder. It has 5 feeding stations and can be set to come on at any time interval you wish in a 24 hr. period. We would put live food into each container and set it to rotate every 2-3 hrs. starting at 7 am. Then feed more live food when we got off work.
Nests building- We give the birds coconut fiber that we purchase in bundles, along with fine grass to use as nesting materials. We put enough of this material into the flights so the parents can complete a nest. This normally takes two to five days. If there isn’t enough material available while they are building their nest, they will tear apart what they have constructed and start over again. It is very important that they are furnished with enough material to complete their nest from start to finish! We use wicker type baskets for the birds to make the nest. We attach at least one basket to one of the silk trees and attach another basket into the homemade half open wooden box that we construct on site. The nest is a very neat structure when completely built.
From the time they lay eggs to when the young fledge the nest is kept as neat as when it was first built. The young deficate in a fecal mucous sack capsule . Most of the nesting passerines do this. The parents take the capsule, fly away from the nest and drop it. This is done so the perimeter around the nest shows no sign of the babies. Predators that might eat the chicks are not attracted to the nest. Cavity nesting passerines such as starlings also remove the fecal capsules for protection and hygiene.
Fledglings- Young come off the nest at 12+/- days old. Their tail is barely ¼ inch long. Their ability to fly is limited and it will take 2-5 days before they can fly to the higher perches. For the first couple of days when they aren’t able to fly to the higher perches, it’s important that they can get up off the ground to roost at night.
Therefore there needs to be a lot of branches on the ground for them to roost up off the ground. If they roost on the ground the dampness makes them lethargic and they don’t respond when the parents go to feed them. The parents feed the young that do respond, thus you lose the ones that don’t respond! This is very important with the insectivore species, Shama, Robin chats, and Pekin Robins. We have gone so far as to catch the young at dusk, put them into a small container and into a brooder ,take them out at day break and the parents go right back to feeding them.We do it for a couple of days till the young are able to fly. We have done that with 4 different pairs of Shamas without a problems.
Bird Type Soft food Beef heart (ground) Sliced beef heart Fruit Egg Food Dry Egg Insect dry Meal worms Tofu mix Bird Type Soft food Beef heart (ground) Sliced beef heart Fruit Egg Food Dry Egg Insect dry Meal worms Tofu mix Shama
X Optional X X X Touraco
X X X Kooks
X/Mice Diamond Sparrows
X X Hawfinch
X X X(6) Cardinals
Little X X Little X(6) X Barbets
X Little X(6) X Pekin Robins
X Little X X X Little Vasa
X X X X Barbary Shrike
X X X X Bulbuls
X X X X X Robin Chats X X X
Fruit mix- We use Apples, Maradol papaya, carrots, Blueberries These are processed in a food chopper, then we add Green peas. It is mixed well and served as needed. All birds have a dry mix in front of them at all times. The fruit eaters (bulbuls ,barbets and such) always have a bowl of Zupreem “fruit blend” in their flights. The insectivores always have “Mazuri Insectivore” mixed with Farmers Helper “Ultru Kibble” and a little Zupreem “ fruit blend” for color.
TOFU MIX==1 pkg. firm tofu(not organic), the typical is 14-17 oz.,,1/4 cup of olive oil , 3-5 Tbsp. lory powder,1/4 tsp vitamin mineral supplement, a pinch of canthraxanthine if feeding birds with red/orange feathers
Mash all the ingredients with a pastie knife,which is faster than a fork-to the consistency of cottage cheese. You can keep the mix in a fridge for a couple of days . Any longer and it has to be frozen.
FRONT LORY ROOM
*Give extra mealworms to cage with juvenile pekin robin, shama and robin chat
Remember to feed baby shamas in the cage under the Diamond Sparrows
SEED ROOM BIRDS
**Feed & Water finches & conures and BOB (barbet) in Seed Room**
Star Tortoises in Seed room (small)-feed daily-check water daily
Stars, pancakes- greens, tortoise Mazuri-soaked, cactus(opt) 1 Large plate full.
*Box turtles-1 plate-feed every other day or every third day Monday, Wednesday, Friday
*Redfoots-1-2 plates-Please feed every day. The large tortoises don’t really need to be fed this often but the cherry heads do.
*All can have the same diet-Greens, fruit, same day left over softbill mix or Tortoise chow ,veggies.
Box turtles can have mealworms, earthworms
Please remember to give water to the snakes, if you have mice they can get that too.
Tortoises can stay outside as long as the temperature rises to the mid 70’s+ and it is sunny
If it stays cold (less than 55 degrees) then they have to come inside
Handbook of Birds of The World
Purina Nutri -blend Green pigeon pellet
Purina Game Bird Startena
Diamond Cat food Active cat 40% protein
Zupreem Cockatiel pellets natural & fruit blend
Automatic feeder- Pet-safe 5 meal pet feeder
Hearty Bird – Vitamin/Mineral mix,Lory powder—Any name bran
(Attachmant A )
2 scoops Purina nutri-blend Pigeon Green
1 scoop Zupreem natural cockatiel
1 ½ scoops cat food
1 ½ – 2 scoops Purina Game Bird Startena crumbles
Place pigeon green in a container , Fill ½ with water. Set aside but keep turning it upside down.
Scoop cat food in container with enough water to cover food. Put lid on and rotate the same way as the green
Scoop Zupreem natural cockatiel in a container and place enough water to submerge 3/4 of the Zupreem natural cockatiel,rotate container.
Let sit over night in the refrigerator.
Next day, take off lids and place a large container (green) and the Zupreem natural cockatiel in microwave for 3 minutes. Then place the remaining large container (cat food) in the microwave for 1.5 minutes. Do not stop plate from rotating.
Mix all in large bucket , add crumbles and mix to a friable consistency,