The Owl Finch
By: Kerri McCoy, Cahaba Aviaries
The Bicheno finch is one of the tiniest Australian finches. Size ranges from 3-4 inches. They are not as popular as the other Australians, because many believe they lack the vivid coloring of others. I do not agree. While the Bicheno finch does not have vivid orange cheek patches or feathers the color of the rainbow it has it’s own distinct beautiful features in colors of rich browns, whites, blacks, and silvers.
The overall body color is a deep brown sometimes looking almost black. The beak is a beautiful gray/silver color. The face is a bright white appearing almost silver at times. The face itself is surrounded by a black band accentuating the boldness of the white face. Below the black band surrounding the face the chest is white in color. At times, although not always, the female’s chest can be a slightly creamy white color versus the male’s bright white. Below the white chest another black band separates the chest from the lower body. The male can have a bolder, thicker, black band but, as stated above this is not always the case.
The lower body and vent area is an off white color somewhat creamy. The back and wings are a rich brown and the wings are decorated with tiny white dots in a beautiful pattern. The white rumped species has solid white feathering under it’s wings running partway down it’s tail. The tail itself is a deep rich brown. The black rumped species replaces the white along the tail with jet black. And, splits will have some characteristics of both making identifying a split visually possible.
Sexing owls can be somewhat of a task. Sometimes, as stated above, slight differences in band widths and chest colors can help identify males versus females, but, one should never rely on looks alone. I have several females that have bold bands and bright white chests and had I used visual appearances only, I would have mistaken them for males. The sure way to sex owls is to wait for the males to sing. They have a pleasant little song that can be drowned out in an aviary full of louder singers such as zebras, or grassfinches. Their body puffs slightly and they raise their neck up when singing. Although, careful observation is required since the owls do not sing as often as say the zebras.
I have read many articles which state owls to not be expert flyers. I have not found that to be the case. I have found that housing owls in a six foot long flight is excellent for these little birds. You can watch them for hours flying end to end of their flight expertly diverting up and over the various perches in their path with expert precision. They are peaceful birds and can be housed with any other peaceful species. Although, I would not recommend housing owls with zebras for fear of possible breeding between the two species.
For best breeding results provide your owls with a well rounded diet. Fresh egg or rearing food daily will help put them in the breeding mood. Plenty of mineral grit and charcoal granules. Owls love charcoal. Providing mealworms in small portions two times per day can also help them with their breeding. I have read that they require them while raising chicks. Whether this is true or not I do not know. My experience is that they eat them with relish. Try to limit the amount to 1 or 2 each twice per day.
Provide your owls with either an open rattan style nest or a half open box nest. Make sure to provide lots of nesting material for your owls to build the nest to their liking. Clutch sizes on average are about 4 eggs but, can be more. Incubation is about 12 days from the time they being incubation; which is usually after the third egg is laid. Twenty-four to forty-eight hours before the chicks are due to hatch you will notice both parents remain in the nest. Upon hatching if you are lucky, you will be able to hear the father singing softly to them. Some refer to this as his lullabye.
Owls are very peaceful birds and do not rush around in a frenzy feeding their young. They are diligent parents but, are not overly attentive with their young. I have never had any problems with owls abandoning their young due to nest checks or banding of the babies. The chicks usually fledge around 22 days and remain with the parents until they are at least 30 days old. This time can range so carefully watch to see that the young are feeding themselves before removing them from their parents. One word of caution. Carefully monitor the parents behavior with their young once the young begin to self-feed. My experience shows that the parents can become quite aggressive with their young once they begin starting another clutch so it is imperative that the young be removed as soon as they are self-feeding.
The Bicheno finch is a wonderful addition to any aviary. They are beautiful birds, serene and can cater to the likes of the beginning finch collector or the more serious breeder.
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