Strawberry Finch Breeding
A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE BREED
Male Strawberry Finch
Female Strawberry Finch
Most people (myself included) think of the Strawberry finch as one of the Waxbill family out of Africa because it looks and behaves so much like a Waxbill in actuality however it is a species of Weaverbird out of Asia. The three subspecies of Strawberry Finch occupy a huge range that extends from southern Nepal and Pakistan through much of Southeast Asia to Indonesia. It is a bird of marshes, swamps and other habitats near water, but also visits fields, gardens and farms while foraging.
It is also known as the Red Avadavat and the Red Munia but in the USA it is referred to primarily as the Strawberry Finch. It has an average lifespan is 7–8 years, but they have been known to live up to 10 years in captivity.
I first attempted to breed Strawberry finches back in the 1980's but little information was available about breeding the species and because they were relatively inexpensive imported birds very few aviculturists made the attempt, needless to say I never produced a single offspring. Too bad because sometime after 1990 all imports of Strawberry finches were stopped and they became very rare. In 2013 I heard that a limited number of Strawberry finches were going to be imported so I jumped on a chance to purchase 3 pair as soon as I could find them.
The biggest difference between 2013 and the 1980's is the internet, much more information was available but I soon found that most of the information was quite impractical for the average hobbyist, especially one who lived in Wisconsin, it went pretty much like this, each pair should be housed in a 20 foot x 10 foot planted aviary with native species plants that blah blah blah. Right, I had a few cages in my basement none of which was planted. After a lot more searching, mostly on forums, I came up with a plan and strangely enough my plan worked like a charm right from the start and after 3 successful breeding seasons I continue to use the same setup and diet which I will now share.
A very important note: This article is about how I house and feed my Strawberry finches to get them to breed. I want to stress that I don't try to pass myself of as "all knowing" and my way isn't the only way to get Strawberries to breed but it is the way that I have had great success with. Others may have better ways and my way may not work for you. If you have, however, had success breeding these delightful birds in single cages please email me with your setup so I can share it on this website with others.
Two things to remember concerning housing;
- These are finches not Eagles, cage height is not as important as length.
- In my opinion it is what is inside the cage that lends to my success. I will cover that later.
When breeding, my pairs are in 36" wide X 24" deep X 16" high cages constructed of 1" x ½" rabbit cage wire on the front, bottom and back and FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) on the sides and top. OK, that was a mouthful and yes they are custom built by yours truly. Is there something magical about the dimensions or materials? I doubt it but I made 8 of these cages and have never tried anything else.
When not breeding I keep my strawberries in my "resting" cages filled with all kinds of different birds of the same sex who are also resting. I make these resting cages by buying used 30" x 18" x 18" (which there seems to be an abundance of at $15-$20) cutting an opening on the side and wire tying three of them together. I then stack 3 or 4 of these 90" long 3-bangers on top of each other so that I can have a lot of very happy birds in a relatively small area. You will probably want to have resting cages as Strawberries rarely have more than one clutch at a time, more about that later.
THE INSIDE OF THE BREEDING CAGE:
There are 2 goals for setting up the inside of the breeding cage.
- To provide privacy and a sense of security.
- To provide appealing nesting sites.
Strawberries will weave their own nests then take it apart after the clutch is independent. It can take days or weeks depending on the talent of the male and the patience of the female. I have had females drop MANY eggs from perches while the male constructs the nest and I have had males that are such bad nest builders that the eggs drop right out the bottom or side. When I tried to intervene by placing a half wicker nest under his monstrosity he started building another inadequate nest in another spot.
IF YOU READ ONE THING IN THIS ARTICLE READ THIS: I can't stress this enough, the key to getting strawberries to breed is giving them a place that will… I am not sure what it is… appeal to them or trigger them into nest building. I (and others) have had success with the following two methods.
MONKEY GRASS: My most successful item is an artificial grass that I have only been able to find at Hobby Lobby called Monkey Grass. I'm sure you're getting as tired of reading my ramblings as I am of typing them so below are some pictures of how I mount it and how the birds build in it.
GREENERY WALL: The second method is to build any type of structure that has:
1. Artificial greenery on the front
2. Space so that the birds can get through the greenery,
3. Some type of shelf (and/or open canary nest) behind the wall of greenery to build a nest on.
Again, a picture is worth a thousand words so I included some below. I am sure there are a dozen ways to build an affective "greenery wall" so don't get stuck on mine, it was actually quite a pain in the butt to build.
NOTE: Don't bother putting a wicker nest in with your strawberries because they will never use it.
Monkey Grass Construction
The Monkey Grass will get very messy so I make it easy to take out and wash. Any wire fencing from your local hardware store will work. Bend a couple hooks on the top that will hook over your cage wire. Cut the stem off of the Monkey Grass. Use wire ties to attach the monkey Grass to the wire. I have always used 2 per cage. I'm not sure if one will be as appealing but I'm sure you can't put too many in if your cage is big enough for them.
You can use any material for foliage, I used fake pine branches because it was January and I bought them cheap.
I wouldn't recommend the wood lattice for a support, my next ones will probably be constructed or 1" X 2" wire fence but you get the idea of its purpose, to let the birds pass through the foliage. Note that I put a canary nest in. Of the 2 pair who have bred successfully in these foliage walls one used the canary nest and the other used the wire shelf. Variety is the key because in my experience" if something doesn't trip their trigger they don't build. Again – Make it easy to take out because it will get messy and it's almost impossible to clean while in the cage…short of a fire hose of course. The 3rd photo is how the monkey grass and the foliage wall look together before I added the rest of the privacy foliage.
NESTING MATERIAL: These birds love to weave their own nest, and I am going to take time to stress this again, don't expect babies unless there is the right location and material to build a nest. Cocoa fiber works like a charm, you can also give dried grasses to weave with but always include something soft like sisal or jute to line the inside with. I had a pair that I didn't give the soft material too and the hen plucked her entire chest and belly for material to line her nest. Oops.
PERCHES: I have used both natural branches as well as the traditional wooden perches and there doesn't seem to be any preference.
Before I get into the specifics of what I feed my birds I want to say that I seriously doubt that there is a magic formula or a silver bullet when it comes to nutrition. Too many times I have read statements from breeders that report something like, "I attribute most of my breeding success to this nutrition regimen" and I compare their recipe to another's that claimed the same thing about their mix and nothing matches … and then another and then another and no real pattern appears other than they are all offering a mixture of really good nutritious ingredients. My mix is based a lot on convenience for me. It's easy to make, keeps well in the freezer for months, it's easy to feed right out of the freezer and it doesn't spoil or mold before it's consumed. So here goes.
SEED SPROUTING: I sprout 10 pounds of Higgins Supreme Finch Seed Mix (contains nothing but seed) by soaking it in water mixed with 1 TSP of Vircon-S per liter of water, drain it, do not rinse it and make sure it stays moist until it chits. If you don't know about Vircon-S please do yourself a favor and research it, you will be happy you did. Mike Fidler of "Save the Gouldian Foundation" fame has a great video on sprouting seed here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Xdo4XkExes
OREGON FEEDER INSECTS SOYA MUSICA: I add just enough Soya Musca so that there is a light coating on the sprouted seed. A little goes a long way. Buy it at http://glamgouldians.com
OREGON FEEDER INSECTS INSECT DELIGHT: This stuff is freeze dried insect parts that I also feed separate in a cup by itself. It is crazy expensive so I use it pretty sparingly. Buy it at http://glamgouldians.com
FREEZE DRIED BLOOD WORMS: Good economical insect. There is no magical quantity, sometimes I don't put any in because I forgot to order it. I get mine on Amazon.com.
HIGGINS PROTEEN EGGFOOD: I add about 1 part eggfood to 4 parts of the above ingredients because of its nutritional value plus I want my birds be accustomed to eating it. I also offer it plain to the birds in hoppers or large cups. Let's be honest here, sometimes I go on vacation and sometimes I have other things to do other than feed birds. The eggfood is always available to them even if I am not. I feed a little less than 1 TBS of the above mix three times per week. Birds with babies get it every day.
MEALWORMS:Strawberries will not eat live food unless they are feeding young but I keep 4 or 5 mealworms in their dish at all times because I want them to know that it is available when the need it. Do I have evidence that tiny finch brains think that way? No, but it makes me feel better. When I notice the worms being eaten I know that babies have hatched. I will then give them 6-10 worms twice per day. Let's be honest, I miss this a lot without consequences.
SOME BREEDING NOTES:
MALE PLUMAGE: Strawberries are the only (so I have read) cage bird that will change its plumage when ready to breed. Some refer to it as nuptial plumage. You will read a lot on the web about nuptial plumage so be sure to make a mental note about it … then crumple the note up and throw it away. This year (2015) I had a 2014 male with about a half dozen red feathers throw me a clutch of 3 chicks and one of my import birds come into a jaw dropping display of red and not produce a single fertile egg. Use it as a guide but don’t let it guide you 100%. By the way, first year birds will not get completely red, it is usually the second year before they become the classic strawberry red color.
MULTIPLE CLUTCHES: After one clutch Strawberries are done. The male will most likely lose his nuptial plumage and there will be no more attempts at breeding or at best an attempt that fails. When chicks are independent this is when I move the whole family to resting cages and set a new pair up weather the male is in nuptial plumage or not, the new pair will have had at least 4 months of rest. Rarely will they start breeding right away so let them be. Really, leave them alone, have nesting material available and make sure all previous nests have been removed (they will never use one) and, yes I’m going to say it again, leave them alone. It may be months but one day you’ll notice some cocoa fiber in the monkey grass and then it gets fun. If you do ever unlock the secret code of how to get multiple clutches please email me so that I can share.
WATER: Years ago I constructed an automatic watering system for my bird room so my strawberries have always had a big dish of fresh water to bath in and drink from. Is this a significant contributing factor to my success? I don’t know as I never tried to breed without it but their natural habitat is near swamps.
THANK YOU for taking the time to read my article. Here is a link to a video I made of my setup. Yes, you could have just watched the video instead of read this whole article but aren’t you glad you did? Cheers and happy breeding.