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Joining together individuals who share a common interest in breeding Carduelan species in captivity

Updated Monday, 15 February 2010

These pages are devoted to your questions and answers on bird problems.

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My Visit to the Canary Islands

... John Quatro

Reading the articles in the A.B.K. by Rosemary Low and Roger Sweeney I have often wondered how it is possible to care for that number of birds in captivity at Loro Parque (Canary Islands). In one of Rosemary's recent articles she expressed concern about overcrowding birds in captivity and the importance of keeping single pairs of species per aviary.

Over the years of keeping, birds I have developed a passion for Carduelan species of finches. I feel that for these reasons overcrowding and being kept in a mixed collection these birds have suffered a great decline in Australian Aviculture, especially the Redpols and the European Siskins. Following closely the progress of the North American and the European Carduelan Finch Societies I feel that we are losing the fight to maintain this group of birds in our aviaries. Carduelan finches are territorial and for best breeding results only one pair should be kept per aviary. Their aviaries are easier to keep clean and one also gets to enjoy the uniqueness of the species to the full. Rosemary Low has portrayed things as they really are. And this is not so much with Estrildid finches as they do breed well in a mix collection but Carduelan finches and most parrots should not be kept and bred in a mixed collection.

On my recent trip to Europe I decided to spend a few days in Tenerife (Canary Islands). Although I have never shown any interest in parrots it was interesting to see almost every specie of parrots that are known to mankind. The only ones I have not seen there, that I could think of were the Sphinx and the Night parrots. All the aviaries were in highly maintained tropical garden settings with many restaurants, souvenir shops, exhibition halls and high spots like Aquariums with Piranhas and Glasshouses with every specie of Orchids in it.

I mustn't forget the Chinese Temple with hundreds of large carp in its surrounding pools with some Red Flamingos in the background. The only mammals kept in the Park were Mountain Gorillas often seen playing in its very highly maintained green, grassy, natural environment with water falls and ponds, etc.

I have seen many bird Parks and Bird Sanctuaries but I must say that the Loro Parque is head and shoulders above the rest. It is not a sanctuary like the Cornell bird sanctuary (USA) where you can see birds like the American Goldfinches, Grosbeaks and Cardinals flittering around the birdfeeders but nonetheless Loro Parque is a heaven for parrot enthusiasts.

As for the wild Canaries I have not been able to see any. The Hotel staff told me that they are becoming rarer than they once used to be. The same goes for the Blue Chaffinches. The Hotel I was staying in was in a beautiful garden setting and at dusk one could see many species of finches and softbills flying around. Some looked like a wild Canary and probably are a closely related species.

And yes, there are aviculturists and Bird shops on Canary Islands. Wild Canaries are now a protected specie and cannot be legally kept in captivity by the locals.

If you enjoy Spanish food and Spanish wine, which are reasonably priced, this is a place for you. KLM offers two flights a week from Amsterdam for an extra one hundred dollars each way on top of the price of the ticket to Europe. Hotel rooms average for about eighty dollars per night with two meals. Once at the Teneriffe airport make sure you catch a bus rather than a taxi, so you don't make the same mistake that I made. The distance from the airport to the hotel costs a maximum $10 on the bus where the same distance costs $150 by taxi.

(As published in The Finch Breeders Review, February 1997)

Page Updated 23-11-1997

A question from David White from Victoria (Australia) about the nest he has of Red Siskins:

The wing feathers have developed just fine. However, little or nothing has happened on the feathering of their back or their heads. He wants to know if this is common, or should he start to suspect mites, as this is his first year breeding Red Siskins.

Dave if you have not been able to see these blood sucking creatures on your birds by now, your problem lies elsewhere. I have seen mites on the wild mynah chicks and I spent one hour picking them off of their tiny body. They are red and full of blood.

There is probably a problem with nutrition.

I would suggest you try topping them up (hand feeding). You could try my Plastic Bag recipe I described above to which you add one drop of multi-vitamin. If this does not work then contact the Vetafarm Laboratories on (069) 256 222 as this could also be sign of feather disease.

Anyone wishing to contact Vetafarm from outside of Australia should call +61-69-256 222

The reply from Jorg Nitschky on Dave's question:

There is a possibility that the parents or some other birds kept in the aviary are plucking the youngsters, due to lack of protein in their diet. Another possibility is boredom simply because the aviary is too small for the number of birds kept in it. I also suggest you add some pine branches with fresh pine needles. The birds will like that, it will keep them occupied.

Marcus Domes from Frankfurt had a similar problem with his Siskins (Spinus Magellanicus); the youngsters came out of the nest without a single feather on their head. He suspects a pair of Serins (Dendrospiza citrinelloides) he keeps in the same aviary were plucking the youngsters.

By the way, Marcus had a very successful year this year. He bred some large Siberian Bullfinches, Oriental Greenfinches, 25 Spinus Magellanicus and 10 beautiful Black-chinned Siskins (Spinus Barbatus). He still has some birds for sale, so if you live near Frankfurt you can contact Marcus on 6142-34247

For any international inquires call +49-6142-34247

There are several species of Bullfinches known throughout the world. Those, which are often found in Aviculture, are the Eurasian Bullfinch; Beavan's Bullfinch, Brown Bullfinch, Blue Bullfinch, Desert Bullfinch and the Siberian Bullfinch. Beavan's and the Desert Bullfinches are difficult to breed in captivity. If they ever become threatened in their natural habitat, they will certainly become extinct. Some people have labeled them in their articles as being destructive birds, as they claim that these birds eat the first buds that appear in early spring in their orchards. I have spoken to a farmer who lived in England who told me that the Bullfinches are no more destructive than any other small bird in the area.

The following e-mail from Robert Campbell reminds me of the few wonderful days I spent at Sapsucker Woods Bird Sanctuary at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Central New York.

I e-mailed Robert Campbell from Canada asking him if he bred birds to which he replied:

No, I don't breed birds, however I feed birds. Lots of them! I have a six-acre property and lots of bird and rodent feeders (red squirrels and chipmunks). I went to your web page, very interesting. I'm not an expert and don't record bird sightings or anything, however over the years we had a large number of different types of birds at our feeders.

I go through over 200lbs of birdseed per month although my chipmunks haul it away as fast as I put it at their feeders. I even cancelled a holiday trip this year because I would have felt guilty leaving all the young American Goldfinches without food or water, (just out of the nest for most of them). I guess the more I feed them, the more devoted I get to doing it , anyway, they provide me with many interesting hours of observation (as do the chipmunks which get quite tame).


(Carduellis Carduelis)

The most frequently kept Eurasian finch in the world, widely known as the Goldfinch, isn't just a Goldfinch. For there are 12 subspecies of Goldfinches ranging from: C.c.britannica - Britain, Ireland, Belgium; nominate C.c.Carduellis - Denmark, eastern Netherlands, central and north eastern Europe; C.c.parva - southern France, Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Morocco and Libya; C.c. tschussii - Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily; C.c. balcanica - Balkans, southern Romania and to Crete; C.c. niedecki - Greece, Asia minor, Southern Iran, Cyprus and Egypt; C.c. loudoni - northern Iraq; C.c. brevirostris - Caucasus; C.c. major - western and central Siberia, northern Kazakhstan and south-east European Russia.

Caniceps species (Grey-headed goldfinches); C.c. coniceps - Pakistan, west Himalayas and Nepal; C.c. subulata - north and central Asia and Turkistan; C.c. parapanisi - central Asia and southern Iran.

Although all of the species are very similar, they are not identical. They vary in size and there is a slight difference in colour. To the best of my knowledge only the C.c.major and the Grey - headed variety are kept and bred as pure specie, the others are not often recognised and are frequently used for hybridizing with Canaries, Supposedly for a better song, which is actually a  myth, as nowadays some Canaries are by far, better songsters.

C.c. major are the largest and C.c. parva are the smallest. Here in Australia I kept three varieties over the years which were C.c. britannica, C.c., niedecki and another specie I am unable to identify, perhaps someone could help me with this. The bird had the fork of its tail white, whereas in the other sub-species the fork of the tail was black with white spots. Compared to C.c. britannica this bird's white plumage was whiter (purer) and its black plumage appeared shinier. According to the dealer, the Sydney Zoo and the Sydney Museum of natural History could not identify the specie?! Over the years I consulted many Carduelan specie breeders in Germany, France and the U.S.A and they all claim that such bird does not exist. This bird was definitely not a hybrid and unfortunately I haven't got a photograph to prove it.

As for the grey-headed variety, Jean-Michel bred some this year and he promised to send us an article with some beautiful photographs.

In captivity these birds are often fed only on the basic finch mix, which invariably leads to severe digestive disturbances. These birds require lots of Niger, Lettuce and Sunflower seeds (as for Siskins) and lots of greens especially when they care for young in the nest.


For those of you with questions on Nutrition, I suggest you read the article-DIET by Laurella Desborough published in the BIRD BREEDER ON-LINE - December 1997. Everything one needs  to know about diet is there. This article makes you aware of the procautions you need to take to protect your birds in different locations. For example, someone keeping their birds in a basement will occur different problems from someone who is keeping their birds on a roof. Make sure you keep a copy as a reference. Maybe some day we'll get permission to use her article on this page.

Dr Carlos Ortega

Dr. Carlos Ortega has contacted me from Venezuela with information about their current project which includes Yarrell's Siskin, Red Siskin and the Yellowbellied Siskin.  He would like to get in contact with breeders throughout the world who are currently working with these species of birds.  Any information, no matter how insignificant it may sound, especially on keeping and breeding Yarrell's Siskins, would be greatly appreciated.

I would like to respond to one of the frequently asked question (FAQ) about identification of the Hooded Siskin (Spinus Magellanicus) subspecies.
Some of the best publications on Siskin species are in our "Book Review", however most books describing the Hooded Siskin subspecies are often incomplete. Some are full of Bulldust and others are very ambiguous. Probably the best work done on the Hooded Siskin subspecies was by W.E.Clyde Todd which was published in the "ANNALS of the CARNEGIE MUSEUM"  in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in Vol. XVII. No.1, June - November, 1926.

For those of you living in New York City all of the Siskin species and subspecies are on display at the Museum of  Natural History (just across the road from the Central Park West).

Let's see if the Carduelan Society can solve the mystery of identifying the 11 Hooded Siskins subspecies. I have received some photos of birds native to the Northern countries of South
America but have not been able to reach the Avicultural Societies in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. It may be that in these countries there is no Aviculture as we know it but I may be wrong. If anyone can help with identifying these subspecies please let me know. Send an article or a photo as an attachment to my e-mail:

I always admired breeders who specialize with one group of birds. One can always count on them for advice and one of these breeders is Eric Callaghan from Ireland whose passion is beautiful Rosefinches.

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