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The Blue-Capped Waxbill      Uraeginthus cyanocephala

From the outset I don't mind admitting that Bluecaps are my absolute favourite finch species. They are a beautiful, peaceful bird in the aviary and have always been highly sought-after by most finch breeders. They are not the easiest bird to master in aviculture so I would advise against rushing into them until after you have cut your teeth on the more common Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu. Once you can consistently produce Cordons in good numbers you are probably ready to try Bluecaps, but don't expect instant success or the same degree of regular output of young - even alot of very experienced finch breeders struggle to find consistent success with Bluecaps.

There are some subtle differences between Bluecaps and Cordons which are important indicators of how to refine your aviary management to best suit the breeding of Bluecaps.

In the wild, Bluecaps generally inhabit slightly more arid zones than Cordons and appear far less adaptable to diverse habitat types and are seldom found in close proximity to areas of human habitation. This points to a need for a more specific aviary microclimate with particular emphasis on warmth and dryness. This is a very common aspiration in aviary design and construction, however the need for a totally dry floor medium with access to direct sunlight throughout the day is absolutely crucial for a good Bluecap aviary. This further implies sparseness in planting out the aviary. In my aviaries the grasses are planted as far apart as possible to allow plenty of open dry sunlit area on the coarse river sand floor medium.

Bluecaps are a significantly more timid species than are Cordons. This points to two crucial factors for mixed aviaries: stocking rate and species mix.

Most finch breeders stock their breeding aviaries far too heavily. If you have a mixed aviary in which you would like to breed Bluecaps, how many breeding pairs of birds should it accommodate? The ideal amount for the birds is one. As the builders of the aviaries we find it very difficult to justify allocating all but the smallest aviary to a single pair of finches so we generally compromise away from this ideal with larger aviaries. We can strike a happy medium to have a compatible mix of species within most aviaries, but the emphasis with successful Bluecap aviaries should always be to err on the side of less pairs rather than more. As rough guide I'd say half the number of pairs that you would house in a mixed aviary breeding Cordons, Ruddies, Orangebreasts, Stars, etc. These more forgiving species are simply more adaptable than the rarer ones - this is why they are more common. The whole idea of having a low stocking rate is to reduce competition between breeding pairs for foods, nesting sites and nesting materials. So in order to avoid this competition, we need to constantly ensure adequate quantity and quality of these three items. Another important aspect of aviary stocking rates is that independent young should be removed from the breeding aviary so that they are not providing excessive competition for the best breeding foods available to breeding pairs. Such birds lingering in the breeding aviaries can also interfere with the courtship and mating rituals of the breeding birds and interfere with active nests thereby having an adverse effect on subsequent rounds.

Even if you have very few pairs in a large aviary those other species sharing the Bluecap's aviary need to be placid species. I try to avoid mixing placid species like Bluecaps with any of the strictly territorial species, boisterous species or those who have over-inquisitive young. Singers, Red-faced Parrotfinches, and the true grassfinches (Longtail, Masked & Parson) are examples of these respective categories. I mix my Bluecaps with placid species such as Avadavats, Pictorellas, Red-faced Pytilias, and Painteds - with these species interspecific aggression is very rare.

The dietary requirements of Bluecaps are much the same as Cordons. For successful breeding, however, they are less forgiving than Cordons. Bluecaps take all the basic foods: dry finch seed mix, seeding grasses, grits, eggshell, cuttlebone and of course livefood. Although Bluecaps eat and enjoy seeding grasses they really are more insectivorous than herbivorous and when breeding the livefood component is more crucial for them. Seldom will they breed consistently without a regular supply of live termites. They rarely adapt well to maggots, fly pupae and/or mealworms. They will certainly eat them with enthusiasm but breeding outcomes will generally fall short of those achieved when termites are the main livefood source. I know many breeders have tried to "educate" their birds away from termites for their own convenience, but this rarely results satisfaction for the birds or the breeder. Lebanese cucumber is another food which I feed my bluecaps and I find that, particularly whilst feeding young, they love it.

Some breeders have experienced problems with obesity in Bluecaps which, in turn, has led to problems of infertility and lack of breeding drive in their birds. Overfeeding of livefood has generally been blamed for this. I tend to disagree. I feel that the combination of small aviaries and excessive use of synthetic softfoods are far more likely to be the cause of obesity. I find that housing the birds in large aviaries where they must exercise more, and feeding a natural breeding diet with emphasis on live termites and green seed as the main breeding foods rather than artificially concocted softfoods, seldom will obesity be an issue.

Another more common problem with breeding Bluecaps is eggbinding. The loss of hen Bluecaps to eggbinding each year contributes noticeably to the sex imbalance in captive Bluecap stocks. The risk of eggbinding is greatest when breeding with young birds and when breeding during cold weather. Bluecaps' willingness to breed through the winter months heightens this risk. It can be largely prevented by feeding sufficient calcium in the diet and oil-based seed additives such as cod liver oil and wheatgerm oil used during the cooler months also seem to assist. Most calcium in our birds diet comes from the provision of eggshells and cuttlebone. However if using young pairs for their maiden breeding season and/or breeding into the months with cooler nights I do recommend an additional calcium supplement. In these circumstances, I use liquid calcium supplements in the water at least once a week for the highest risk period. Alternatively, you could separate the pairs until the warmer weather returns, however don't be fooled into thinking that it can't occur in warmer weather. Aviaries that best catch the winter sun seem to be less affected than those which do not.

Single pairs of Bluecaps almost always achieve far better breeding results than those kept in a colony. A colony environment just doesn't seem to suit the species. Too much bickering between pairs and interference during courtship and mating generally leads to smaller clutches reared and general disharmony within the aviary. Housing them in a breeding aviary containing Red-cheeked Cordons or any of the rarer Uraeginthus species is highly likely to produce hybrids - in my humble opinion if you do this knowingly you deserve a swift kick where it hurts.

The Bluecap courtship ritual involves the male taking a piece of nesting grass, flying to a prominant perch, triangulating his head shape by flattenning his crown feathers and erecting the feathers at the back of his head, and dancing in a nodding motion whilst singing his courtship song (similar to the Cordon song). If the hen is interested, she will land next to the male as he continues the dancing and singing. Her presence usually intensifies his enthusiasm for the ritual. If still keen the female will quiver her tail and slightly crouch (bracing herself for several brief seconds of passion) the male will often peck at the head of the female immediately prior to and/or following the very short copulation. Sometimes this is followed by a courtship chase where the male will chase the female for a couple of lengths of the aviary while shreiking at her. Maybe this is his victory lap.

For nesting sites my Bluecaps have always preferred to build their own nest in the clumps of prickly-leafed tea tree which I place in the covered rear section of the breeding aviaries. Such nesting sites are available from ground level to the ceiling at 2.4m(8') although I have found that my birds usually prefer a higher nest position, rarely below 1.2m(4'). Although available in all my aviaries I have never had Bluecaps use either artificial nest receptacles or the clumps of seeding grasses growing in the flights.

      

For nesting materials I use 3 different types of dried grasses: - Dried green panic heads. These are the by-product of my summer green seed collecting. Once most of the green seed has been stripped from the heads for freezing, the stripped heads are loosely packed into feed bags to dry for nesting material. This is the coarse long type of the three, ideal for the robust outer shell of the nest for most estrildid finches.
                                                                                      - November Grass. The most commonly used finch nesting grass for most Australian breeders. Generally found in low-lying coastal floodplains. The finest grass used, ideal for the final lining of larger nests, but can result in a weak flimsy nest if its the only nesting grass available.
and                                                                                 - Inland blowaway grass (not its proper name). This is found in inland areas (Tablelands and Western Slopes of NSW at least) usually first noticed when it blows up against mesh fences around April. Generally a finer type grass but slightly coarser than november grass. If it is not collected fresh (early April) and packed loosely into bags, it will become too brittle (then useless in my opinion). An ideal species to supplement november grass supplies particularly if you didn't collect enough in November.
All three of these grasses also provide sought-after additional small seeds to the birds when freshly placed into the aviary. My Bluecaps also like to lightly line their nests with pale feathers. I buy a duck feather pillow which lasts for a whole season for a fairly large finch collection.

Clutch size is anywhere between 4 to 8 eggs, averaging 5. As mentioned earlier, eggbinding is a crucial issue at egg laying so calcium supplementation is most useful at this time, particularly with first season hens. Incubation lasts about a fortnight. You can easily determine when young have hatched by the enthusiasm of the parents at the livefood dish. I neither practice nor recommend nest inspections. Such interference cannot make clear eggs fertile or revive dead young and can only reduce the chance of successful breeding. If live young are found on the floor of the aviary well before they are due to fledge they can usually be safely put back into the nest and the parents will usually continue to feed them. If this occurs make sure they are warmed up in your hand before returning them to the nest. Unfeathered young Bluecaps can be identified by a tuft of fawn coloured down on their crown and a small cobalt blue and white flourescence at the junction of their upper and lower mandible.



Young fledge at around 3 weeks of age and are fed by the parents for about 2 weeks after fledging, however I don't remove them from the breeding aviary until they have been out of the nest for at least a month to ensure they are capable of comfortably fending for themselves. By the time their beaks have turned totally pink I find they are ready to move. Young Bluecaps are easily sexable upon fledging - the area and intensity of the blue colour is obviously different at this early stage. As with Cordons, the Bluecap parents give away the presence of young for the first day they fledge with their chattering alarm call. I recently had the awesome experience of seeing one of my pairs fledge 8 young from a clutch twice in the same season. This was only a young pair in their first breeding season. I regard these clutches as an indicator of the genetic strength of the parents and also a vindication that my diet and aviary routine is in line with this species' needs.

I believe one of the most crucial factors in achieving success with Bluecaps is to obtain young birds from productive breeding strains - ideally from at least two genetically separate productive strains. Unfortunately this is much easier said than done, however if you are persistent enough to find and buy such stock then it will be well worth the effort when these birds are later put out for breeding. When retaining your own young for breeding I recommend to cull heavily and select for large size and strong colour in both sexes.

Bluecaps are a very beautiful and peaceful species well worth the effort required to breed them consistently. I strongly recommend them to anyone with some finch breeding experience under their belt.

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GRAHAM AND LEONIE BULL l COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA