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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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