The "True-Blue"Aussie Parrotfinch!!

Now with a title like that I could only be speaking about the Blue-faced parrotfinch, Erythura trichroa, which is a firm favourite of finch breeders throughout Australia. Sure, I may be stretching it a bit to call them ‘True-Blue’ Aussies but they do occur in the Cape York region of Queensland so, as this is my story, I’m sticking to it!
Perhaps not as striking in colouration as its cousin the Red-face it is never-the-less a very pretty bird in its own rights with its green body, blue head and red tail coverts.

Sexing is ‘generally easy’ as the male has the deeper blue head and the extent of this blue is usually more marked in the male.
However, as a tip for young players, be aware that there are several island races of the Blue-face and in these the extent of the blue head is very variable.
Not suggesting they were smuggled in but more that the origin of our aviary strain of Blue-face is derived from a fairly diverse gene pool where sexing is by no means a ‘lay down misere’!
To this end I have seen 2 hens that had as much blue as the best male I’d ever seen (not old birds either) and both a cock bird and a hen that had no blue in the head at all!! So try and use a few sexing methods when selecting pairs just to be on the safe side.
Usually only the males will trill or ‘sing’ and this is a good sexing method – especially when pairs are first introduced. One sexing method that many of us favour is what I’ll call the ‘canary method’!
When birds are mature or especially when in breeding condition if you flip the birds onto their backs and blow on the vent feathers you will see that the males vent is raised and points upwards with a pronounced dip between its abdomen and the vent itself.
The females vent simply points out behind her and lacks the large dip at the back of the abdomen.
Doug Hill also demonstrated to me that the intensity of the green of the body colour of males is often more intense than in females – especially in that bright NSW sunlight!!

Hopefully a combination of those features will get you over the line in the sexing stakes.

There is also a sex-linked Lutino mutation commonly seen these days. The birds are red-eyed and struggle with direct sunlight and it pays to watch hens that are paired up to ‘over-sexed’ normal males!
Being sex-linked hens are always commoner and cheaper than males and my own attempt to breed from them was a mixed bag. I have been told that Lutino paired to Lutino will ‘work’ but most that I know that bred them run a Lutino hen to a split male or a Lutino male to a normal hen. No such thing as a split female in sex-linkage despite some unscrupulous type that sold a mate of mine 2 "split" hens!!
I am lead to believe most pairings of Lutino to Lutino is performed in breeding cabinets rather than in aviaries.
There is also a grizzle pied which is a striking bird but they are rarely offered for sale and I have not heard of them for years now – hope there are some still out there in finchland.

These guys are easy to cater for with a good quality finch mix and ours are fed on Elenbee Seeds Clifton Finch Mix and Clifton Tonic Seeds. They have access to soaked/sprouted seed with my own ‘special’ soft food, vitamin mix and the Lowe’s vegetable mix fresh everyday and love Lebanese cucumbers and fresh greens - when available they are offered green seeding grasses, Chickweed and anything else that’s ‘green’ and in season! Our usual stashes of green grass down here are the three members of the Ehrharta family.
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All our birds have free access to fresh clean water and my own ‘Polly’s Calcium Mix’.
As a lad I once read a European publication in which a German breeder stated that the skins of mealworms had a deleterious effect on the digestive tract of members of the Parrotfinch family – in fact he use to boil the mealworms and peel them before feeding out!! I know mine will breed quite happily without them but they seem to appreciate the addition of some form of live food into their diet – in our case clean fly pupae or better known as the humble maggot!
Maybe fed in moderation they will be fine as I have never had impaction diagnosed in autopsies of these or any other finches.
Suffice it to say they will rear without live food and appear much more interested in green seeding grasses than the live food bowl when chicks are in the nest.

These birds are an active species in the mixed collection and can be very boisterous especially when breeding. Their mating ritual has to be seen to be believed and it is strongly advised that if you have them on the colony system that you ensure that the number of males to females does not vary from 1:1 as additional males will mate with any female unlucky enough to cross their path.
Even with such a ratio watch your pairs as some males will harass females as soon as they leave the nest often knocking the hen to the ground in the mating frenzy. Also other "free" males will often join in this mating frenzy which is both not good for the hen or for the chance of fertile eggs through disruption of the "proper" mating process.
If you feel I am being too harsh a mate once asked me to drop in and see the new "trick" his male Blue-face had developed in the holding cages. The "trick" was that these Blue-face were attempting to mate with male King quail by grabbing hold of their necks and literally bare-back riding them around the aviary floor!!!
This trait of grabbing the nape of the neck of the hens is often a tell-tale sign that breeding in Blue-face is taking place as the hens often resemble scarecrows by the completion of the breeding season - or maybe treat as a warning that there may be far too many males in the cage!!
Without further labouring the point I have had males pack rape females and literally drown them in the water bowls when I wasn’t quick enough to remove the young colouring males from the flock. Remember that the green colouration of the Blue-face makes them very difficult to see in a planted aviary so regular checks would seem advisable to keep the males in check!

Don’t wish to put you off the Blue-face but they were one of my favourites for a long time a few years back but it was a love-hate relationship when it first started!
I purchased my first pair and the hen died two days later. A new hen was procured and the cock bird then up and died to show his appreciation. He was replaced and the hen died…you get the basis of my "relationship" with this species.
After deciding to call it quits and let the surviving hen go ‘out to pasture’ a mate saw her and asked if I wanted to buy a male ‘to keep her company’. I simply looked at him strangely and declined and told him that the hen he was looking at represented the national debt of several small island nations!!
Never one to be put off he duly returned and gave me a spare male that had been harassing quail in his holding aviary – if you know what I mean!!
So every morning and evening I adopted the finch keepers’ stance and searched the floor and the Tea-tree for the bodies. Well, this time they were out to dazzle me with their brilliance. It became obvious that the male I was loaned had not been with a hen for ‘quite some time’!
He hounded her from dawn to dusk and disgraced himself in front of a few visitors who had come to see them as they were by no means common here at that stage. We were watching them flitting about when he grabbed hold of the hen and proceeded to drive her head-first into the aviary wire and began mating right in front of the shocked couple. The wife turned to her husband and announced in a very firm voice that "you WONT be getting any of those for MY aviary"!

However this hen must have thought that the only way to avoid this feathered lunatic was to go to nest. So, nest she did…again and again and again! The usual clutch was 5-6 eggs, which always yielded 5-6 fledglings and, best of all, most of them would be hens.

The following season I had reduced the national debt and had 6 unrelated pairs ready for action. This loose colony bred 77youngsters and the aviary was awash with little green bodies.
Little green bodies that crash, bang, smash and collide with every other unfortunate finch in the aviary. I learnt a valuable lesson with Blue-face - keep to 2-3 pairs in a mixed collection or move the rest of the birds to a saner/safer environment!
Needless to say, like every good aviculturist, I simply built them another aviary!
At that time they were still uncommon in aviculture and we sent them to all corners of mainland Australia.

For nesting they are not fussy at all and will use a variety of receptacles from nest boxes, wire cylinders to building their own in the aviary brush. They will often reuse an old nest by inserting a nesting chamber inside the older structure. Copious amounts of nesting materials are used and Emu feathers and Swamp/Blown/November grass are favourites.
One thing to remember with many of these birds from a climatic zone where the temperature does not vary much is that they really struggle with extremes of heat. With our aviary designs in Tasmania we have seen Red siskins and Red & Blue-face parrotfinches struggle in periods of high temperatures. Our guess is that they are derived from stock that has no need of great thermoregulatory powers given that their natural home range temperatures are fairly constant ones.
This is doubly so for young Blue-face which, on hot days, often hang out the entrance to the nest and appear dead until touched. As a result of this they often fall out of the nest – or maybe they are seeking a cooler locale – but do not stress unduly as in 95% of cases simply placing them back in the nest is all that is required. Mind you may then have to solve the heat problem to avoid a repeat performance – maybe making sure that nest boxes/sites are away from the very top of the aviary is a start. A breeder from Kalgoorlie places his Parrotfinch nest boxes on the wall only a metre from the floor and has great success with these species.

You will be left in no doubt as to when you have young in the nest as their incessant begging calls are loud indeed. The chicks themselves have the large luminous lobes or as we scientific bods call them ‘traffic lights’ on either side of their mouth in common with Red-face and Gouldian finches. Why ’traffic lights’, well with such large luminous spots even the most optically challenged parrotfinch could not fail to see where to put the next load of food!
To that end when Red-faced parrotfinches were highly priced I often used Blue-face to rear them with great success. Given the Tri-coloured parrotfinches nasty habit of leaving their young at around 8 days I’d imagine that they would do a great job in rearing them too.
Apart from a regular worming regime these finches appear to suffer from a number of bacterial infections which have devastating effects on their populations and appear not to trouble other members of the mixed aviary. The signs can be nothing at all through to a bird appearing fluffed up then dying which is usually followed by the demise of a number of the flock. Your avian vet will be able to confirm whether this is the case in your Blue-face and devise a routine to remedy it.
If you do suspect this is happening to your birds then I urge you to seek veterinarian assistance as losses can be severe if untreated. We have confirmed this bacterial infection with some Tasmanian breeders and the local bird veterinarian Dr James Harris and suggest you might like to consider this if you have some sudden unexplained deaths in your Blue-face.
Just a brief final note on worming please be aware that many breeders have experienced problems with this species when wormed with some Levamisol based wormers when administered in their drinking water.

A summary:

Don’t let the number of males in your aviary build up to a dangerous level – for the sake of the hens!

Plenty of greens will see excellent results and live food is not essential to rear youngsters.

Red-face crossed with Blue-face is sterile so DON’T do it and don’t even contemplate mixing them with Tri-colours!!!

If your relatives are easily offended by ‘overt shows of sexual behaviour’ DON’T let them near your aviary when
           these guys are mating.

If a fellow breeder tells you that his surplus males are trying to mate with quail BELIEVE HIM!

Most can be sexed like canaries in the breeding season – males have a dip after the abdomen with a raised ‘pipe’
           that points downwards while the hens don’t have the dip and her vent points out behind her.

Some youngsters can be sexed by the intensity of the green in their bodies not long after they leave the nest.

· A still Blue-face is a sick Blue-face (or a Lutino searching for his/her sunglasses!!).

Just because knowledgeable people tell you they are easy to breed don’t expect them to ‘play ball’ for YOU.

Watch them around smaller waxbills as I have seen them squashed between two mating Blue-face – not a pretty
           sight and imaging how the Red Strawberry felt!!

Cuban Finches, Tiaris canora, don’t like many birds but they appear to exhibit a pathological hatred for Blue-face at
           certain times and unless you remove one or the other, your Blue-face may resemble the scalped cast of the ‘Last of
           the Mohicans’!

BEWARE: Blue-faced are highly intolerant of high temperatures when breeding and young are often lost through
           over-heating, so position your nest boxes/Tea-tree with this in mind.

If your Blue-faced throw their chicks on the floor simply put them back in the nest and, in the majority of cases (but not all
   I hasten to add!!) they will simply carry on feeding them as per normal.

 
If you are not good with worming your finches see someone QUICK to show you how!!