All About Blue-Faced ParrotFinch

Meeting: Blue Faced ParrotFinch
Meeting: Blue Faced ParrotFinch



Meeting: Blue-Faced ParrotFinch


The Australian subspecies of the Blue-Faced Parrot Finch is confined to small tracts of tropical rainforest and foothills on the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula, in far north Queensland.

They enjoy fossicking in grasslands at the fringe of rainforests and vegetation where (with a degree of luck) they can be sighted in clearings and on tracks, such as old logging tracks and at the edge of grasslands. They have been recorded as feeding on seeds of casuarinas and grasses.

Although known for several decades as the Blue-faced Finch, present-day avicultural, ornithological and general literature uses the term Blue-faced Parrot Finch.

FIRST SIGHTINGS AND STATUS


Heinrich von Kittlitz, a German artist, explorer and naturalist discovered the Blue-faced Parrot Finch on Ualan (Kusaie) Island in the Caroline Islands, northeast of New Guinea in 1835. He named it Fringilla trichroa. It has since been placed in the Erythrura genus and is now E. trichroa. Kittlitz described its three colours as a ‘beautiful parrot-green’ body, an ‘ultra-marine blue’ face and a ‘rusty blood-red’ tail.

The first apparent sighting of the Australian subspecies of the Blue-faced Parrot Finch was ‘by Robert Grant on Double Island, about 20 miles north of Cairns, Queensland, on 4 June 1889’ (Cayley 1932). A party comprising Robert Grant and three others reportedly visited Double Island to shoot scrub turkeys but when Grant saw a flock of finches fly into a tree, he fired his shotgun killing one, with another ‘nearly blown to pieces’! The badly damaged specimen has apparently disappeared.

In 1986 in Birds of the Australian Rainforests, Walter Boles, ornithologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, wrote, ‘Though a common species in eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to Vanuatu and several other South Pacific islands, the Blue-faced Finch Erythrura trichroa is a bird of scattered and enigmatic occurrence in Australia. Until the last few years, there have been no more than 12 records of this species in the country’.

TAXONOMY


Parrot finches, together with other popular avicultural species, including nuns, mannikins, waxbills, firefinches, and Australian grassfinches all belong to the family Estrildidae and are generally referred to as finches or estrildids.

Joseph Forshaw, one of Australia’s most experienced ornithologists said, ‘The genus Erythrura is widely distributed in South- East Asia, the Indonesian Archipelago, New Guinea, northern Australia and islands in the South Pacific Ocean from the Caroline Islands east to Samoa’ (2012).

The discovery of the first of the 11 recognised parrot finch species, the Pintailed Parrot Finch Erythrura prasina, was described in 1788 by the Swedish naturalist Anders Sparrman. This was followed by an enormous span of over 170 years before the most recent parrot finch discovery, the Katanglad Erythrura coloria, which was found on ‘the remote slopes of Mount Katanglad in the Philippine island of Mindanao’ and named in 1961.

SUBSPECIES


There are 10 subspecies of the Blue-faced Parrot Finch that vary in both size and richness of colour. Without doubt several races have been interbred in aviculture, with many breeders perhaps not aware that the Blue-faced Parrot Finch they have just bought or bred is a mixture of more than just one subspecies. Russell Kingston summarised: ‘I have long believed the aviary specimens in Australia are not the nominate form which has, as part of its natural distribution, the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula. Those that I have examined in Australia are brighter in colouration and match very closely E. t. clara, from the Caroline Islands’. 

DESCRIPTION


The Blue-faced is an attractive finch that shows at its best in good sunlight, with its iridescent grass-green body colour contrasting with the blue face and throat, scarlet rump and upper tail coverts and black bill. It measures approximately 11–12cm in length.

Sexing


Sexing can be difficult for the inexperienced aviculturist as the sexes are almost monomorphic. However, the Bluefaced Parrot Finch can be sexed. The most obvious difference is the face. A mature male has a more extensive and brighter face than a mature adult female. The blue face mask of the male also extends further back over the forehead and around the eyes. Plumage of immature birds varies.

As Russell Kingston stated, ‘Immature birds are difficult to sex visually, apart from the male’s call. Only the male of the species has the high-pitched prolonged trill, while the female has a shorter, less intense call’.

WILD EXPERIENCES


Early in 1996 Len Robinson, of Melbourne, a well-known member of the Avicultural Society of Australia and a widely experienced ornithologist and former leader of birdwatching tours, told me of his exciting birding experience in North Queensland. It had occurred over 1–3 November 1995 when, accompanied by two Americans, he had four sightings of the Blue-faced Parrot Finch in ‘a small, open, grassy clearing amongst rainforest and adjacent to a former forestry road which leads to Mount Lewis at an altitude of 1224m’.

On day one they had their first sighting of Blue-faced Parrot Finches at 5.50am but as they did not wish to disturb the finches, which included 20–30 Red-browed Finches Neochmia temporalis, they remained in the car. The finches, still feeding, moved further away down the left side of the trail which led to a small creek in the neighbouring rainforest where the tour group had the second sighting for the day, including more Blue-faced Parrot Finches which joined the original feeding finches.

‘We estimated a minimum of six, but more likely eight Blue-faced Parrot Finches feeding with the Red-browed Finches. The distinctive calls of the parrot finches were heard frequently,’ Len said.

Two days later in the same area, they had the second of their two sightings.

Not everyone is so lucky. Joseph Forshaw had a completely different experience. In the recent book Grassfinches in Australia, which he wrote with Mark Shephard, Joe, who authored the field information, writes, ‘I have seen Blue-faced Parrot Finches in New Guinea, but have been frustrated repeatedly in my efforts to observe them in north Queensland. Too often I was told that ‘They were here yesterday’ or ‘You should have been here last week’!

The Blue-faced is considered the most difficult of the Australian grassfinches to sight-record in the wild and, in the recently published book The Australian Bird Guide, it is considered, ‘generally shy and elusive, readily seeking cover when disturbed’.

CAPTIVE EXPERIENCES


Housing Some 40 years ago I purchased my first pair of Blue-faced Parrot Finches from a Sydney bird dealer while on a family holiday. They commenced nesting shortly afterwards. The temporary aviary was a converted shed with an extended open flight which housed a small collection of finches and one pair of Bourke’s Parrots Neopsesphotus bourkii, until a prefabricated block of four aviaries under the one roof was erected. A suitable nesting log for the Bourke’s Parrots attracted them immediately it was hung on the back inside wall. However, to my amazement, I discovered a few weeks later that the Blue-faced Parrot Finches were busy building a nest from dry grass on top of the young Bourke’s nest! The parrot finches were immediately removed. The parrots reared their young and the parrot finches became established in a rather bare all-finch aviary.

Russell Kingston wrote, ‘Personally, I prefer to house a colony with a mixed collection of small seed-eaters in large, well-planted aviaries. The aviary should be sited so as to receive the full benefit of the daily sunlight’.

I agree with Mark Shephard’s summation that, ‘In an aviary for Blue-faced Parrot Finches, the objective should be to recreate the natural habitat as near as possible, and consideration needs to be given to some of the behavioural traits of these birds. To give the birds plenty of room to fly about, the aviary should be as large and as high as possible, and should be heavily planted with shrubs and tall grasses. This will enable the birds to undertake their complex courtship display, when the male vigorously pursues the female around the aviary and through the bushes. In larger aviaries, the birds tend to settle down more and become inquisitive and tame, while in smaller aviaries they are often shy and unsettled’. He added, ‘an open area of earthen floor will be appreciated by these parrot finches because they are fond of foraging on the ground’.


how to feed Blue Faced Finch
Feeding: Blue Faced ParrotFinch

 

How to Feed Blue-Faced ParrotFinch


In captivity, the Blue-faced Parrot Finch is an easy species to cater for and, like several other Australian species (such as the Gouldian Finch) can be bred without livefood. However, the Blue-faced does require a good quality commercial finch mix supplemented with canary seed, plus fine seeding grass, finely shredded broad-leafed greens (including endive and lettuce) and a slice of Lebanese cucumber.

As it is a grassfinch, seeding grass is both important and enjoyed, especially if hung high in the aviary. Australian aviculturists often provide soaked seed as a regular additive, especially during the cold months when seeding grass is not available.

When I last kept Blue-faced Parrot Finches, I bred mealworms especially for them but they showed no interest and bred successfully without livefood. However, I provided a vinegar fly culture (Drosophila species) as an alternative form of livefood.

You can attract this insect to the aviary by creating a culture of rotting fruit— especially cut-up pieces of lemon, orange and grapefruit. The usual method of establishing vinegar fly culture has been to place the fruit in a small open-topped container (such as a plastic ice-cream container) and cover the top with small wire mesh which allows the flies to escape from the culture before being caught on the wing by finches in the aviary.

Clean water should always be available for both drinking and bathing, which they really enjoy. Although livefood is no longer considered essential for successful breeding of this bird, many aviculturists provide other additives. A varied range of commercial supplements for finches is now available, as advertised in BirdKeeper.

As a source of grit, I provided my Blue-faced Parrot Finches with a combined mixture of small pieces of charcoal, fine shellgrit and microwavedried crushed eggshells.


how to breed Blue Faced Finch
Breeding: Blue-Face ParrotFinch



How to Breed Blue-Faced ParrotFinch


Lieutenant Hauth, a member of the German Ornithologists’ Society, is credited with being the first person to breed the Blue-faced Parrot Finch in captivity in Europe in 1887 and reportedly continued his success for eight generations.

The Blue-faced is widely recognised as a popular and free-breeding species in Australian aviaries and will, if allowed, breed all year round. It will readily use a nest box, hollow log or dry brush attached to one or more of the aviary walls.

The clutch of 4–6 eggs usually takes 14 days to hatch, with the young fledging 21 days later. The young, which have two iridescent turquoise nodules at either side of the gape of their bills, feature a dull green plumage.

Peter White has studied the Blue-faced Parrot Finch in the wild and successfully kept and bred them in England. He breeds his finches in a birdroom and recommends that ‘to stimulate successful breeding we need to combine a number of important factors—suitable temperatures, humidity, efficient light, day length and a highprotein diet, as found in seeding grasses and insects etc.

‘The change in the environmental conditions and diet will encourage the start to the breeding season. The rise in temperature (humidity), longer day lengths and the change to a higher protein diet all herald the start of the breeding season in the wild, so we need to assimilate this to the best of our ability if we are to succeed with this genus, or for that matter most other birds kept in captivity’.

Blue-faced Demise in England When seeking background material for this article on the Blue-faced Parrot Finch in the United Kingdom, I contacted Darren Sefton, editor of Foreign Birds, the magazine of the Foreign Bird League, England, founded in 1932, as well as Peter White. They supplied the following information.

Darren Sefton said that historically, the Blue-faced Parrot Finch was the secondmost common parrot finch kept in England after the Red-headed Erythrura psittacea.

However, he said parrot finches had never been very common. Most of the parrot finches were bred in the early 1930s by JEG Sweetnam (in Taunton, Somerset) and some of the species he bred are now impossible to get.

‘In the 1930s it must have been incredibly difficult to get them transported from the South Pacific in good condition, especially as these would most likely have come by sea over several weeks or even months,’ Darren said.

Since importation to Australia would not have involved such a long and stressful journey, he said the Blue-faced were more likely to have been received in larger numbers and in better condition.

He believed the Blue-faced in England had now been overtaken in popularity by the Peale’s Parrot Finch Erythrura pealii but most Peale’s were raised under Bengalese Mannikins. It is very rare that I see any now. He went on to say that at a large sales day recently he had seen only one pair of Lutino Blue-faced Parrot Finches and there were no ‘Normals’.

Unfortunately, due to the high prices that Lutinos used to attract, breeders concentrated on them to the detriment of the Normal.

‘As an example, I recall conducting a sales class at a bird show and someone brought two pairs of Lutinos that had been brought in from Continental Europe. A pair of Normals were about £30–35, but the seller asked, and received, £300 for each Lutino pair. Not only that, but there was a queue to buy them, and he later told me he sold them too cheap,’ Darren said.

Peter White, who has kept and bred all except the three rarer parrot finches, said, ‘Although they (Blue-faceds) are among the most expensive of the finches in the UK, and certainly not the easiest of breeders, parrot finches have become extremely popular over the years and are always in great demand. They are reasonably long-lived, usually to about seven years, although often longer, and some species have been known to live for 10 years or more.

‘They are charming, inoffensive and extremely friendly, which makes them ideal subjects for a mixed collection.

Because of their bright and attractive colouring and their very active nature, it is only in a fully planted aviary that their full beauty can really be appreciated’.

Peter went on to say that at one time the Blue-faced Parrot Finch in England and Europe was so well established it was almost classified as domesticated. But, as so often has happened in aviculture, people have stopped breeding or even keeping various species.

‘This species had become so successful in aviculture that they became very common and what appeared to be a surplus was created, with the result that they became the cheapest of all parrot finches to buy,’ Peter said. ‘However, this surplus did not last long and by 1997 the surplus had become a shortage and suddenly it was almost impossible to obtain this species.

It is an easy breeder among parrot finches and therefore it was very easy to create a surplus, with the result that the value of this little bird fell drastically, making it no longer a viable proposition for those whose only interest in the hobby was to make money out of it.’

CONCLUSION


Although the Blue-faced Parrot Finch has been a favourite for many years and is probably one of the most common finches held in Australian aviaries, little has been recorded about it as an avicultural species.

I hope the information I have gathered about this delightful finch will prove to be both useful and interesting.
Tags

Post a Comment

0 Comments
* Please Don't Spam Here. All the Comments are Reviewed by Admin.