By Jayne Yantz
(Some hints added by avianweb)
First Published in BirdTalk Magazine - July 1996
- Mix only species that are similar in size, which reduces stress and prevents larger species from dominating the enclosure. The reason is simple: Small birds are intimidated (and stressed) by larger birds (even peaceful ones) when both are confined together in the same space and the small birds cannot escape their larger companions. Consequently, it is questionable to mix finches with doves, peafowl and most quail. (The exception is button quail, which are relatively small, no aggressive dwellers that rarely disturb finches.) Definitely avoid mixing hookbills and finches, not only because of the size differences, but also because hookbills (including budgies) are potentially dangerous to finches.
It is also best to avoid placing closely related birds together to avoid hybridization. Further more, closely related birds often have identical preferences which increases competition for popular nesting, roosting and feeding sites.
If productivity is the goal in terms of number of young achieved, it may be recommended to remove any non-breeding birds from the flight during the breeding season to reduce competition issues.
- In all community flights, provide extra feeding stations and water dishes so that assertive individuals do not control food or water sources. Monitor the flock daily to be sure all birds have free access to food and water.
- Include plant cover to divide interior space into separate perching and roosting spots where individuals, pairs or families can find secure, protected and private spots to sleep and roost. Plant cover also provides safe hiding places. If disagreements occur, birds can escape their aggressors by hiding in foliage. In the wild, rivals are driver off, but, in confinement --- where it is not possible to fly away --- victims of attacks can protect themselves by hiding in cover until you spot the problem and address it.
- Do not crowd the birds. Crowding is stressful and causes multiple problems, including aggression and feather picking. Unfortunately, there is no single formula for how much space each pair of birds needs. However, each pair should be able to perch undisturbed, since birds they can withdraw safely from the flock without being bothered. Each pair should be able to perch at least two feet from companions. (However, when breeding, pairs may prefer to keep a greater distance between their neighbors and their nests.) To ensure this, try to provide about 3 or 4 square feet of aviary floor space per pair of finches. As an example, an enclosure 6 feet long by 3 feet wide can house about four to six pairs of finches, depending on the birds' size, habits and personalities.
Avianweb Note: The greater the available aviary space per pair, the less aggression can be expected due to decreased competition for space.
- When breeding, remove pairs that do not tolerate disturbance, and move those birds to separate breeding quarters. Also consider reducing the population in your aviary during the breeding season, which may minimize conflicts, because birds naturally become more assertive or aggressive when they are breeding.
- Do not combine more than one pair of each species (unless you are housing a flock species that lives and breeds well on the colony system). Also avoid combining closely related species and birds that are similarly colored, which reduces the possibility of rivalries and aggression, as well as the possibility of unwanted hybrids. To further protect against hybrids in mixed flights, always house finches in male/female pairs of the same species, not as unmated singles.
- Check the birds daily, and watch for signs of behavior that reveal members of the community flight are not getting along, such as feather picking, chasing or fighting. Also keep records of breeding results and life spans, since breeding failures and shortened life spans (under 5 years) may be a product of stressful conditions in the birds' environments.
- Introduce all the birds at once, and minimize changes in the population; introducing new birds causes stress and upsets the social order. Be particularly careful not to introduce new birds during the breeding season, when breeding birds are intent on protecting their nesting areas.
- Do not combine aggressive species with peaceful species; instead, mix birds with similar dispositions. Although experienced birdkeepers do successfully house aggressive species together in sparsely populated, well camouflaged flights, it is safest for beginners to stick with communities of peaceful birds, including such species as silverbills, blue-capped waxbills or Gouldian finches. Also, try to combine birds that are equally at home in captivity. Do not, for example, add particularly nervous or flighty birds to a mixed flight, because the flighty individuals will unnerve the rest of the flock. In short, choose birds that are compatible and well suited to living together in the same confined space.
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