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Joining together individuals who share a common interest in breeding Carduelan species in captivity

Updated Friday, 12 June 2015

Page 14

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White-winged Wrens
(Malurus leucopterus leuconotus)

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I’ve been breeding White–winged Wrens (M. l. leuconotus) since 2007, initially by trial and error not knowing anything about them, especially type of food that is most suitable for the newly hatched young and how to keep the young alive when they fledge and start jumping out of the nest at that early age. The first few days are critical I ended up losing 90% of the young the first season and 75% the second season to eventually rear 100% of the young every time. The White-winged Wrens are one of the smallest of all the Australian native species of birds and I think the most beautiful. There are three subspecies and the species that I keep are all blue with white wings, the other two are all black with white wings, the (Malurus leucopterus edouardi),

subspecies only found on Barrow Island being the smallest of the three. The nominate (Malurus l. leucopterus) are found only on the Dirk Hartog Island, the largest Island in Wetern Australia. The Barrow Island is approximately 450 km North of  Hartog Island is the second largest island in Western Australia.

The all blue subspecies M. l. leuconotus is widespread throughout the mainland Australia with two varieties, one having white belly the other being all blue.

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These birds often sleep after a good meal.

I keep my Wrens in a well planted Aviary with Goldfinches, Madagascar Weavers and some natives. I read a lot about them but there wasn’t much published on the Internet about their keeping and breeding in captivity. I learned however that they were mainly Insectivorous, their number one choice were Crickets, small Spiders, small Mealworms, Moths etc. From the person I bought the birds from I learned about the Fly Pupae and Maggots and later on I discovered they developed the taste for the Egg and Biscuit which is now one of the main source of protein supplied daily. I also noticed they will go for the soft pulp of Sweet Corn I always have available for my birds, and I saw them pecking at the slices of Cucumber that I also provide on regular basis.

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The pair I acquired didn’t waste any time, approximately two weeks later they built the nest and laid three eggs, one young died soon after hatching and two young fledged.

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It was end of March, pretty much the end of the breeding season for most of the species that I kept. About two days after the young fledged she started redecorating the nest and laid another five eggs.  All 5 hatched but all died soon after, and I had no idea why. Later on that year they had clutch after clutch, but I only managed to save another young. By the end of the 2007 I only had the breeding pair and the now fully matured two young.

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I knew I was doing something wrong but did not know what. One day I offered medium Crickets, I saw the hen swallow one larger Cricket and saw her went into convulsion. I tried to pick her up but before I got there she jumped up and flew away. The same happened couple of days later when one of the youngsters swallowed large Mealworm. That’s when I realized that the young after hatching are very tiny, they should only be given small Mealworms and small Cricket, and that the parents probably do not regurgitate food for the first few days. They were probably trying to feed the whole insect. From then on I made sure I always had small (soft shelled) Crickets for the first two weeks after hatching.

Small Mealworms are much harder to obtain or are unavailable when you need them.

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Fly breeding cage, can be dismantled and put away if not used for some period of time

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All of the young survived to about day 10, I now had another problem on my hands, and this is: when the nestlings reach the ninth to tenth days of age the female becomes eager to start another clutch. She begins to pull out the nesting material from under the young then flies around the Aviary with it; she may pick up some more off the floor then brings it back and puts it in the nest again.

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At ten days of age there’s quite bit of competition for the food between the youngsters. Their table manners are not what we call civilized; they will try to snatch an insect from each other and will grab anything in front of them. Because of their wild eating habits I could see bits of string, cotton wool etc wrapped around their beaks and partly swallowed, I started losing the nestlings again. 

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I managed to save this young, he fully recovered after couple of weeks

After couple of lost clutches I was desperate for a solution, I stopped supplying cotton wool and hassion, this helped a little but she still kept on working on her nest while the young were still in it.  That must have been her favored nest; every time she started building another nest she would eventually abandon that idea and come back to this nest.

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So what is the solution here?

I knew I couldn’t stop her from wanting to rebuild the nest and I could not do anything about the young’s feeding habit. I remembered when the young leave the nest, they are so small and at times were very hard to find on the Aviary floor but their older siblings and parents knew exactly where they were, and no matter where they happened to be they were always fed. So I decided to take them out of the nest and put them in another nest just to see what happens.

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I put lots of soft tissues in the new nest, put the 10 day old young in it and put the nest inside a plastic Aquarium I bought previously. Now I can take the Aquarium with the young in it indoors every evening and put it back in the Aviary whenever I wake up in the morning. If the young fall out of the nest for whatever reason, they’ll be in the Aquarium. Suddenly everything was back to normal, the young were fed well, for warmth (during the day), the body heat is all they need while still together in the nest, and in the evening, I use couple of plastic Milk Bottles filled with hot water with a towel wrapped over it to keep the heat inside the Aquarium.  

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Fly Pupae and Maggots dish

Note: One Hot water bottle is quite enough most times. As I mentioned above body heat is all they need. Once they leave the nest, it’s a waste of time putting them back, the nest is no longer used, then you may add another hot water bottle if the temperature falls below 15ºC.  

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This is Sow Thistle, Goldfinches and Siskins love the seeds, and the fine thistledown
is used to line the nest, but wait, did I say Goldfinches and Siskins

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The best and the safest material to line the nest

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Now the female can work on her nest without me having to worry abut the young. So far so good!

Couple days later, here we go again, more problem!  This time, when the young leave the nest (and the Aquarium), for the first day or two they hide somewhere on the Aviary floor, and if the weather suddenly turns cloudy and the temperature drops a little, within hours they will lose body heat and by the time I find them they are almost dead – they are hardly moving.

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This is the size of the young when they start jumping out of the nest

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When he erects the crest definitely something is bothering him.

Young WWW lose their body heat very quickly, so what do I do now?

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WWW eggs, at time the very first clutch of the year are infertile

I guess I should mention this first so that you understand what I’m talking about: With live Crickets, the best way to feed them to birds is to have them available to your birds at all times. I put them inside a plastic Aquarium and open up the hatch. Now the Wrens can get in catch a Cricket and jump back out while the rest of the Crickets can’t jump out of the Aquarium. I thought I could use the same method to keep the young in.

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I bought bigger and deeper plastic container, made a hole in the lid for parents to be able to go in and out, it will take few days, before the young are strong enough to be able to fly out of that small hole, by then hopefully they will be able to fly and climb up the branches and join the rest of the flock to look after them and keep them warm. The plastic container itself should be big enough to hold the hot water bottle or the Milk bottles which will keep the young warm. I put newspaper on the bottom, then the two hot-water bottles with towel or an old T-shirt wrapped over them, then put the young in. I’d always use clear plastic container so that I can see from a distance what is happening inside. Ideal height for the container would be about 700 to 800mm in height and about half meter diameter but I haven’t found one yet that height.

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The best way to attract the female is "show her the worm" 

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I thought I'd try it myself

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It works every time!

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Now, I had population explosion, 100% of the young survive every time! At one stage I had twelve young plus the parents. These birds can consume lots of small Crickets, which I think are essential for the newly hatched young but not really essential for the older siblings.

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I put the rings on at 7 to 10 days of age

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Because I only have one (planted) Wren Aviary I do not move the young Wrens into another Aviary, and as you can guess twelve birds can consume Crickets very quickly. Four containers of Crickets are eaten within a few hours. Each container is $5.50, some shops will give you 4 to 5 for $20.  One pair of Wrens and their young consume approximately one every day. This works out at least $60 worth of small Crickets per clutch. If you use Maggots and Fly pupae, you can cut down on Crickets a little.

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After I band the young I often take them out of the nest so that the female can resume with
her next clutch I attached the blue basket under the original nest. When the young finally left the nest
one of the young female decided to adopt it and laid 3 eggs in it. I had two females sitting on eggs right next 
to each other. To add to this, the eggs were infertile I placed 2 Red-backed Wren's eggs in it, she 
hatched the young but would not feed them, probably to young didn't know how to care for them.   

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Still going through the molt, some blue feathers barely visible on its belly

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Here is a trick I’ve learned, if you want to save on Crickets: - open up the hatch and stand there, let only the feeders in, usually, it’s the parents and one or two older siblings then close the hatch and repeat that every hour.  

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Here is the the proof they at times eat small seeds as well
These are the Amaranth seeds

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And here they are hunting for any small insects

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This little guy almost destroyed the Queen Anne's Lace right in front of me, the shrub I tried
so desperately to grow.  I think this is a sign of aggression. What did I ever do to him?

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Queen Anne's Lace

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Wrens are just like Zebra Finches, very prolific breeders they are incredible little birds; they are inquisitive and can become very tame. They are ideal Aviary birds with much more character then most other small finch-like species and being so tiny that makes them even more special. Some of my Wrens will land on my hand to try to snatch a mealworm. They follow me around the Aviary, and as I found out; some can become a little bit too tame. I walked into the Aviary one late afternoon, I had some “new” white-skinned Mealworms (their favored), this young female (my tamest Wren); she was always the first to land on my hand. As I walked out of the Aviary she must have followed me out. The following morning I went into the Aviary to get the soft food dish. I thought how strange, can’t see her; she’d be all over me by now. I looked around I couldn’t find her; I had a bad feeling, I was sure something must have happened to her. Anyhow, I picked up the dishes; I empty and wash them as I do every morning before refilling, I then put a few Mealworms on top and bring it back into the Aviary. As I was waking towards the aviary I saw her flew just above my head and landed above the Aviary door, I opened the door and lifted the dish up towards her, she happily landed onto the dish I moved the dish into the Aviary, closed the door and thanks god she was back in. As you can see being tame is not always good but not always bad either.

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These guys are very difficult to photograph

Another thing, I’m not sure if this is normal or is it only with my birds. The last clutch of three young just out of the nest; they wouldn’t have been more then two to three days out of the nest, I saw them fighting like crazy. It begins with one youngster erecting his head feathers into a small crest, then he starts circling and jumping around his sibling provoking him, if the other sibling accepts the challenge they jump up into the air like the Roosters, falling back to the ground where the fight begins. I was watching two young rolling on the floor for about five minutes before I intervened. That may be a form of amusement or play for young Wrens, one of them is a real “trouble maker” he challenges his parent and his older siblings.  

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Couple of days out of the nest and already fighting with his older sibling 

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Non breeding female

Sexing the young uncolored birds can be difficult but from what I discovered is that at fledging both sexes have black
 tip of the beak. By the time their tails are fully grown the hens lose the black tip. However, older non breeding hens at times develop that black tip. The last clutch of two young were DNA sexed, one was female the other male, the black tip is absent in both birds but I will have to catch them to confirm from close-up.   

I spoke to breeders who kept White-winged Wrens; some say they can become very aggressive. White-wing Wrens in my Aviary do not harass other birds but if they do not approve of something, they have a way of letting other birds know. When the Madagascar Weavers gets too close to their nest, the male WWW starts harassing the perpetrator by circling around him fast, moving closer and closer, the other members of the family will quickly join in until the bird just gives up and flies away. When the male becomes really mad he lowers his had down and lift his back up, drops the tail down similar to a rodent, and then he attacks. Most time it never gets to this point because most intruders give up long before it gets to this stage.

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Some breeders may have had different experience with these birds, I guess it depends on the part of the continent they live in, this is my article on my struggles with what I think are the most beautiful Australian softbilled birds, they also happen to be the smallest Australian species of birds. Most cages can not keep them inside. The males do not color up until their third or fourth year but when they do they are all blue with beautiful white wings.

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Regrettably but this guy has reached the end of the line, there was a brief change 
of "government"  the other Wrens were attacking him, he recovered after a dose of antibiotics 
but died the following day. I estimated he would have been approximately
six to seven years old. 


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Wild Wren on top of the Aviary, probably a young Superb Wren

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Dirk Hartog Island White-winged Wren (Malurus leucopterus leucopterus)

Recently the Government approved drilling for gas on Barrow Island, although the Barrow Island ‘Black and White Wren’ is not threatened at present, the environmental disaster cannot be ruled out. Here is an abstract of a scientific research paper on the Malurus leucopterus edouardi subspecies and some interesting articles.  

32 Barrow Island Wrens relocated to Montebello Island

Barrow Island White-winged Wren

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Malurus leucopterus edouardi

This conservation advice was approved by the Minister / Delegate of the Minister on 3 
July2008 Malurus leucopterus edouardi Conservation Advice - Page 1 of 3 Approved conservation advice (s266B of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999)
Approved Conservation Advice for Malurus leucopterus edouardi (White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island))
This Conservation Advice has been developed based on the best available information at the time this conservation advice was approved.

Malurus leucopterus edouardi, Family Maluridae, also known as White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) and the Barrow Island Black-and-white Fairy-wren, is a small fairy-wren growing to 10.1–12.5 cm long. During the non-breeding season, adults of both sexes are mainly red-brown or grey-brown with cinnamon wash above, and white to buff below, with a dull blue tail. At this time, the sexes are most obviously distinguished by the colour of 
the bill, which is blackish in males and light brown, pinkish-brown or reddish-horn in females. During the breeding season, adult males are mostly glossy black with a large white patch on the shoulder and much of the outer wing (Schodde & Mason, 1999; Johnstone & Storr, 2004). The White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) feeds on insects and other invertebrates (Wooller & Calver, 1981). There are three recognized subspecies of Malurus leucopterus. Malurus l. leucopterus occurs on Dirk Hartog Island, M. l. leuconotus is widespread throughout mainland Australia. Malurus leucopterus edouardi is the smallest subspecies with a significantly smaller tail. The plumage is similar to the nominate, the breeding male differs from the more widespread M. l. leuconotus, in that it is glossy black rather then blue, similar to the nominate, the female also tends to be browner (Higgins et al., 2001). Malurus leucopterus leuconotus is predominantly a cooperative breeder that has a significantly higher breeding success than the island subspecies which are predominantly monogamous (Rathburn & Montgomerie, 2003).

Conservation Status
The White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) is listed as vulnerable. This subspecies is eligible for listing as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) (EPBC Act) as, prior to the commencement of the EPBC Act, it was listed as vulnerable under Schedule 1 of the Endangered Species Protection 
Act 1992 (Cwlth). The subspecies is also listed as vulnerable under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (Western Australia).

Distribution and Habitat
The White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) inhabits Barrow Island, a Class-A Nature Reserve, which lies approximately 130 km west of Dampier, off the coast of Western Australia (Johnstone & Storr, 2004). The subspecies occurs in a single contiguous breeding population (Garnett & Crowley, 2000) and inhabits grasslands and low shrublands with a dense ground cover of Triodia grasses (Sedgwick, 1978; Wooller & Calver, 1981; Pruett-Jones & Tarvin, 2001; Johnstone & Storr, 2004; Bamford & Bamford, 2005a & 2005b). It has an area of occupancy and extent of occurrence of 236 km2; with the number of individuals estimated at a stable 25 000 breeding pairs (Garnett & Crowly, 2000). The White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) occurs within the Rangelands (Western Australia) Natural Resource Management Region. The distribution of this subspecies is not known to overlap with any EPBC Act-listed ecological 
communities.This conservation advice was approved by the Minister / Delegate of the Minister on 3 July2008

The main potential threats to the White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) include the introduction of non-endemic fauna, flora, or pathogens; inappropriate fire regime; vegetation clearing; destruction of birds; and/or degradation of habitat by fire and development. (Garnett & Crowley, 2000; Pruett-Jones & O’Donnell, 2004; Bamford & Bamford, 2005a & 2005b).

Research Priorities
Research priorities that would inform future regional and local priority actions include:
• Design and implement a monitoring program.

Regional and Local Priority Actions
Barrow Island supports a number of EBPC Act listed species and there fore it is desirable to develop integrated recovery actions across all species. The following regional and local priority recovery and threat abatement actions can be done to support the recovery of the White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island).

Habitat Loss, Disturbance and Modification
• Ensure infrastructure or development activities on Barrow Island are sited and managed in a manner that does not adversely affect the subspecies.
• Minimise the extent of vegetation clearing.
• Develop conservation agreements and/or covenants that aid the conservation management of this subspecies.

Animal Predation and weeds
• Maintain strict quarantine procedures to prevent the introduction of animal pest and weed species.

• Develop and implement a suitable fire management strategy for the White-winged Fairy Wren (Barrow Island).

Diseases, Fungi and Parasites
• Develop and implement suitable hygiene protocols to protect known sites from further outbreaks of introduced flora or pathogens.

Conservation Information
• Raise awareness of the White-winged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island) within the local community.
• Liaise with managers of existing and proposed industrial facilities on Barrow Island to minimize and monitor any impacts of industrial operating procedures on the Whitewinged Fairy-wren (Barrow Island). This list does not necessarily encompass all actions that may be of benefit to this species, but highlights those that are considered to be of highest 
priority at the time of preparing the conservation advice.

Red-backed Fairy Wren (Malurus melanocephalus)

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Pair, male partly colored

 In April 2012 I had my new Aviary finally finished which took quite some time and within few days I received a beautiful pair of young uncolored Red-backed Wrens of a licensed breeder. At first I was worried a little because of the long rainy and cold weather we had here in Sydney but within a few weeks they settled down and re-grew their pin feathers and started looking really good as if they were there for years. At the beginning they only ate mealworms and fly pupae but quickly by watching the White-winged Wrens they learned to take Egg and Biscuit mix and the Crickets. They also love to peck at those small Aphids that are always present on Roses, Sow Thistles and any other small insects that dared to enter their aviary. For the first few weeks I was worried the White-winged would be a little to aggressive through the wire but soon I realized although being a little smaller than the White-winged they were slightly more aggressive and knew how to look after themselves. Their new Aviary being 5 D x 2W x 2H I thought I'd try another couple of pairs of birds with them so I added a pair of Black-rumped Double Bars and a pair of Tanimbar Parrot Finches. Everything went well for quite some time and eventually the Double Bars and the Tanimbars made a nest and were sitting on eggs when for some reason the Red-backed Wren started harassing the Double Bar male. I didn't know what to do I was hoping the young Double Bars would hatch soon so that I could move them to another aviary but one day I found the Double Bar male dead on the floor. The female then deserted the nest and within a day she was killed to. Now he started harassing the much larger Tanimbar Parrot Finch male and same as with the Double Bar he was dead within a day, I then took the female out of the Aviary. I knew there must be birds that can be kept in with them, I was going to buy a pair of Java Finches but then I thought to try a pair of Carduelan species so I put a pair of Red Siskins in with them. Everything went well, the Siskins made the nest, laid egg, the hen was fed really well by the male but the day the young Siskins hatched for whatever reason the Red-backed Wren could hear the young in the nest and climed the nest as his own and wouldn't let the female Red Siskin nowhere near the nest. Luckily I had another nest of Siskins so I fostered the 4 young and they all survived and fledged. The Red Siskins are still in the Aviary they attempted to make another nest but again with his persistent inquisitiveness the Red Siskins abanded the nest. In October black spots started appearing and by November he is now 50% colored and I finally saw the female carrying nesting material attempting to make their own free standing nest. Hopefully I'll have some young before the end of the 2012-13 breeding season.          

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A view from my new Red-backed Wren Aviary

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A view from the White-winged Wren's Aviary

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Young female

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Young male

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Female foraging for insects

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Pair foraging for insects and preening

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Pair enjoying the morning sun

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Looking at the White-winged Wrens on the left 

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Partly colored male

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Fully colored males

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Busy building the nest with the first egg laid on the 17-Nov-2012

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Two out of three eggs hatched on the 1Dec2012 and here they are at banding with 
approximately 1 week larger 2 White-winged Wrens. They fledged at 11 days of age.
Their color is a little darker than that of the White-wing Wrens young.

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They are fed with House Fly maggots small Mealworms and small Crickets. Egg and Biscuits are
also given daily. 

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I am still experimenting but I think they can be sexed visually even at this early age
The male is brighter white all over while the hen is a little darker and has more brown on flanks
and face. I would like to hear other breeders opinion but from what I hear most are 
DNA sexed nowadays.

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Here she is on her second clutch, and two young just out of the nest

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It's good to see the two healthy young exploring chasing insects

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The total of six birds for the year, all four young are females

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