Joining together individuals who share a common interest in breeding Carduelan species in captivity
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Young WWW lose their body heat very quickly, so what do I do now?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
the young uncolored birds can be difficult but from what I discovered is
that at fledging both sexes have black
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.
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.
Red-backed Fairy Wren (Malurus melanocephalus)
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.