PO  Box 126 Mitcham Vic 3132 ( Victoria, Australia )

Home ] Finches - Australian ] Finches - Non Aust. ] Parrots - Australian ] Parrots - Non Aust. ] About Us ] Advertise on web ] Amazon Parrots ] ASA ] Avian Health Issues ] Birds for sale ] Birds wanted ] Book References ] Cockatoos ] Conures ] Domestication ] Doves & Pigeons ] Feeding Birds ] Government Laws ] Housing Birds ] Insects & Livefoods ] Lorikeets & Lories ] Lovebirds ] Macaws ] Nests ] Quail ] Rosellas ] Scientific names ] Site map ] [ Softbills ] Weavers & Whydahs ]

Banded Lapwing
Crimson Chat
Magpie Robin
Masked Lapwing
Pekin Robin
Red Wattlebird
Scarlet honeyeater
Silver eared Mesia
Song Thrush
Splendid Fairy Wren
Spotted Pardalote
Superb Fairy Wren
Variegated Fairy Wren
White Fronted Chat
White winged Fairy Wren

. softbills

Give us a try and list your birds for sale on the "Birds for Sale" web pages
To place an advertisement, click on "Birds for sale" web page in top navigation bar then
click on "Place a for sale Advert" web page. 
4 lines for 2 months is only $25

Only Softbills held by private aviculturists will be listed.
For simplicity, no hyphens have been used in the common names.

General Softbill Overview:
In Australia there is not a lot of reference material published on softbills.  Even in published commercial aviculture magazines and Aviculture Society publications there is little available.  More has to be recorded and published for all to learn.

Softbills are generally low value birds and cost more to feed correctly than the true seed eaters.

The name "Softbill" refers to their diet not their beak.  Softbills feed on soft foods such as insects and plant materials and rely less on hard seeds. They eat foods like fruit, insects and nectars. If a variety of softbills are housed in one aviary, care must be taken to satisfy the needs of each type of softbill.  Separate feed stations should be provided.

Before attempting to acquire these birds, make sure you are an experienced bird breeder or have access to people who have experience breeding these birds.  They can be aggressive birds so constant observation is required.  Many softbills are very small birds, such as the fairy wrens (many softbills weigh less than 20 grams, some less than 10 grams, some 7 grams or less!!), so any health issues have to be undertaken with a degree of urgency and the need to have rapid access to a avian veterinarian is an advantage.

Fairy Wrens

There are 30 species of Australian wrens.
4 species of Fairy Wrens are held in Victorian aviaries.
The males are usually brightly plumaged and have long slender tails.
It is often difficult to distinguish which species the hen belongs to.
In a colony situation the dominant hen will lay the eggs and the other birds will assist in the raising of the young.
There are several types of Wrens, Emu wrens, Fairy wrens, Field wrens, Grass wrens, Heath wrens and Scrub wrens.

Male Fairy Wrens and Chats have a nuptial plumage.  The nuptial plumage is only for the breeding season.  Outside the breeding season the cock Fairy Wrens resemble the hens but can be sexed due to the cock birds retaining their black beak colour.  The cock Wrens may not attain full nuptial plumage colour in the first one or two years.  After about the third or fourth year the cock Wrens may not revert back to the full eclipse plumage. 

Transporting wrens:
If more than one bird is to be transported, it is advisable to only have one bird per carry cage.  This even applies to mated pairs.

Wrens require a well planted aviary if they are to survive.  Growing plants can be supplemented with dry brush such as tea tree.  The dense planting helps reduce the stress levels in these small birds.  One good point of Wrens is the fact that they do little or no damage the growing plants.
A good starting point for housing wrens is a "typical backyard suburban aviary" of 3000mm long x 1000mm wide x 2100mm high (10 x 3 x 7 feet).  This should be well planted and house one pair of wrens.  Wrens should never be housed in a bare aviary devoid of adequate cover.  Leave that style of aviary to the parrots.
Most suburban backyard aviaries are not large enough to house more than one pair of wrens.
If you are purchasing birds from the breeder of the birds, ask what type of aviary the birds were bred in or housed in and try to mimic those conditions in your aviary.
CAUTION: Wrens are very small birds so care must be taken to ensure the wire mesh or cage front is not too wide to allow any birds, including the young, to escape or get their head stuck.

Mainly  insect eaters.  They are active birds and constantly on the move.  Fairy wrens are aggressive, territorial birds.  In the wild they form family groups.  One pair per planted aviary is recommended.  Two breeding age pairs in one aviary usually results in disaster for one pair, usually fatally.  One pair of Fairy wrens can generally be kept with finches and Neophema parrots although care must be taken when cock birds are housed with similar coloured finches.  Although they are small birds, their aggression and territorial nature may result in the death of other species of finches.  They are capable of killing birds bigger than themselves.
Wrens like their privacy and space.  Birds invading their space can be a trigger for an attack.
Do not keep spare cock birds with a breeding age pair.  It will probably be killed.

Inexperienced breeders should get advice from experienced breeders on obtaining, housing and "pairing up" wrens.  The purchaser should ask the breeder/seller how to carefully introduce the birds into their new aviary.  Do it wrong and the results are usually the death of one or both of the birds.
One method, subject to aviary space, is to place one of the pair in one aviary and the other in the aviary "next door".  The aviary walls to be wire mesh and to have one or more perches that join side-by-side.  If the birds do not like each other they will not be able kill or injure each other.  If they like each other, they will usually sit side by side with only the wire between them.
If extra aviary space is not available, a large duel compartment cage/cabinet can be used.  The two compartments should have a wire mesh divider between the two halves and a side-by-side perch.  Possible results as per aviary situation.
When the two birds have proven their like for each other they can be placed in the same aviary or cage.  The "pairing up" stage cannot be hurried and is determined by the birds.  It could be quick, it could take weeks, or it may never happen.  Once the birds have shown their like for each other, give them another week or more in their separate cage/aviary before placing them together.
Usual protocol is to place the cock bird into the hen's aviary or cage, not the other way round.  If space allows, place them into an aviary neither bird has occupied.
Keep a close eye on them for a while in case they change their opinion of each other and fight.  Immediately separate them if any aggression is evident.  The "introduction" stage through the dividing wire can be repeated if required.
In the wild the young birds will stay with the family group.  If an adult bird shows aggression to a young bird, the young bird has the option of flying further away from the aggressor.  In the aviary the situation is much different.  After the young has fledged, it has a defined aviary area.  It cannot escape from an aggressive bird.  Most parent birds will allow the young to remain in the aviary without the threat of aggression.  However it is advisable to keep a close eye on all breeding pairs that have young birds in the same aviary.  Young birds should be removed from the parent bird's aviary before they colour up and before the next breeding season.  Failure to remove the "young" well before the start of the breeding season usually results in the death of some or all of the last season's young.

The hen Fairy Wrens build a small dome shaped nest made from materials such as grasses, plant and vegetable matter, coconut fibre, sheep wool, natural cotton wool, animal hair and lined with soft materials.  Some will use spider webs in the nest construction.  The cock bird may help the hen by offering her nest materials.  Chats build a cup shaped nest.  The nests are built in shrubs or dry brush and preferably under the sheltered part of the aviary.  The nests are generally built in the mid level or lower height of the aviary.  The hen does the incubating.  Incubation takes about 13 - 14 days and the young fledge at about 2 weeks.  By about 4 - 6 weeks of age weeks the young are independent.  3 clutches can be raised each breeding season.  The Fairy Wrens, after a few days of the hen only feeding the young, the cock bird and other family members will assist in the rearing.  Fairy wrens and Chats need a constant supply of insects.  Insects should be available through out the day, not just early morning and evening.  The breeding season generally starts in the spring.
Don't take material from the nest of wild birds as these nests may harbour mites, parasites and disease pathogens.

If you are purchasing birds from the breeder of the birds, ask what type of foods the birds were raised on and try to supply those foods to the birds while they are in your aviary.  After they have settled in, the foods may be slowly changed to the diet you want them to eat.  If a bird does not adapt to the new food, revert to the original foods and later, try again.
Wrens are mainly  insect eaters.  They will eat some seeds, quality soft food mix, and soaked or sprouted seed.  Supplements of mineral and vitamins should only be given subject to advice from an avian veterinarian or experienced Wren breeder.
The young are fed almost exclusively on live insects.
Insects such as small mealworms, small crickets, small locusts, termites, aphids, small fly maggots, small grubs, slaters, and some moths will be consumed by wrens.  The quantity required for the young can be higher than expected so don't get caught with insufficient insects.  Quality commercial insectivore mixes are available from many bird clubs, pet stores and bird dealers.

There are 5 species of Australian Chats.  2 species of Chats are held in Victorian aviaries.
Chats build a cup shaped nest.
Male Fairy Wrens and Chats have a nuptial plumage.
Fairy wrens and Chats need a constant supply of insects.

Breeding Softbills

Feeding / Diet for Softbills

Softbills have evolved with special diets and activity levels that are harder to mimic in our aviaries.  Softbills are less "domesticated" than most other finches and parrots and hence the need to take special attention to try and give these special birds the environment and feeds they need.  With more than one pair per aviary it may be necessary to have food located in more than one place in the aviary to allow the less dominant birds to get their fair share of the food.  It will also allow young birds to get access to a feed supply if the parent birds are protective of the main food supply.  If there are different types of softbills in the one aviary it will probably be necessary to establish more than one food station to cater for the differing types of foods.

There are 5 categories of softbills.  Fruit eaters, Insect eaters, Nectar eaters, Carnivores (meat eaters) and Omnivores which eat a bit of many categories.  Most softbills eat something from most food categories.

Softbills need to be fed at least daily and most likely twice in summer.  While young are in the aviary, feeding may have to be increased to several feeds per day.  It is advisable to have a regular routine for softbills to minimize stress on the birds.  Insects are best offered in such a way as to encourage the birds to have to actively seek out the insects.  Placing insects in an open bowl does not encourage the natural hunting instincts to be preserved.  The insects can be placed in a shallow sided tray with a large surface area.  A tray of 60 cm by 90 cm with a depth of about12 cm deep will allow the tray to be filled to a depth of about 4 cm of clean dry leaf litter with out the insects escaping.  Placing the insects in such a tray will make the birds pick and scratch through the plant material as they would do in the wild to find the insects.  This will give the softbills plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.

To be successful at maintaining fit healthy birds will require the person to become very familiar with the purchasing or breeding of a variety of live insects.  Refer to "Insects" web page for more live insect information.

There are a large number of commercial diets and "home made" recipes available for finches and softbills.  When a new bird is purchased make sure you find out what the bird had been raised on and offer the new bird the same food until it has adjusted to, or learned to recognize what you are offering it, is food.  Commercial diets are popular as they minimize the time taken to prepare the varying types of food required and the foods are now able to offer a good balanced nutrition level.

Nutrition Reference: Pet & Aviary Bird magazine Issue 19 Sept/Oct 2003 by Debra McDonald.  Cat & dog foods.

Housing Softbills 

Most softbills are a high maintenance birds generally only for advanced or specialist breeders.  They need a lot of space in a well planted aviary and special foods.  In suburban areas it is unlikely many people will have enough back yard space to build very large aviaries to house a colony of softbills.  Don't forget the young will have to be moved to another aviary so 2 large aviaries are needed if breeding is successful.  Most people will have to do with smaller size aviaries and keep one pair per aviary.

Softbills need large planted aviaries with plenty of space for flying.  A single pair may need an aviary of 4m x 1.8m x 2.1m high (13ft x 6ft x 7ft high).  Some are very aggressive to other birds.  The more birds, the bigger the aviary will have to be.  Basic size for one pair is about 3 m x 2 m x 2.1 m high.  When the young reach independence they will have to be removed to another suitable aviary.  This implies the need for multiple aviaries if you are considering breeding even just one pair of softbills.

The aviary floor should be dry.  In the southern Australian States, fully covered flights are the most popular and successful for outside aviaries.

Can use "Feed Traps" to catch the birds. The use of a "food trap" will minimize the risk of injury of a bird but will not guarantee the required bird will be caught.

Spare cock birds can be house near a pair if the pair needs a bit of a stimulus to start breeding.

Government Regulations & By-Laws:  Refer to "Government Laws" web page.

 Top of - softbills - Page

General References:  Refer to references listed on " Book References " web page.

Specific References:

  • Australian Aviculture
  • A/A Vol 60 No. 8 Aug 2006 Page 162-165 (The good - the bad - and the ugly by Mike Fidler).

  • A/A Vol 60 No. 8 Aug 2006 Page 157-159 (Life with birds - J. McGrath).

  • A/A Vol 60 No. 5 May 2006 Page 98-100 (Birding in the Kimberleys - 2005).

  • A/A Vol 60 No. 4 Apr 2006 Page 69-71 (Advantages & disadvantages of Bird keeping in hot climates)
  • A/A Vol 60 No. 2 Feb 2006 Page 29-30 (Finch management for juniors & beginners)
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 11 Nov 2005 Page 252-253 (Use of crop needles)
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 11 Nov 2005 Page 246-247 (Maintain those plants)
  • A/A Vol 59 No. 10 Oct 2005 Page 233-235 (The case for feeding Green foods - by Dr D. Madill).
  • A/A Vol 58 No. 9 Sept 2004 Page 210-211 (Book review-Atlas of Aust. birds).
  • A/A Vol 58 No. 7 Jul 2004 Page 154-155 (M. Fidler Nestboxes and perches).
  • A/A Vol 57 No 9 Sept 2003 Page 206-207 (Avicultural lament - England).***Good read.
  • A/A Vol 55 No. 3 Mar 2001 Page 56-59
  • A/A Vol 51 No. 11 Nov 1997 Page 243-250 (S. Gelis - Nutrition)
  • A/A Vol 51 No. 11 Nov 1997 Page 254-259 (Victorian population 93-96)
  • A/A Vol 50 No. 8 Aug 1996 Page 186-189 (Status of Aust. quail & softbills in Victorian aviaries, Sept 1995)
  • A/A Vol 49 No. 10 Oct 1995 Page 241-244
  • A/A Vol 48 No. 4 Apr 1994 Page 83-88 (Studbooks)
  • A/A Vol 46 No. 12 Dec 1992 Page 277-278 (Breeding Blue-faced Honeyeaters at Taronga Zoo).
  • A/A Vol 46 No. 9 Sept 1992 Page 201-203 (White-browed Woodswallow in captivity-inc photo).  
  • A/A Vol 46 No. 8 Aug 1992 Page 181-187 (Bird feeding survey)
  • A/A Vol 46 No. 5 May 1992 Page 117-122 (Back to basics)
  • A/A Vol 45 No. 11 Nov 1991 Page 261-266 (Native plants- Pt 2)
  • A/A Vol 45 No. 5 May 1991 Page119-125 (Beginners mistakes)
  • A/A Vol 40 No. 9 Sept 1986 Page 212-216
  • A/A Vol 26 No. 6 Jun 1972 Page 81-82
  • A/A Vol 20 No 10 Oct 1966 Page 145-147 (Red Winged Wren- Maluris elegans).
  • A/A Vol 20 No 8 Aug 1966 Page 118-119 (Scarlet Robin).
  • A/A Vol 10 No 7 Jul 1956 Page 88.
  • A/A Vol  8 No 12 Dec 1954 Page 148 (Flame Robin).
  • A/A Vol  8 No 3 Mar 1954 Page 32-34.
  • A/A Vol  6 No 12 Dec 1952 Page 147-148 (Malurus callainus).
  • A/A Vol  6 No 7 Jul 1952 Page 87 (Black backed Wren).
  • A/A Vol  5 No 12 Dec 1951 Page 148 9Purple backed Wren).
  • A/A Vol  5 No 5 May 1951 Page 59-60.
  • A/A Vol  5 No 4 Apr 1951 Page 52.
  • A/A Vol  5 No 1 Jan 1951 Page 10 (Red capped Robin).
  • A/A Vol  4 No 12 Dec 1950 Page 140-142 (Red capped Robin).
  • A/A Vol  4 No 8 Aug 1950 Page 98 (Fairy Wrens).
  • A/A Vol  4 No 7 Jul 1950 Page 87.
  • A/A Vol  3 No 3 Mar 1949 Page 21-22 (Southern yellow Robin).
  • A/A Vol  2 No 3 Mar 1948 Page 24-25 (Birds of yesteryear,  Still valid in 2005).
  • A/A Vol  1 No 10 Oct 1947 (Purple backed Wren).
  • The Bulletin No 12, Sept 1943 Page 4 - 5 (The experiences of a novice/Bulbuls).
  • The Bulletin No 2, July 1942 Page 2 (Soft bills. Foods. Part 2).
  • The Bulletin No 1, May 1942 Page 4 (Note on soft bill foods).
  • Australian Birdkeeper
  • ABK Vol 18 Issue 11. Oct-Nov 2005 Page 676-681 (What's genetically pure and what's not)
  • ABK Vol 16 Issue 7 Feb-Mar 2003 Page 377-380.
  • ABK Vol 15 Issue 4. Aug-Sep 2002 Page 190-192
  • ABK Vol 13 Issue 3. Jun-July 2000 Page 170 (Emu Wren)
  • ABK Vol 13 Issue 2. Apr-May 2000 Page 75-77 (Chats)
  • ABK Vol 8 Issue 7. Feb-Mar 1995 Page 338-342
  • ABK Vol 6 Issue 8. Apr-May 1993 Page 373-377 (Plantscaping)
  • ABK Vol 4 Issue 10. Aug-Sept 1991 Page 462-463 (Breeding Fairy Wrens)
  • ABK Vol 4 Issue 9. Jun-July 1991 Page 430-431 (Red capped Robin)
  • ABK Vol 3 Issue 5. Oct-Nov 1990 Page 218-219 (Striated Grass Wrens)
  • ABK Vol 3 Issue 4. Aug-Sept 1990 Page 155-159 (Plantscaping)
  • ABK Vol 3 Issue 4. Aug-Sept 1990 Page 166-168 (Aviary design)
  • ABK Vol  1 Issue 6. 1989 Page 210-211
  • ABK Vol  1 Issue 1. 1987 Page 13-14(Mixed Collections)

Top of - softbills - Page is one of the world's largest and most informative avian or bird web sites.  Copyright 2002 - 2008 inc.  All rights reserved.  Disclaimer:  This web site has been compiled from material provided from a large number of sources.  Personal experience and personal contacts have been used.  Results vary according to factors such as environmental factors, aviary design and the physical and genetic backgrounds of all living birds/animals.  Every endeavour has been made to ensure the accuracy of the material but no responsibility is accepted by  for the accuracy of the material on this web site. The intent of this web site is to provide a "care sheet"  format and provide general material only.  Readers should rely upon their own enquiries in making any decisions relating to their own interests.