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Only Softbills held by private aviculturists will be
For simplicity, no hyphens have been used in the common
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
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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.
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"
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Refer to references listed on "
Book References " web page.
- 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
- 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 -
- A/A Vol 55 No. 3 Mar 2001 Page 56-59
- A/A Vol 51 No. 11 Nov 1997 Page 243-250 (S. Gelis -
- A/A Vol 51 No. 11 Nov 1997 Page 254-259 (Victorian
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- ABK Vol 4 Issue 9. Jun-July 1991 Page 430-431 (Red capped
- ABK Vol 3 Issue 5. Oct-Nov 1990 Page 218-219 (Striated Grass
- ABK Vol 3 Issue 4. Aug-Sept 1990 Page 155-159 (Plantscaping)
- ABK Vol 3 Issue 4. Aug-Sept 1990 Page 166-168 (Aviary
- ABK Vol 1 Issue 6. 1989 Page 210-211
- ABK Vol 1 Issue 1. 1987 Page 13-14(Mixed Collections)
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