Buying & equipment
Since exotic birds and softbills are such unusual and colourful creatures, keeping them can be a highly rewarding hobby. Before bringing these birds home, however, there are a few important things that you need to bear in mind so that nothing stands in the way of a longstanding friendship. For instance, you need to ensure that your birds receive a balanced diet and are housed in a suitable birdcage.
Checklist for initial equipment:
- A spacious birdcage
- Perches of different sizes for foot exercises (at least thick enough that the bird's foot does not enclose the entire perch)
- Untreated natural branches for climbing or using as perches
- Toys to keep your bird occupied
- A nest and nesting material, if required
- Water bath for daily bathing
- Bird sand, such as Premium SANDY with calcium carbonate and essential minerals
- Food bowl or automatic feeder filled with main food, such as Vitakraft Premium Menu
- Water bottle with fresh drinking water or Vita Fit® Aqua drink
- Mineral stone, e.g. Vita Fit® Mineral to provide added minerals and help care for your bird's beak
- Kräcker® sticks for exotic birds to keep your bird's beak healthy and provide variety
The right spot for your birdcage
Birds love to have company and a light, sheltered corner in a living room provides the ideal location for a birdcage. Placing the cage in an elevated spot allows your pets to observe what is happening around them. Large indoor or outdoor aviaries are also ideal.
- Birds are sensitive to draughts and direct sunlight, so be careful not to place your birdcage too close to a window. Domestic birds also cannot tolerate extreme variations in temperature.
- Kitchens, in particular, can be hazardous places due to hot hobs, toxic detergents etc.
- Birds enjoy fresh air. In summer, you can set up an outdoor aviary in a shaded corner of your balcony or garden that is protected against wind.
Caring for your pet
All pet birds are social animals. If you talk and play with them regularly, some species can also become trusting of humans. However, since a human owner is no substitute for avian company, they are only truly happy when kept together with others of their own kind. Keeping birds together does not have a negative impact on their willingness to make contact with and trust humans.
Birds preen their plumage thoroughly several times each day. They also enjoy taking an occasional bath. They do not usually require any human assistance with this.
Your birds should always have access to a beak stone and strong, untreated branch. They need to grind their beaks against a stone to keep them healthy. The Vita Fit® Mineral beak stone is ideal for this and also provides vital minerals, trace elements and natural calcium carbonate.
If you place sufficiently wide, untreated branches in your birds' cage, they will wear down their claws naturally. However, if their claws become too long, they will need clipping from time to time. Your pet shop, breeder or vet will be happy to show you how to do this properly.
Birds need particularly high levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients when moulting. Supplementary products, such as Vita Fit® Pro-Feda® Moulting Aid and Vita Fit® Mineral, provide additional nutrients and essential ingredients.
Cleaning your birdcage
You should replace the bird sand between once and twice each week, depending on the size of the cage, the number of birds and their size. The bottom of the cage will also need rinsing out with hot water once each week. While doing this, you should wipe down the perches and toys using a brush or damp cloth and thoroughly clean the food and water bowls using hot water.The cage also needs a thorough clean once every month: This involves rinsing the cage itself with hot water. However, you must never use strong household detergents!
The perfect diet
Exotic birds and softbills originate from a wide range of different natural habitats. Popular Zebra Finches, for example, are Australian birds, whereas the most widely known softbills – Mynah birds and the Japanese Nightingale (Red-Billed Leiothrix) – come from India or the Himalayas.
Most species primarily eat seeds, grains, fruit, insects and fresh greenery in the form of grasses and wild herbs. The living conditions and, in particular, the range of food available differ greatly from region to region and different birds have evolved to survive on the foods available in their native habitats. Wherever they live, however, these birds tend to have an extremely varied diet.
Vitakraft's diverse range of food products has been designed to cater for these specific dietary needs: We select the perfect mix of high-quality ingredients to provide an optimal, species-appropriate diet and ensure a long and healthy life.
A main food such as Premium Menu or Premium Menu Soft-Mix covers your birds' basic nutritional requirements
Tasty Kräcker® sticks have a number of functions in one: Exotic birds have to work for their food like in the wild. This helps prevent boredom and is a natural way to occupy your bird. Picking at the nibble stick also helps keep your bird's beak healthy
VITA NATURE®. Tasty treats that cater to the birds' natural instincts, e.g. picking seeds from natural millet spikes
Snacks, such as Bisquiti® provide variety, serve as a reward and help to tame your pet and create a bond
Pet food supplements, such as Vita® Fit Mineral strengthen your bird and promote well-being. They help meet the specific nutritional needs that can arise during certain stages of life, e.g. during periods of growth, after illness or when laying eggs. They may also be beneficial for particularly active animals.
- Remove the empty grain casings from the food bowl or dispenser on a daily basis and top up with new food
- Special Kräcker® sticks for exotic birds should be placed in the cage for your birds to nibble and peck on. This is a natural way to keep your birds occupied and exercises their beaks
- Provide a varied diet
- Provide fresh drinking water every day
- Provide fresh fruit
Behaviour & familiarisation
The group of exotic and softbill birds includes a wide variety of different species, some of which are very amenable and inquisitive, whereas other are more shy and reserved. It can be particularly interesting to observe the social behaviour within groups of the more reserved species. In the end, however, each bird is an individual and many a bird has surprised its owner with its uncharacteristic behaviour.
A new member of your family
During the first few days, your new birds will need a little bit of peace while they settle into their new surroundings. To disturb them as little as possible, you should ensure that the birdcage is set up properly in advance. Once your birds has moved in, you can remain nearby and speak to them in a soft voice. However, it is best to leave them alone for at least a day.
By observing your new pets' actions, you will easily be able to tell if they feel at home. A settled bird will start nibbling on a few grains from its bowl or give its feathers a good preen.
Since all domestic birds are social animals, they should only be kept together with others of their kind. Newly introduced birds will initially need a little time to get to know each other. It is best to keep a close eye on them during this period.
How to tame exotic birds and softbills
Some species within this group, such as Estrildid finches for example, will not become as tame as budgerigars. You should, however, make efforts to alleviate their fear of humans so that you can interact with them more easily.
A new bird will have settled in after around one week, and you can then begin familiarising it with the human hand. This is best done using a treat, such as VITA NATURE® foxtail millet: Hold out the millet in the cage and speak to the bird with an encouraging tone of voice. It will usually approach your hand after a short period of time and start nibbling on the treat. By repeating this action on a regular basis, your bird will start to associate your hand with positive things like treats.
Mynah bird (Hill Mynah)
There are many sub-species of the Hill Mynah. The ones most likely to be kept as pets are the Java Hill (Gracula religiosa religiosa), the Greater Indian Hill (Gracula religiosa intermedia) and the Lesser Hill Mynahs (Gracula religiosa indica).
Mynah birds have a jet-black, glossy plumage with yellow fleshy wattles on the head and nape. The bill and talons are bright orange. Size: between 25 and 35 cm, depending on sub-species, clutch size: 2 to 3 eggs, incubation: 14 days, the babies fledge at around 5 weeks while still being fed by their parents initially.
Mynah birds originated in Southeast Asia. They are native to the Indian Subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and southern China. In the wild, they are usually found in the tree-tops of hill forests or shrubby woodlands.
Mynahs are intelligent, social birds. They are also monogamous and can be very picky in their choice of partner, making breeding difficult. A particularly well-known characteristic of the Mynah is its astonishing ability to mimic any voice or sound it hears. Not only are Mynahs able to mimic human speech sounds successfully, they are also surprisingly good at mimicking pitch. Typical vocalising, however, also involves shrill whistling notes that help keep the flock together in the wild.
The birds mainly eat fruits in addition to insects and worms; in other words, very soft food with a high liquid content. When kept as household pets, they are given a drier food that firms up the droppings. They also enjoy fresh soft food, such as fruit, vegetables, egg and mealworms. Live insects are also required if raising young. Mynahs are very sloppy eaters and will toss their food around. This is typical Mynah behaviour and not an expression of disdain for the quality or taste of the food they have been given.
As a softbill (eater of soft foods), the droppings of Mynah birds tend to be very liquid and messy. If keeping Mynahs as a household pet, therefore, you should give them a food that firms up the droppings. Cleaning out the cage on a daily basis is also recommended. It is advisable to set up branches or perches around the home, which should be protected accordingly by using a floor tray to catch the droppings for instance.
The two sub-species of the Zebra Finch are: Taeniopygia guttata guttata (the Timor Zebra Finch, which is found only on the Sunda islands) and Taeniopygia guttata canostis (the Australian Zebra Finch), from which our Zebra Finches originate, although with some Timor Zebra Finches crossed in.
Taeniopygia guttata (also Poephila guttata)
Breeding has created over 50 different colour variants and patterns of the Zebra Finch, including pied, albino, grey or yellow-beaked. Length: Approx. 11 cm, weight: approx. 12 g, incubation: at least 11 days, clutch size: 4 to 6 eggs, age of sexual maturity: 3 to 3.5 months
The Zebra Finch is native to Australia and ranges over most of the continent, preferring open steppes with scattered bushes and trees.
The Zebra Finch is a small, very active bird that is happiest when kept in pairs or a small flock. While these birds are pleasantly vocal, they are not “hands-on” pets. They are too small, fast and nervous to be handled.
In the wild, they tend to eat a variety of grass seeds. When kept as household pets, therefore, seeds such as millet make an ideal food source. When raising their young, they also require some animal protein, such as insects or egg-based food.
It can be dangerous to allow this small bird to fly freely around the room. They therefore require constant supervision and should not be fed outside of the cage. Unlike many other species, Zebra Finches sleep in nests and not on a perch. Therefore, to correctly equip a cage for Zebra Finches, you must – depending on the number you are keeping – provide one or more nests and nesting material.
Java Finch, Java Rice Sparrow or Java Rice Bird
In the wild, the bird is grey, white and black with a red bill. However, a number of other colour variants do exist, the oldest being the White Java Sparrow, which is thought to have been bred in China and Japan over 400 years ago. A variety of other colourations have also been bred in captivity, including pastel and fawn/isabel. Size: 14 cm, clutch size: 4 to 8 eggs, incubation: 13 to 15 days
The Java Sparrow originates from Java and Bali, but has also been introduced across South-east Asia and East Africa, where it lives in cultivated, populated areas. It prefers to search for food on the outskirts of villages and alongside roads and trails.
A lively, curious bird, the Java Sparrow is very sociable, making it ideal for mixed aviaries. However, this generally peaceable bird can occasionally be aggressive when incubating eggs, meaning that breeding is only advisable in sufficiently large aviaries or special breeding cages.
As one of its alternative names, the Java Rice Sparrow, suggests, the Java Sparrow likes to eat rice, and in some areas is considered a serious agricultural pest of rice. It does, however, also eat a variety of seeds and fruits. Its beak is specially adapted to remove the husks of larger seeds. The Java Sparrow also likes eating foxtail millet, seedlings and other soft food in addition to some insects.
In warmer temperatures, the Java Sparrow enjoys bathing. To cater for this, simply provide a suitable water dish on the floor of the cage. Dirty water should, of course, be replaced immediately.
The Gouldian Finch was first described by British ornithological artist John Gould and named after his wife. It is also known as the Rainbow Finch, Gould's Finch or the Lady Gouldian Finch.
Their heads may be red, black or, more rarely, yellow. Selective breeding has also developed mutations (blue, yellow and silver instead of a green back) in both body and breast colour. Size: 13 to 14 cm, clutch size: up to 7 eggs, incubation: approx. 14 days, the young become independent at around 40 days old. Gouldian Finches are very well adapted to high temperatures and humidity levels.
Their natural habitat is tropical savannah woodlands in Western and North-Western Australia. Gouldian Finches tend to join up with mixed flocks in the vicinity of watering holes, nesting in old eucalyptus trees.
If kept in the correct conditions, this attractive species makes for a companionable bird. The domesticated bird is not quite as demanding as its wild counterpart, although it should be kept at temperatures above 20°C. Although generally very peaceable, it can be quite picky when choosing a partner.
In the wild, the Gouldian Finch's diet consists of small seeds, grass seed in particular, and small insects. They also like to eat foxtail millet and herbage such as common chickweed and various types of lettuce. If raising young, a special rearing food is required to meet the increased nutritional requirements (extra protein in particular) of this stage.
Lonchura striata f. domestica
The Bengalese Finch comes in a variety of colours and patterns, including self (one solid colour, not pied) with a lighter chest and belly, snow white and pied with random areas of white. There are also a number of feather mutations like crests or curled feathers. Size: 11 to 13.5 cm, weight: Approx. 13 g, clutch size: 2 to 9 eggs, incubation: 16 to 17 days, age of sexual maturity: 4 to 6 months
The Bengalese (or Society) Finch originates from China and has been bred selectively for over 300 years, making it arguably the most ancient domestic breed in the world (i.e. a species that does not exist in this form in the wild). The Bengalese Finch is a descendant of the Lonchura striata, the White-rumped Munia (or White-rumped Mannikin), sometimes also called the Striated Finch, of which several sub-species exist. It is thought that this domestic species is a hybrid descendant of the Lonchura striata subsquamicollis, Lonchura striata swinhoei and perhaps also the Lonchura striata acuticauda. The wild breed frequents open woodland, grassland and scrub, but is also often found close to human settlements. In areas with rice paddies, rice seeds are its main source of food.
Since they are easy to cage breed and make excellent parents, Bengalese Finches are the most popular choice for foster parents for other Estrildid finches. Being a very social, peaceable bird, Bengalese Finches enjoy the company of other social finches.
In the wild, the Bengalese Finch mainly eats grass seeds, as well as other small seeds, rice and berries. It also enjoys fresh herbs, such as common chickweed and shepherd's-purse. Egg-based food and sprouted seeds should also be used to supplement the diet of breeding pairs and young birds that have just weaned.