Article kindly provided by Glenn Johnson
To be more correct, the right name of this finch is the Red-Headed Finch (Amandina erythrocephala), however it is known all over Australia as the Aberdeen Finch. This finch, like many others over time in Australian aviculture, has gone from a commonly available bird to a somewhat hard to get one. Hybrids between Aberdeen’s and its close cousin the Cut-Throat is also becoming a problem.
The Aberdeen is sexually dimorphic, as only the cock birds sport the beautiful red heads and the distinctive white scalloped feathering down its front. The hen is somewhat somber in its colouring with no red head, very little scalloping except on its flanks. The young look like duller versions of their parents, young cocks have duller redheads but it is quite obvious. Aberdeen’s are a large finch, being 130mm long and weigh about 27 grams, this is equivalent to the size of a Java Finch so that gives you an idea as to how big they are.
Aberdeen’s can, and have been bred and kept in a variety of situations. Some years ago I knew a canary breeder who kept and bred Aberdeen’s in canary breeding cabinets. About ten years ago I had four pairs in a colony in an aviary measuring 2 metres high x 3.5 metres wide x 4 metres deep, the only other birds in this aviary was a pair of Scarlet Chested Parrots and a pair of button quails. They are tough, hardy birds who will quite happily live in large planted flight aviaries in almost all types of weather conditions. As with all species, areas of the aviary should be well sheltered. Aviaries that take advantage of the sun and keep dry are a must.
Aberdeen’s are a large Finch and therefore can be intimidating to smaller species. As a rule they are not overly aggressive. Normally the larger the aviary the less problem you have with mixing them. Cut-Throats in the same aviary are a real no-no as they will readily cross breed. More than one feeding station will help cut down dominating bird advantage at the food dishes.
Aberdeen’s will do well on your standard good quality Finch mix, my birds receive black and white lettuce seed and a very small amount of hulled oats during the colder months. Green’s in the shape of Chickweed, milk thistles, winter and summer grass, Johnson’s grass, Panic and African veldt grass are all extremely popular. I don’t think you can overdo the greenfood. When seeding grass is hard to get you can grow your own from waste seed, sprouted Finch mix is always popular and eagerly taken. Vegetables, such as corn on the cob, Lebanese cucumber, silverbeet and endives are also great sources of green food.
I also supply a soft food mix, and if you don’t want to cause a real argument with Finch breeders, never say this is the best soft food recipe, everyone has their own ideal recipe so stick with it. My recipe is only one of hundreds and works for me; it is simple and easily done, just like me. I use plain sponge cake, Polenta and “Paswell Soft food Mix”. I crumble the cake and add a dessert spoon of Polenta (processed corn) and a dessert spoon of the “Paswells”. This mix is fed in bowls and is fed four times a week. The good thing with soft food mixes is that you can add extras when you need to. If you have lots of chicks you can place a hard boiled egg or maybe some sprouted seed.
Grit is important in all species including Aberdeen’s. My mix is comprised of canundra shell grit, charcoal, baked fowl egg shells and crushed cuttlebone, this is all mixed together and is replaced as needed. Along with this grit mix I have pieces of Goat Lick block that I find the birds will really get stuck into.
Your success, or lack of it, will depend on your supply of livefood. Soft food mixes and man made insectivore mixes will definitely help, but for more dependable results livefood is a must. I used to supply termites and in my opinion they are the best livefood, so if they are available to you definitely use them. Unfortunately they have become scarce in my areas so an alternative was needed, mealworms work well and the birds will take them for sure, however they can be a little bit unreliable as far as a constant supply is concerned. About ten years ago, I was converted over to the advantages of Bush Fly Maggots. This is an easy, quick and reliable source of livefood and the birds like them.
Bush Fly Maggots are bred in a box fitted with a fly screen front and a light globe inside to supply warmth. The flies need a food source being containers of sugar and water. I use a container of water with a wick of cloth, so that the flies can get the moisture but not get into the water, as they will drown and a bowl of dead flies floating in water isn’t a pleasant smell.
Normal horse bran mixed with powdered milk and then dampened with water is the mix used for the flies to lay their eggs in. the amount of birds you need to feed the gentles to will govern how you mix the bran and powdered mix. I mix approximately two 2 Litre ice cream containers of bran and two cups of milk powder, thoroughly mix these ingredients together, then add water till you get the consistency of slightly dry porridge. Umm Umm Umm sounds good enough to eat. Place this mix into 1 Litre or 2 Litre ice cream containers into the box and watch the flies go crazy.
The box can be any size, however too big and they are hard to keep warm, to small and you can’t get enough container in. at the side of the box should be a hole big enough to get the ice cream containers in, with a stocking stapled on so that you can tie a knot in and keep the flies in. within two days you can have thousands of gentles to feed your birds and they will readily get stuck into them. The flies you need to start, have to be individually caught by hand and you will need at least a couple of hundred only joking you’ll have to find someone who is doing it already and they’ll put an extra container of bran mix in for you and away you’ll go.
As said earlier you can mix them with other species or colony breed them, I personally prefer to colony breed them. They breed during the cooler month, so keep up the grit to help with egg binding. I keep my birds together all year round, however some breeders like to separate the hens from the cocks when not breeding. I don’t supply any shrubs or tea tree branches in my Aberdeen aviary only an assortment of branches and budgie breeding boxes. They are messy nesters and boxes need to be cleaned between clutches. They like finer grasses such as swamp or November grass, coconut fibre and feathers are also used. The average clutch is about 5 eggs, both male and female will incubate, I try and keep away from nest inspection unless I feel there might be a problem.
They incubate for 14 days with chicks fledging around three weeks later. The good thing about Aberdeen chicks is they usually stay put in the nest until they are well advanced and can get around the aviary. The fertility is good in Aberdeen’s and chicks are usually strong so chick losses are low. Chicks can be removed from the parent about a month after fledging as to stop future nest interference.
Some individuals can be overzealous and dominating at feeding stations. In mixed collections they can make smaller species nervous. As far as health problems they have few, normal worming and Coccidia treatments should be carried out. They will readily cross breed with Cut-Throats and their offspring unfortunately are fertile so this should be frowned upon.
I personally have not seen any mutations; however, I have seen pictures of a white mutation with a red head in an English publication.
Aberdeen’s have gone from an easy to get species classed as a common species to hard to get birds. They are beautiful birds, tough hardy and given the right conditions and diet easily reproduced, so it’s up to us to not let them slip from our avicultural grasp.