Article kindly provided by Glenn Johnson
Status in Captivity
The Plum-headed Finch (Aidemosyne modesta) is secure in captivity being free breeding, affordable, and a good mixer with other species. This species is still on the protected list and in NSW, a class 1 license is required to purchase and keep this species. Other breeders need to check with the appropriate authorities in their states and territories to check out licensing requirements.
Status in Wild
This species has a large range and is somewhat nomadic, following seeding grass and water. They can vary from abundant in some areas and non existent in others, only to change around a few months later. I have seen large flocks in recent years, in and around the Capartree Valley and surrounding areas in the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range of NSW, about 30 minutes from where I live. I have had reports from prominent finch breeders, who have seen them on the banks of the Nepean River at Wallacia and Castlereagh on the Western outskirts of Sydney.
Why would you keep them?
I have been asked this question many times over the years, mainly from beginners in our hobby. “They look dull, they look boring, they have no colour, I want to get something pretty for my money.” This is a very common idea, that many newcomers to aviculture have, one can only hope that once they become more experienced, and give these and other species, considered dull, a go they will soon realise that they are full of character and charm and deserve a place in your aviaries.
In my opinion Plum heads are one of the tamest species we keep. My Plums are the first to the front of the aviary and will take seeding grass from my hand. They are a species that mix extremely well, and I haven’t had an aggressive Plum head ever. They are easily catered for and given half a chance, a prolific breeder, raising many young in a season.
I have seen Plum heads breed in breeding cabinets, suspended aviaries, small box type aviaries up to large planted aviaries, as big as a tennis courts. Medium to large planted flights show them off the best, as they fly around in and out the plants, unfortunately we all don’t have the good fortune to have space to build this type aviaries. Box type and small flight aviary; work well with this species as long as overcrowding is watched.
Plum heads need to have an aviary that is dry and protected, so areas need to be built into your aviary to accommodate this need. Prolonged exposure to wet, drafty conditions will have disastrous effects to this species. Hens especially succumb to bad prolonged wet, cold conditions. Planted aviaries show them off at their best, but don’t overdo it; they do need sunshine, especially to dry out aviary floors after rain. Tall growing grasses provide a natural backdrop as well as providing nesting sights.
What do you feed them?
Plum heads are not fussy eaters; a clean good quality finch mix will take care of their seed needs.
I have had good successes in feeding a soft food mix, which they eagerly partake in. My mix is plain Madeira cake, polenta and a commercial soft food mix put out by a company in South Australia called Passwells. I find by mixing these ingredients together I get a nice semi moist crumbly mix. All my birds love this mix, and it doesn’t last long. When I know I have a lot of chicks, twice a week I add one hard boiled egg, shell and all to this soft food.
Live food is supplied to all my finches as they are all held in mix collection native and foreign. Termites were the preferred live food when I first started out over twenty years ago, however for me personally they have become more difficult to collect, and further traveling is required. For the last eight years Bush Fly Maggots is all that I have been using and haven’t had any problems with them.
As with all native species, seeding grasses are extremely important and good variety is appreciated. Chickweed, winter grass, summer grass, dandelion, Johnson grass, African valet grass are just some that they like.
My standard grit mix is a variety of fine shell grit, crushed cuttlebone and charcoal. I also supply a separate dish of crushed goat mineral block.
Plum heads are a simple species to breed. Once the pair is mated, the housing is correct and the diet is right, then breeding is fairly straight forward.
I place tea tree branches on the shelter wall, along with a variety of nesting receptacles, boxes, cane baskets, gourds etc. I have found that Plum heads will nest in a variety of places. They will build their own nest in live shrubs and grasses in the flight, along with accepting various nesting receptacles.
They show a preference for fine grasses such as November grass and dried couch. White feathers and coconut fibre is another favourite.
They can lay between four to six eggs, my Plum heads usually hatch out three or four. I have had the odd nest of five but never any more than that. Hens and cocks share the incubation duties and it takes twelve days for the chicks to hatch. The young fledge at around twenty two days later.
Nest interference is a no no with hens sometimes abandoning eggs or young chicks. If you interfere later on, chicks will jump out of the nest too early and they are a real bugger to put them back into the nest. If this happens it’s a good idea to take the parents and chicks and put them into a cabinet until the chicks are flying well enough to place back into the aviary. I have also had success in taking the chicks out overnight and putting them back in the aviary first thing in the morning. Many chicks can be saved by doing this, otherwise you take the risk of losing chicks due to the elements, usually three or four days of doing this the chicks are flying well enough to stay in the aviary.
The only mutation that is available, that I know of, is fawn. I keep a few of these examples and they are very attractive. In recent years, they have become popular and their availability has varied from season to season.
Regular treatment for worms, mites and lice should be automatic after wet periods, Coccidia treatment should be carried out.
Aviary construction should be carried out with much thought for protection from cold, wet, drafty weather, as this is a major problem for Plum heads. Regular standard cleaning practices should be done as well as a careful watch on vermin such as mice.
Plum heads are a delightful, free breeding species that mixes well with others. They are inquisitive, tame and well and truely match much more colourful species. They truely are a species that will enhance anyone’s collection.