Article kindly provided by Glenn Johnson
No doubt we all have kept Star Finches (Neochmia ruficauda) in our aviaries at one time or another. They are a firm favourite with most aviculturists and why not, they have everything going for them. They are available, affordable, attractive and good breeders. For most young aviculturists Stars are the first “better” birds, as we used to call them, after keeping Zebs, Mannikins and possibly some wild caught Double Bars or Redheads. Of course, nowadays, wild caught birds are a thing of the past.
In the early days, Stars, along with most Northern Territory or Western Australian Finches, were available from the trappers in huge numbers. Thankfully those days are gone for the birds however, so has the availability of those spectacular coloured Kimberly Stars.
Stars are easily sexed when coloured. Cock birds have the extensive red head that extends under the lower mandible; he also carries the more prominent yellow lower chest and belly. The hens have far less head colouring and almost never under the chin. The yellow plumage on the belly is considerably duller.
Stars have and will breed under many different situations and aviaries. They are extremely adaptable, and once settled are not fussy as to the type of aviary they breed in. I’ve seen them breed in small box type aviaries, bare of any shrubbery or tea-tree lining, with only wicker baskets hung on the wall. At the other extreme, huge heavily planted flight aviaries that resemble a tropical jungle. Once you put them in your aviary they will check out every corner and like nothing better than clambering in and over any plants in the enclosure. Covering new plants until they get established is a good idea as they like to have a good pick at them. The type of aviary you keep them in should have a good shelter, as wet damp conditions are not good for any species including the warm, dry loving Stars.
Stars are not fussy in their food requirements. A good quality Finch mix is the basic requirement. I feed mine Avigrain Finch mix. To this, during the winter months, I add some canary tonic mix.
As with all species, green food is essential for good health and breeding. Milk thistles, dandelions, winter grass, summer grass, green panic, Johnson grass and African Veldt grass are all popular. When green food is hard to come across, green leafy vegetables are the next best step. Silverbeet, Chickory and Endives are all readily taken. Corn on the cob is also another favourite, as is sliced Lebanese cucumber. Recentl,y I have been giving my birds a dish of corn and peas that have been lightly squished. This dish can be readily sprinkled with such goodies as Ornithon, calcium powder or whatever extra things you use.
Insectivore cake mixes, egg and biscuit mixes or your own favourite soft food mixes, of which there are countless home grown recipes. My own soft food mix that I use for my birds is a simple one; however I have had good success with it. Plain sponge cake mixed with “Passwells” Finch soft food mix and Polenta (crushed corn). When my birds are breeding and feeding chicks I add Finch Crumbles and a hard boiled egg. Also, twice a week I add “Vetafarms Breeding Aid” and believe my birds have benefited from this.
Sprouted seed is something I have only recently started with my Finches. I have used it in the past when breeding African Lovebirds and Parrots. I have started using sprouted seed out of necessity due to the lack of green food.
My birds are housed in a mixed situation with both native and foreign neighbours. In this situation live food is offered to the whole aviary. My birds are given bush fly maggots and mealworms and have noticed my Stars, although not the first to the live food dish, defiantly will partake in some.
Stars are not a hard species to breed and once they start, quick successive nests can be the norm. They will use a variety of nesting sites, though wicker baskets and wire cylinders are popular, nest boxes and gourds are sometimes used. They do, however, love to build their own nests of dry and green grasses in shrubs or tea-tree lining. November grass, teased hessian, coconut fibre and plenty of white feathers are all used in nest construction. They colony breed well and large numbers of chicks can be expected but keep up plenty of nesting material when colony breeding or nest robbing will occur.
The average clutch is between four and six, and fertility and mortality is good as Stars are good parents. Nest inspection is a no no as chicks will readily abandon their nests well and truly before they’re ready and you have the headache of placing them back in their nest. In my experience, young Stars are very quiet. Many times you are unaware you have chicks until the bash and crash when you enter the aviary one day.
Stars are reasonably strong and healthy birds. A good dry drought free aviary and clean good quality food is probably the best way of maintaining healthy birds. One of the most important health tips anyone can get is to keep your water dishes clean.
I worm my birds four times a year. I use both “worm out gel” from Vetafarm and Avitrol in the water. Any new birds or birds that have to be caught have a drop of Ivermectin placed on the back of the neck. My Coccidia treatment is done every three months and I use Baycox.
Aviaries are sprayed out twice a year with “Coopex” for mites, spiders, cockroaches and spiders.
Stars have a number of mutations and this is a popular side to the species. The most common is the Yellow Star but there is also the Cinnamon, Fawn and Pied in both normal and yellow forms. A couple of breeders in the Hunter Valley and Mid Coast have been breeding a very diluted form of the Red Star, this colour is mostly referred to as cinnamon fawn, in some individuals they are so light that they are almost white.
Stars are extremely popular; they are hardy, colourful and free breeding. A must have bird that is very hard to go past.