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Paradise Whydah: The Challenge of a Lifetime Almost Comes True


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Written by Luis Garcia (Colorado Springs, CO.)
Originally published in The NFSS Bulletin, Vol. 13 No. 3. May – June 1996

For almost sixteen years, my wife Andria and I have been breeding and raising finches, and like most folks, we started out with Zebra and Society finches. Throughout all of these years we have worked with many different kinds of birds, having both good and bad breeding results. However, when we would fail at breeding a certain kind of bird, we would not give up. Instead we would always try and figure out what we did wrong, and correct the problem before moving on to the next species. This kind of thinking and excellent record keeping is what has made it possible for us to unlock some of the mysteries of many of the birds we raise.

As hobby breeders we have always welcomed a challenge and this past March (1995), Andria and I decided to take on a new challenge. With the importation ban on many of the birds once available to us, we decided to work with one of the species of birds of which not much has ever been written about and rarely bred in captivity.

On July 8, 1995 we got our first members of this family, four Paradise Whydahs (3 cocks and 1 hen). Not knowing anything about these birds we decided to try our luck with them. All four birds were placed in a 6’ long by 6’ high by 2’ wide flight for quarantine, the males were just getting in their tails (about 6” long). After thirty days of quarantine the male with the longest tail and the hen were left in the flight and the other two were placed one each in two other flights. The flight with the pair was set up with an assortment of flack plants and several nest boxes (open front and closed) as well as wicker nests.

Since we did not have the Melba finch to use as host for them, we decided to use birds that resembled the Melba. So two pairs of Red face Stars and a pair of Gouldian Finches were added to the flight. The diet for these birds consisted of our basic two part chick starter and one part finch mix as well as egg food, soaked seed, greens, fruits, and lots of mealworms (about 40-50 per day). In addition a cup of high calcium K-Tee grit and a cup of thistle and chipped sunflower seed mixed was given daily.

Once the whydahs got used to the other birds the hen started to hang on the wire calling to the other two males and after four days of this behavior we placed the extra males back into the flight with the pair. This clamed her down and before long the cocks were doing what I call the butterfly dance in front of the hen. The males would fly up in front of her and like a hummingbird beat their wings to make their tails move like waves. They would drop to the floor and rest for a few seconds and start doing the dance over. By the end of August the Gouldians and Star Finches started to build nests and we noticed that every time one of them would leave the nest, one of the whydah males would go and inspect it followed by the hen. On September 8th while doing my morning feeding I noticed the female whydah was missing. When I stepped into the flight, she flew out of the gouldian’s nest.

The Gouldians had built their nest in a half-open nest box and when I looked inside I found three normal Gouldian eggs (round shape) and one large football shaped egg. I left the eggs in the nest and kept on feeding the rest of our birds. The next day (Saturday) she was back in the nest. This time I found four Gouldian eggs and two football eggs. On Sunday September 10, 1995 I found five Gouldian eggs and one more whydah egg. I went upstairs to get more greens and when I returned, one of the male Whydahs was looking in the nest. When he flew out he had an eggshell with fresh yolk in his beak. When I looked inside the nest I found all of the eggs broken, he had eaten them.

I could not understand why he would eat the Gouldian eggs and not the Star Finches. Later that day I found out why, he tried to get into the nest of the Star Finches, which was built in a wicker nest, and got stuck while trying to turn around. This must have scared him, since I never saw him go back to that kind of nest again. We do not know if the Gouldians or the female Whydah had laid eggs before and the male had eaten them before we could get to them. The Whydahs did not lay again after this and by the beginning of October the males started to lose their tails and were placed in a different flight so they could molt.

Nothing could have prepared us for this. Hopefully, we have since corrected the problem with the nest boxes, by using closed boxes with a 1 ½” hole in the front and have been able to keep the males out of the nest. We have once again set up the whydahs and the very same pairs of Stars and the one pair of Gouldians in the same flight. Everything is looking good once again and who knows maybe the next time I write about the Whydahs it will be about their young.

We hope that our experience could help someone out there that is trying to work with the whydahs. We know little about these birds or any of the other whydahs and we would appreciate any help or advice that anyone out there could give us. We are also looking for more of the different whydahs to raise. If you can help with any of this please write to Luis Garcia, 1345 Edith lane, Colorado Springs, CO. 80909.

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Last updated: February 12, 2006