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Pekin Robins (Leiothrix lutea)


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Written by Sally Huntington
Originally published in The NFSS Bulletin, Vol. 17 No. 5. September – October 2000

We often say “what we see… is what we get.” Some times that is true, sometimes not. With Pekin Robins – it is all too true. There will be no more Pekin Robins brought to our shores. Also known as the Japanese Nightingale, Chinese Nightingale, Pekin  and Red-billed Nightingale, this delightful bird, (which is neither a Robin nor a true Nightingale) is strictly written off the import list to America.

I am fortunate enough to have a great breeding pair in my San Diego aviary. I’ve learned some important idiosyncrasies of these birds which, if we expect to see more of these great birds in years to come, we must pay attention to. The most important lesson learned regarding Pekin Robins is that it takes a breeding pair 3 to 4 years to settle in before they produce young. Mine took 4 years, but now they give 3 to 4 clutches of 3 to 4 chicks every spring, beginning late March. My Robins live year-round outside in a covered, unheated, planted aviary about 2 miles from the ocean. Temperature averages 68-72, seldom below 40, and reaches the high 90’s for only a few days in late summer.

Pekin Robins are a delight in a spacious, planted flight. Mine is 8’x5’x6’ tall. They are very gregarious, always curious and on the move. The cock has a charming song. They usually are not aggressive (allowing for the exception) so one pair can be kept in a mixed flight of finches. I’ve housed mine with African Red-headed Finches, Bar-throated Minlas and, of course, Zebras. They have lived with 2 pair of Timor Sparrows and a pair of buttonquail for the past 18 months, producing clutches both spring seasons.

Another idiosyncrasy of the Pekin Robins is that their chicks regularly fledge too early, 10-13 days (barely feathered) and many injure themselves or become chilled on the aviary floor. To prevent this, I have set up an “howdy-cage” which is a Brazilian Cardinal breeding practice ala Edith Pendleton of Southern Florida. A standard breeding cage is fastened about 4’ from the floor of the flight, its door tied open. This appears to give the Robins a sense of seclusion, and keeps the eager fledgling chicks from falling from a high nest before they are strong enough to go. For the privacy or secluded feeling, the top of the “howdy-cage” is covered with greens or shade cloth. They re-use a canary cup-nest which they arranged with coconut fibres the first year, and which they keep immaculate. The 3 to 4 pale blue-green speckled eggs, hatch in 12-13 days. I close-band them at 4 days.

While the Robins are great bathers, jumping in and out several times a day, the story circulating that they need fresh running water before they’ll breed, has not been true with my birds. I give them fresh bath water daily and drinking water from a Lixit bottle. I keep dry Zupreem Avian Breeder Diet (Fruit-blend: cockatiel) coloured pellets (Item #7750) always available. Daily, I feed Zupreem primate biscuits soaked (overnight) in (powdered) Gatoraid, (blend as directed with water and water-soluble vitamins). In addition,  I feed mealworms mixed with dry Cede egg-food. I feed some fresh grown seasonals – apples, mangos, and corn on the cob. Beginning in March, I increase mealworms from 20 per pair per day, to approx. 100 per pair. When the eggs are due to hatch (12-13 days incubation) I increase the amount of worms to 300 per day, or more if they are eating them all. Parents initially feed only worms to the new hatchlings. After a few days they gradually begin feeding some of the soaked biscuit. The parents continue to feed 3 weeks or so after the birds fledge. The first thing the babies seem to eat on their own is the soaked biscuit.

I have hand-raised two Pekin Robin babies (a female 1st, and a brother from a clutch a year later). They initially imprinted on me as any bird might. The male compliments me by imitating (exactly) my poor version of a Pekin Robin song. In addition, he has the correct song, which he uses to call his sister and other Robins in the outside aviary. When I put the 2nd hand-raised bird in with the first, they seemed to imprint on one another and have become inseparable. This pair has now lived indoors for 2 years. I have not set them up to breed.

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Last updated: February 18, 2006