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Written by Harry Bryant
Originally published in The NFSS Bulletin,
Vol. 16 No. 1. January – February 1999
About 28 years ago, while reading Bates and
Busenbark’s “Finches and Soft Billed Birds”, I saw a color photo of a
group of Lady Gouldians and Masked Grassfinches. I knew in my heart
that one day I would have and raise both of these finches.
Well, I have been raising Gouldians now for at least
20 years, and have had Masked Grassfinches for the last 13 years; and
have my own flights of Gouldians and Masked Grassfinches together. So
after much urging by the NFSS Editor, I will try to put my experiences
with this wonderful finch into writing.
While the Masked Grassfinch does not possess the
bold bright colors of many finches it does provide a striking contrast
when kept with Gouldians, Parrot Finches, and other brightly colored
finches. It has a delicate feather texture, light brown color with
black mask and flanks, white rump, coral red feet and yellow
The Masked Grassfinch is one of the most peaceful
and friendly of the Grassfinches and I have kept them with owls
(bichenos), Gouldians, Cherry Finches, Star Finches, and various small
waxbills with no problems. If I had to compare them with another finch,
I would say they are most like a Gouldian in habit.
Their cages or flights should always be provided
with either a large finch nest basket or nest box, as they like to
roost in a nest at night. One of the first things I se in the flights
in the morning is a multitude of bright yellow bills peering down at me
from a nest basket.
Masked Grassfinches are fast flyers and sometimes
have a tendency to panic easily, so I recommend keeping a nightlight on
in the flight or bird room. Having a nest basket available greatly
reduces the chances of night flight.
The best way to sex Masked Grassfinches is to set up
two together in a breeding cage, and if you get eggs you have a female,
if they are fertile, you have a pair. The male does have a quiet
trumpet like call, and does a little display dance, but he is shy about
vocalizing. Sometimes the males seem to have a larger, brighter facial
mask and beak, but not always.
It is often hard for a breeder to put two birds
together and get the birds to “pair up”. I usually place eight to
twelve color-banded birds in a flight and watch them closely for signs
of pairing. I then remove the pairs as they form. Once paired up, the
bond between a breeding pair is very strong.
My birds all readily eat my own finch mix, which I
make by mixing 50% of a locally made standard finch mix and 50% of
Clifford’s Finch Booster, which is kept before them at all times. They
receive sprouted seed and eggfood (Hardboiled egg, I tablespoon Rich
Life Vionate, 1 tsp. Japanese millet) everyday, and mealworms and/or
wax worms twice a week, unless they are feeding babies, and in that
case they receive the worms daily. They also receive green food
(Romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, celery leaves, depending on
availability) three times a week, and spray millet twice a week. A
cuttlebone and bowl of gravel/grit is kept in each cage or flight.
Glass hotel ashtrays make great grit containers!
Living in northern Ohio, my birds are kept indoors,
in a basement birdroom. My flights range from 3’x6’x6’ high to
6’x14’x6’ high. They are lighted 14 hours a day by 4’ shop lights,
which have vitalite bulbs in them. Some of the flights have large
plants in them, (fig trees, spider plants), while others are bare. All
have corncob bedding on the floor.
My cages are all “box style”, made from ½
inch plywood with a front made from ½ inch by 1 inch welded
wire. They are painted with flat white enamel paint inside and are
lighted by a small 12” fluorescent light. They range in size from 24”
deep x 24” tall x 48” long to 24” deep x 24” tall x 72” long. I
use newspaper on the floor of these cages.
While I have raised Masked Grassfinches in my
flights, I now set them up for breeding in box cages, which are 24”
deep x 24” tall x 48” long. These cages are equipped with one woof
finch nest box, usually 5”x5”x5”, and 2 large woven finch nest baskets.
Sometimes, the cages contain artificial foliage, and I have had one
pair of Masked Grassfinches build their own grass nest in the foliage.
I provide soft grasses for nesting materials. I try
to find an abandoned house in the country where the lawn grass has
become overgrown. Tall grasses can also be found along roads or in
parks. The most important thing is that the grasses are “fine”. I have
also tried using coconut fibres, however I was always afraid the birds
would become entangled in them so I stopped using it.
Masked Grassfinches lay between 4-6 eggs, and
incubation is 13-16 days. Three weeks later, when the babies finally
emerge from the nest, they are dull little copies of their parents with
dark gray beaks.
Immelmann, Klaus, Australian Finches, 1977. Angus and Robertson
Publishers. (ISBN: 0207136262)
Iles, G.W., Breeding Australian Finches, Published by Iles d’Avon, Ltd.
Goodwin, Derek, Estreldid Finches of the World, 1982. Cornell
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