Introduction to Softbills
by Gordon M Duncan©
There can be few birds as underrated by the general avicultural
community as softbills. This group contains the most beautiful and
colourful birds in the world, not to mention the best talkers and
the best singing birds that you will ever see in any aviary anywhere.
Considering, to mention but a few, that Birds of Paradise, Robins,
Nightingales, Toucans, Mynahs, Glossy Starlings, Bulbuls, Hornbills
and Shamas are softbills, it is astounding that more birdkeepers
don’t keep them. This may come in part from the fact that
they were, in the past, difficult to feed. In this day and age,
however, this no longer holds true. As long as you are prepared
to commit yourself to providing 30 minutes worth of care to your
birds every single day, there is no reason why you cannot have the
pleasure of owning such simple softbills as Pekin Robins, or even
such an exotic beauty as a Toucan!
In fact, I would venture to suggest that CORRECTLY feeding a collection
of Psittacines (parrot-like birds) is more work than feeding softbills.
What is a Softbill?
No, they do not have soft bills. A softbill, basically, is a bird
that has a soft diet consisting of fruit, insects, meat, nectar
or a combination of these. In this article, I am dealing with the
true meat eaters or nectar feeders, as they require specialised,
if still simple and uncomplicated, feeding.
Raptors and Lorikeets also eat these diets but are not softbills.
With a few notable exceptions, the readily available softbills are
fed on a mixture of diced fruit (Paw-paw, apple, pear, banana, peach,
grapes and grated carrot are all suitable. Avocado is safe with
softbills.) mixed with dry Avi-plus and slightly moistened if necessary.
They must be fed in clean, washed dishes every day. Feeding these
easily perishable foods in dishes containing stale leftovers will
result in poisoning your collection.
A regular addition of small quantities of scrambled egg, lean mince,
grated cheese, chopped green food and even occasionally a little
seed completes the diet.
Live food is usually offered to breeding birds in season and, with
a very few exceptions, is absolutely essential if they are to raise
their young successfully. Suitable live foods, which can be bought
or raised at home, include mealworms, crickets, fruit flies, maggots
(properly cleaned!), baby mice and earthworms.
In addition, clean bathing and drinking water must be available
at all times. Even in icy weather softbills will be seen to bathe
many times a day.
In our mild climate, most readily available softbills can satisfactorily
be housed in simple open fronted shelter and flight aviaries. As
most softbills do not destroy timber and chicken wire, aviary construction
can be simplified and cost saving made. As long as the aviary offers
shelter from the rain, protection from cold winds, sufficient flying
space (try to offer at least 1m“ per bird) and plants or artificial
cover to provide a sense of security, it is suitable.
Ideally house only one true pair of birds, or a non-breeding, single
sex, mixed collection in each aviary. Make the aviaries as spacious
The aviaries should, if at all possible, be planted with non-poisonous
shrubs and trees. These enrich the bird’s quality of life
and have the added advantage of attracting insects, which are soon
caught and eaten by the birds.
In addition, softbills are usually intelligent birds that quickly
become tame and responsive to their owner. Offering live food from
the hand often helps.
Overall wonderful birds.
Unless you are keeping a mixed collection of single sex birds for
their colour, song and ornamental value, you have a moral duty to
try and breed your birds. Unless we begin to breed our own stocks
of softbills, there will soon, despite the best efforts of importers,
not be any softbills available to us at all. At this stage, suffice
it to say that a true pair of healthy softbills, properly housed
and fed, is only too willing to breed. If they won’t breed,
something is wrong. Find out what it is and fix it!
If you wish to breed softbills, invest in a good book, or buy a
video such as Birdkeeping the South African Way or consider joining
a club like the Rand Avicultural Society.
The members of the Rand Avicultural Society meet at the Honeydew Country
club Tennis club section, No 1 Boundary Rd Honeydew, Johannesburg on the LAST
TUESDAY OF EVERY MONTH, except December.
If you wish to find out more about the club then click back to RAS