rand avicultural society
conservation through aviculture

An 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 as possible.

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 introduction page.


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