Societies Ideal Foster Parents

Maureen M. Newman


I have often said, partly in jest, that societies will hatch anything. Well, maybe that's a little exaggerated, but it would be hard to find any other species of finch which, as a group, display such strong parental instincts in captivity.

Actually, even societies have their limits, though their objections seem to be more towards feeding strange mouths, rather than hatching them. I have rarely seen a pair of societies refuse to sit on eggs, but I have experienced problems with societies refusing to feed some babies. Some of these species are, in my experience, completely rejected and others are accepted, but with some reluctance.

One would assume that this acceptance or rejection is based on the mouth patterns of the babies, but I feel that other factors may also be involved, such as the begging position which the baby assumes or the overall size of the baby.

Most, if not all, baby exotic finches have distinctive mouth patterns (some also have gape spots known as gape tubercles) which distinguish one species from another and presumably identify babies to parents. In most species, the parents are not stimulated to feed the ''wrong" pattern, but for some reason the societies are not all that concerned about patterns since they willingly feed babies with a variety of different patterns. These babies also have a variety of skin colors and varying amounts of baby fuzz. My own societies have raised stars, shafttails, red-headed and blue-faced parrot finches, purple grenadiers, Lady Gouldians, owls, violet ears and even zebra finches.

The species I have tried to foster but have had no luck with are goldbreasted waxbills and fire finches.

These babies are so small, that I wonder if this was a factor in the societies' rejection of them. I tried several different pairs of foster parents and experienced the same rejection from each pair.

When using societies as foster parents, it is important to feed a good rich diet since many of the foster chicks will likely be of a species requiring high protein (insectivorous) diet - a diet hard to duplicate in the aviary, which is the most likely reason that the natural parents are unwilling or unable to raise their own babies in a cage breeding (or even aviary) set up.

I tend to lean towards the theory that "more" probably won't hurt and the worst thing that can happen is that it will not be eaten. However, breeders who are trying to earn money may have a different viewpoint! The basic diet, which I give all of my finches, consists of unlimited access to a good quality finch seed, grit with oyster shell, egg shell, dried alfalfa, baby chick scratch, cuttlebone and mineral block. I also provide for them, fresh daily, whole wheat bread, egg food and greens such as spinach on which I sprinkle vitamin and calcium/ phosphorus supplements.

Water bowls are changed daily. In addition, my exotics and societies with babies get fresh fruit and vegetables such as broccoli, oranges, apples, carrots, a cooked rice/ grain mixture and mealworms or other bugs. I also mix ground monkey chow into the egg food.

I am always looking at ways to improve this diet, but I consider any changes carefully, since there is much truth to the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" The diet I use on my birds, works for me, but there are many variations and approaches to feeding birds. No one way is the right way. A bird's overall appearance and the production of good healthy chicks is probably one of the best indications of whether or not the diet is adequate.

If, as in my situation, most exotic babies will need to be fostered, it is not over generous to set-up five pairs of societies for each pair of exotics. This should adequately provide an available pair for each clutch of eggs. I have not always had the luxury of this five to one ratio and have, on occasion, been known to complain of ''all these eggs and no where to put them."

Most of my society breeding cages are 24" x 18" x 18'', a size with which I feel comfortable. Ideally I would like to use much larger cages, but space is limited. Actually, many breeders use smaller cages than mine with great success. On a trial basis I tried a small number of cages which measured 24" x.12" x 12". From the start I disliked them. The small cages may be okay for two birds, but when a clutch of six or more babies fledge and there are eight birds flying around for several weeks until the babies can be moved out on their own, the housing becomes somewhat cramped.

When cage breeding more than one pair of societies, I find it almost essential to use opaque dividers between cages - their inquisitive nature often makes them more interested in their neighbors than their own mates and families.

Societies will nest in just about anything - if a nest is not provided they will nest in their seed dish. All of my societies are provided with nests with half open fronts. They are placed on the outside of the front of the cage for easy access. Because of the frequent fostering of exotics, I need to be able to check eggs and babies, so...

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