My first encounter with Peales Parrot Finch in the wild was either ironic or downright embarrassing whichever way you looked at it.
We - the royal we that is- meaning the Newcastle University (UK) team - had completed our project on the West Samoan Royal Parrot Finch (E. cyanovirenscyanovilens) and had about 10 days left before we were due back in the UK.
The planned project fro the following year was to locate and measure abundance of the Peale's Parrot Finch which, at that time, was assumed to be rare.
As W. Samoa was so close to Fiji we decided it would save project time the following year if we could begin surveying likely habitat and even perhaps locate the odd one or two-if we were VERY lucky.
We landed at Nandi airport at , were met by a trio of fully kitted out four wheel drives complete with local driver/ guides,
Straight up into the mountains to the only remaining large areas because, as everyone knows, Peale's, like many parrot finches, are forest edge birds.
The week that followed can only be described as torture and after a very unpleasant 7 days during which we were attacked by the entire world population of biting insects. Most of the time we were soaked to the skin and cold, someone had the bright idea that 'on the seventh day thou shalt rest'. An idea that was enthusiastically supported by all.
We drove as quickly as possible into Suva, the capital city, and booked into the most luxurious hotel we could find.
The following morning long term practice ensured I was up at dawn much as I would have preferred to stay in bed. As no one else in the entire city, never mind the hotel, was up I went for a stroll. As I was going through the hotel gardens I saw this little bird disappear which looked so like a Peale's it made me chuckle with amusement.
I wandered into a little botanic garden just down the street. Yes, you have guessed, flocks of Peal's!!!
I rushed back to the hotel and pounded on Stew's door (Professor Stewart Evans).
After saying some rather unpleasant things about practical jokers and me in particular, he eventually, very suspiciously, agreed to come with me.
As it turned out every bit of lawn, hockey pitch, rugby pitch and golf course had flocks of Peale's! It was one of the few species of bird which has benefited from changed habitat.
So by now you gather Peale's come from Fiji and are closely related to the Red Faced Parrot Finch and the Royal.
The intestines of a Parrot Finch differ to that of grassfinches or the graminaceus waxbills in that they are more heavily folded (villae) and have a much larger surface area. This means that they can extract sufficient nutrient from low energy foods. From an avicultural point of view it also means that they get fat very quickly when fed un natural foods.
In the wild they have been recorded eating a wide range of items from grass seeds such as Sorghum vulgare, Miscanthus japonicus, Pennisetiumpolystachion together with rice, fig seeds, many herbaceous plant seeds, Casuarina and also the seeds of various berries. I have also observed them eating the whole berry.
Crop analysis has also revealed they include between 10%-20% of insects in their diet.
A very catholic range of foods therefore.
In captivity, during the breeding and moulting season, offer as wide a range of seeds as you can lay your hands on. Grass seeds, millets, canary, herb seeds, rape, niger, safflower,. Whatever you can find. This should be supplemented with a good soft food at the ratio of one part soft food to three parts milk seed (unripe and frozen) or sprouted seed and fed at 1 teaspoon per day per pair and adlib when nestlings hatch.
I have never found it necessary to feed live food but there is no reason why you should not if you wish but of course this will mean modifying the volume of soft food to compensate.
Green food is a must. Any of the usuals but I have a preference for clover and curly kale, probably because it is easier for me to get!
There seems to be a tendency in the Southern Hemisphere to overdose on calcium and multi vitamins on the basis that if some is good then a lot would be even better!!
Without wandering off into an article about nutrition. Don't!! If your birds get a good grit mixture, cuttlefish, green food, a good soft food and access to one hour's sunlight per day that is all they need. Plus seed of course! More people have problems caused by over supplementing than under.
Half front nest boxes approximately 150mm square will do fine, or anything equivalent. Nesting materials-just the usual grasses although they do line their nest with coconut fibre(get it from a brush manufacturer)
Three to four white eggs are laid which hatch in 13-14 days. Watch your parents carefully as some pairs can be peculiarly poor parents which means you will have to use bengalese fosters until you have sufficient numbers to risk self rear only.
When self rearing beware if you hit a cold spell of weather as the parents stop brooding the nestlings at quite an early age.
After the breeding and the following moulting season, ensure you put your stock through an austerity period of approximately 2 months. I habitually give Parrot Finches a longer austerity period than most other finches as they are more prone to obesity.
Just keep them on plain water, grit and a couple of millets, no canary or anything fancy.
This will trim them down, close down all the hormones that stimulate breeding and ensure your males and females are all at the same physiological stage when you start stimulating them for the next breeding season.
If you do not currently use an austerity period this is the 'hottest tip' you will pick up from this article. I may even have revolutionised your breeding results.
As for accommodation well if you have got expensive birds, certainly if it was me, I would want to control the environment in which they were kept.
I can never understand the boast ' my birds are hardy. I keep them filthy, expose them to every kind of weather, never worm them' etc etc.
It is not surprising that the world's best breeders eliminate as many risks as possible. There is enough challenge anyway! They keep their birds clean and in an environment they can control.
I have seen Peale's successfully bred for many generations in large cabinets and small single pair flights. I have never yet come across anyone who successfully maintains their breeding stock for a number of generations in a mixed collection or colony situation. No doubt you could breed them once or twice but could you produce numbers for generations?
The only other thing I can think of is to warn against in-breeding. Peale's are one of those species that just won't stand it and become infertile.
And the Peale's Project which was due to start the following year????
Well the team of students had no sooner landed in Suva than revolution broke out and they were locked in their hotel by the government army for their own safety.
They were leaning out of the window monitoring progress when a gang of rebels ran past, one sporting a Newcastle football team jersey.
From that point, until they were dispatched home, the students supported the rebels!