Bearded tits are fascinating small birds. They are active almost all of the day. Only early in the morning and at the end of the day, they rest very closely together. Although I lost a female bird at the beginning of the season because of unknown reason, bearded tilts are not very sensitive for diseases. Happily I was able to complete the couple again and when I released the female bird in the aviary, the almost immediately became friend, seeking each others company This illustrates that bearded tits are not very selective as to finding a partner, which other birds sometimes are.
Bearded tits like to make a nest in a basket type of place.
This mimics nature a little bit I suppose> For a controlled breeding
process, however, this is not a good idea. Nest inspection is almost
impossible and also putting the rings will be very difficult. For my
couples I have taken an ordinary canary box, to which I have attached
plastic decoration leaves as well as dried reed material. It looks quite
natural though and when I put it into the aviary on the 15th of March
the birds became interested straight away and started to investigate
the nest. For additional nesting material I provide soft stuff. The
ready to use Quicko material, which contains soft jute, cotton and kapok,
is very suitable. The material however tends to get tousled and I have
cut it into smaller pieces to make it easier to take it out. The female
bird occasionally flies around with nesting material, but they are not
yet very fanatic to build something. On the 27th of March it looks like
one couple has made a genuine nest. Male and female are spending a lot
of time in the nest and it looks very serious now. On the 2nd of April
all material again is removed and there is not activity to restart.
I discussed this with an experienced breeder of Bearded tits and he
suggested to have a more natural nest available for the birds and put
it a little bit lower as the current ones. Following this advice I have
a now (7 th. April) put the nest in a sheaf of willow twigs, which is
place 50 cm above the floor. Hopefully this will trigger some more activity.
Last year, I mad a first attempt to breed with these funny birds. Whatever the very experienced breeders of softbils may say, I still think it is not very easy to breed bearded tits. This year I have changed some of the conditions and hope the result will be better. In the early spring when I hung the nests in the aviary, there is immediately a lot of activity. Unfortunately this does not lead automatically to success. The birds can be found in each other’s company all the time. The hen starts a long period of laying eggs without incubation. I have already seen this phenomenon with 4 different couples. Also this year it happened. Both couples are placed in two breeding aviaries of 1x 2x 2 meter. I provided different nesting arrangements, but all are quite well covered in conifer twigs to give the birds a little bit of privacy. Of the two couple one is the same of last year, that raised one chic. The other couple comprises of this chick and a chick of Piet de dreu, an good friend and experienced bird breeder. After a period of egg laying, finally the hen started to incubate. She had four eggs, which all were fertile. After a period of 14 days where the eggs were incubated alternately by the hen and the cock, three eggs hatched. The fourth egg I found after a couple of days in the feeding tray. There was a chick inside that did not make it. I was traveling abroad for work, so I had asked a friend to put on the rings. He came after four days to do so. While inspecting the nest there were three chicks, one was already quite big and needed to be ringed quickly. Also it became clear that there was something wrong. He noticed that two birds did not look well. They were feeble and apathetic. When he took one chick from the nest, it died in his hand. Also the other bird appeared to be dead the next day. One chick was left and was ringed with size 2.7 mm. When I had my wife on the phone and she told me the story, I was not very confident about the outcome of all this and the chances of the survived chick. Apparently something went wrong, but I had no idea what it was. The birds seem to be feeding and the insects were eaten well. When I got home, I expected to see a dead chick in the nest. Fortunately this was not the case. The chick was lying well and fed in the nest. I could not guess what went wrong. The only difference between this and last year was that I started to provide the insects in water, slightly acidified with apple vinegar. This was recommended by other bird experienced sofbill breeders. The apple vinegar is added to prevent spoilage of the insects. Although I could not imagine that this was the cause, I asked my wife to leave out the vinegar and only give the insects in water.
Bearded tits feed from the bill. In the beginning they only feed buffalo worms. The size of the pinky’s is probably too large for the young chicks As the grow, they gradually change over to pinky’s Beside these insects in water, I also provide egg feed and a dried insect paté from Orlux. Despite of the fact that there is only one chick, massive amount of insect go through.
The chick is now fourteen days old and has developed well. It is now the 31st of May and from today also the other couple is breeding preceded by a long period of just laying eggs without incubation. July the 20th, the first couple started a new nest again also here the egg laying ritual repeated itself. I have removed many eggs from the nest, but one day the hen was staying on the nest and the incubation started.
The chick from the first nest unfortunately died and in retrospect, I can blame this on myself. During the time the chick was fed by the parents, insects were provided in small bowl of water. As this sometimes becomes bit messy, as the birds also take a bath now and then in this water, I switched back to the normal system, where the insects are given on a plate together with the egg feed. Two days later the chick lies dead on the floor. I assumed that this was because it did not want to eat the insects, when not provided in the water, but this does not make a lot of sense. Then I realised that it probably drunk the water from the bowl as well. Therefore it could not find water when I changed the system. A good learning, but too late for the chick.
After exactly 14 days the eggs hatched. This could be seen from the eggshells lying on the feeding tray. Unfortunately there were also two dead chicks on the tray. In the nest there were two chicks and still two eggs. A couple of days later, there was another chick on the floor, but this was still alive and I put it back in the nest. Ringing of bearded tits is always a drag job. The toes are really fleshy and it is difficult to put the ring of 2.7 mm. If you do it a day earlier it comes off again.
Also the other nest hatched and also here there were two dead chicks on the floor. I do not have any explanation for this. Last year, I thought that number of birds the parents allow in a nest was based on the amount of insects available. This year, however, they had plenty of insects just after the eggs hatched.
In the mean time two chicks have flown from the nest. Another one is about to come. Flying is a bit of an overstatement. The climb more than they fly. The chicks look like humble bees on legs.
Chick just 4 days after leaving the nest. Note that the feathers on the breast and the tail are missing. The hen is plucking them off like she did last year as well. I do not have an explanation for this
In the other nest two chicks peep over the nest and are about to leave the nest as well.
At the end of the seaon I had 5 chicks, not a lot, but
who says it’s easy !
Because of lack of space, this year I have only one pair of bearded tits. Both birds are not related birds selected from last year breeding season. My first plan was to keep them in the large aviary together with siskins, goldfinches and a pair of twites. This however turned out not to be a good choice. Bearded tits are very lively birds and the whole day they are busy to seek small insects. They expect to score many insects in the nests of the other birds and the whole day they are foraging about the nests, despite of the huge quantity of (frozen) insects that I provide. This is very disturbing for the other birds especially when they had selected a nest to breed. To keep them together with the other birds, was no option and already early in the season, I decided to move them to a separate breeding box of 2x2x1m.
For nesting places I use a small bird box, you normally use for tropical birds, with only the front partly open. The boxes are fixed with plastics wire with a large bunch of conifer branches. This give maximum shelter, but nest inspection is still possible. Last year it took quite a long while before the birds had selected the right spot. When they had finished a nest, they completely took it apart again and start to build all over again at a different spot. Because it is very critical to put the ring at the right time (four days after hatching), I frequently inspected the nest to see if there were already eggs. Maybe this was the reason they changed nests a couple of times. This year I decided to leave them alone a bit more and I did not entered the aviary too frequently. Maybe this was the reason that they picked out a nesting spot and did not move out again. Very quickly there were 4 eggs in a beautifully built nest from Sisal fibre (10 cm pieces). I thought this was going to be an “easy” season. Again it was a pleasure to see that male and female bird incubate the eggs alternately. They also call each other when new feed is place in the aviary. After 14 days I find egg shells in the feeding tray and on the ground. The fourth egg I find on the ground with a chick partly outside. This one had not made it to leave the egg. Bearded tits need to be ringed on the fourth day with 2.7 mm. In fact is this a shame as this prescribed size is too small for the fleshy paw. If you wait another day, you cannot fit the ring anymore. Ringing at this age is very tricky. Both parents are normally still quite nervous and also the nest is not filled enough by the birds to hide the ring. Bearded tits keep their nest very clean. A abandoned nest in which a whole family was raised looks as clean as a newly built nest. Any foreign matter will directly be removed. A ring is also seen as an object that does not belong in the nest and the parents will try to remove it. This happened now as well and 30 seconds after I had put the ringed chicks back in the nest, the parents removed the ring with the birds attached from the nest. The precaution I take to put a valve rubber around the ring make it less shine did not help. Against my better judgment, I tried to put the chicks back but they were immediately thrown out of the nest again. One bird ha already severely injured its leg. Insect eaters can be raised by hand quite well and there was no other option. In the beginning it went quite well, the birds begged for food and were fed with buffalo worms dipped in egg feed. After a couple of days however the droppings were without a membrane and changed colour. Clearly a sign of an intestine problem. They quickly lost appetite and after one already died, I decided to put the other two asleep. A sad end of the first round. Quite quickly after this the birds started to bird a new nest. Also here the incubation was done without a problem. All four eggs hatched almost simultaneously. The first day was approaching and I had made some enquiries. Nobody who bred bearded tits had ever experience the same as I had. I got the advice to put some droppings on the edge of the nest, but I did not have a lot of faith that this would help. My fear was confirmed, also this time the three birds that were ringed, were removed directly. One chick did not survive the fall and died. What to do now? I did not want to start feed them by hand after the previous failure. When this all happened I had a bullfinch hen on eggs. Of the four eggs, only one had an embryo and I also did not think that It would hatch. Just to keep them warm and buy some time to think what to do I put the bearded tits under the bullfinch. The other still un-ringed chick stayed in the nest. The next day I saw the bullfinch hen sitting on the edged of the nest apparently feeding the chicks. Inspection showed that apart from the two bearded tits, also a bullfinch egg had hatched. When I touched the nest the three put up the head begging for feed. I wondered whether the bearded tits were also properly fed or they only took care of the bullfinch chick. The next couple of days, I inspected the nest and both the bearded it is as well as the bullfinch looked in perfect shape. I changed my normal feeding plan though. Normally if I have young bullfinches I also provide hard seed The birds still use this and give sufficient egg feed and insects to the chicks. I decided to remove all hard seed to prevent that bearded tits were also fed with seed. In order not to overfeed with proteins, which is bad for their kidneys, a gave a small amount of germinated seed. I was delighted to see that the tits were taken care off so well by their foster parents. Even after the hen started to build a new nest and incubating eggs, the cock took over without a problem. Unfortunately I found one chick dead in the nest and I feared that the success was only temporarily. But on the 25th of June a fully-grown chick flew out followed by the bullfinch after four days. Also now the cock continued to feed both. Unfortunately I have not seen the bearded tit being fed from a close distance. I am sure that they will not beg similarly and it would require quite some adaptation from the bullfinches t feed both a typical seed eater and an insect eater. A funny detail is that the bearded tit chick spends a lot of time in the nest together with the bullfinch hen. The chick ducks under the wings of the foster mother, that does not seem to bother. Unfortunately it was not possible to make a good picture. When I approach the nest she peeps out quickly heavily squeaking an alarm.
History repeats itself. Again there is a new nest and also now the whole cycle of incubation is without a problem. It is the fourth day and I am very pessimistic. How can I realise that this time the chicks remain in the nest after ringing? How can I distract the parents? I few wild ideas have past my head. Fixing the ring to the nest (together with the chick), no option, maybe they bite off the paw or what will happen if the chick turns around in the nest? Covering the nest with a wide mesh, which will still allow the parents to feed, but prevent them to get into the nest to remove the droppings? Too risky, maybe they stop feeding completely. To cover the rings with the same material as the nest. This last option seems to be feasible and I mad a few proto types. Unfortunately it turned out not to be possible to get move the ring over the paw. After this attempt I had already decided to put the chick back without a ring and ring them with 3.0 mm in a couple of days. The chicks will be heavier and also the nest will be filled more after they have grown a bit more. The birds will be illegal, but I prefer this over another round of dead chicks because of incorrect ring prescription
What would happen if the nest was already dirty? I still had one idea left. I emptied my perforator and after I had ringed the first chick I put a lot of “confetti” in the nest and on the edge. I also put two plastic eggs to fill the nest and hide the rings a bit better. From a distance I waited to see what would happen. The birds were very nervous and started to remove meticulously the paper from the nest. But after a while they stopped probably realising that this was going to be a hell of a job. The result however was that also the rings were now tolerated and after a few minutes the hen got back onto the nest. The next day I had to ring the remaining chicks and also now I put some “confetti” on the edge of the nest. Again the chicks remained in the nest. Was this third time just mere luck, or is this the method to prevent that parents remove the chicks from the nest after ringing?