Beginning With British Softbills 

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 Beginning With British Softbills


By Robb Brown


I though that I would write this short article on making that not so big step and getting started with our own British Softbills
I discovered the beauty of our native softbills quite a few ago now, and for me there has been no looking back.

To be honest, I find Softbills easier and simpler to cater for than some of the hardbills!

Certainly when out of breeding season they really are so easy to look after!
If you have enough experience to keep & breed birds like goldfinches & bullfinches, then you can successfully keep softbills!

So what do you need?


Softbills do generally require an outside flight, certainly to breed, the minimum of 6x3 will suffice for most species. If you can offer a bit bigger, then of course that is better but not essential.

I use flights that are covered on 2 or 3 sides & also have the roof covered. This is fine for an all year round home.

Some have bred the easier species inside, and it can occasionally be done, but it is best to learn with them outside in flights.


Some species can be kept in pairs all year round, but many do require to be split up out of the breeding season. It does depend on the individual temperament of the birds.


The flight can be fairly basic inside or you can also have planted flights with softbills, unlike finches – they do not eat the greenery!

So you can make the aviary look like part of the garden, give your birds somewhere to shelter & also look for insects etc.

A small water features with a pair of wagtails, makes such a natural setting and the birds are really at home!

All softbills like to bathe regularly, so a dish of clean water is a must.


Over the winter months the small softbills can be quite happily kept in larger breeding type or flight cages in your bird room, one bird per cage generally. But species like LTT or Blackcaps, stay in pairs.


I do this as I find it easier due to work commitments, not really for any other reason. The birds would be fine outside all year, just I never see them in the daylight in winter unless I have a little extended light hours in my bird room!

Also I find this steadies the birds up & this is useful for them to get used to you.

A basic diet consists of a proprietary universal softbill food, these are very good & contain all your birds basic needs and can be bought for about £15 -£20 for a 5kg tub & this would last a pair of birds a long time.


There are finer more insectivorous ones for smaller birds & coarser ones for the large birds.

I just feed a fresh dish of the food daily but you can fill a dish for a whole weekend or longer as the food stays fresh and edible.

I tend to feed two different types at any one time, that way if one is unavailable the birds are used to the other food.


I then add a few extras to the universal food such as grated cheese, broccoli, carrot, apple or even pear just one or two a time & mix it in – not essential but I like to try different foods for variety.


You can also feed Blackbirds & Thrushes on greyhound pellets, cat pellets or even layers pellets – an even more economical base food. I tend to mix a few of smaller pellets in with the universal food to give variety & then feed the greyhound pellets separately.
To these basic diets all you need to add is some livefood,

Mealworms are ideal & easy to obtain next day delivery and can be kept for ages.


During winter months just half a dozen a day will be ample, then to bring birds into condition for breeding, the mealworms are increased.


Another “live food” coming into favour is frozen pinkies, these are excellent, keep for ages & so simple to use. Just defrost a few in a sieve under a cold tap & then serve in a very shallow dish with water to
keep fresh.

So get the birds used to them as they will be a great rearing food!


Most birds breed readily, & choose wooden nest boxes or finch type baskets, or even build their own nest. Just give choice of a few sites.

Obviously the exact nesting depends on the species – but it is not generally that difficult.

It varies a little with species, some birds you can keep together all year and can pair up anytime, some birds you put together in the autumn, let them over-winter together & come into condition together. Some can be more difficult and you put together by introducing the hen to the cock bird when both are fit & ready whilst watching carefully for aggression.


Softbills can be murderous if they do not get on!

When rearing young, offer unlimited livefood; just keep a large shallow dish topped up in the flight & they take what they want (it can be as easy as that)

Smaller softbills will need mini mealworms.  


Frozen pinkies as discussed earlier or buffalo worm are very easy to use.

You can also offer other rearing foods such as crickets & waxworms, but not essential.

You do need to ensure you dust livefood with multivits & especially calcium powder to ensure the chicks healthy growth
Species To Keep:

I will list the species that I consider easy and can be kept together as a pair all year round.

Others can be more complicated mainly due to territorial issues & pairing the birds up & can kill each other or perhaps do not breed so readily or need to be brought in over winter.
Larger birds:


Thrushes are ideal starter birds and can be kept together all year round. Blackbirds can be a little more aggressive & awkward to pair – but once that is over they will be fine.
Smaller birds:


Blackcaps, Stonechats, Skylarks & even  Pied Wagtails are generally good beginners
birds and offer minimal trouble (obviously birds do vary and occasionally you can get aggression in these, but it is not the rule)


Redstarts once paired are also quite simple!

Give Softbills a try, you will not regret it!