The Skylark 

Skylark Breeding

By

Robb Brown

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The Skylark in my opinion, is a much under-rated bird, and is overlooked by many as maybe they consider it to be just a drab brown bird. In real terms it is a very attractive bird, with intricately marked feathering, a wonderful song and charming nature.

 

It is a bird just a little bigger than the greenfinch, certainly smaller than a starling, so not as big as many would expect.

 

Many recognise them as the birds seen as a speck high in the sky, singing its heart out and consider  that they are not good aviary subjects needing loads of space, but it is far from this.

As an aviary subject the Skylark is very easy to keep, it is quite happy in a standard flight of 2m x 1 m x 2m tall, it has very simple dietary requirements and can be kept with other softbills or finches without trouble.

 

I would almost describe it as the British softbill version of the Chinese painted quail that many keep in aviaries, but that would not do it justice. Certainly one of the easiest of softbills to cater for!

 

Sexing of the birds can be a problem and that is one slight drawback, the cock is the only sex that  sings so from that point of view you can tell the cocks, but some cocks may not sing, and hens do occasionally “warble”so it is sorting a guaranteed hen that is the issue.

There are a few other ways of checking;

 

The cocks are generally a bit bigger and on average weigh 35 - 40g whereas the hens are generally smaller birds weighing average of 30 - 35g.

The length of the wing in a hen is shorter, hens tend to be between 90–100 mm whilst cocks tend to be  100-110 mm, so checking cocks and hens from the same brood is pretty reliable this way, but from different bloodlines it becomes less accurate, as you could have a large hen and small cock bird.

Cocks also have a longer rear claw than hens.

Cocks when disturbed will fly up to the roof and stay up there flying around whereas hens will come back down again quickly.

 

With experience, as I have found, you can generally tell the sexes with a combination of the above  factors.

DNA sexing is of course the best answer if you are not sure and is relatively inexpensive these days.

 

Buying birds from trusted fellow bird keepers, is fairly safe, as I have not had trouble and the birds I have since sold were 100% known sex and I believe other genuine breeders are the same.

 

Housing

 

The aviaries I use have concrete or slab bases to help minimise vermin and on top of this base I use a couple of inches of garden compost or chipped bark and add a couple of good hands full of hay in a dry corner and this gives the birds a substrate to work through plus I can then just clear the lot out at the end of the season.

 

I then add a few large pots for plants such as ferns, grasses and fir trees, it gives the birds somewhere to hide and feel secure. I always cover the entire roofs of all my flights and at least 2 of the sides, and especially with Skylarks you must give consideration to at least half of the floor remaining dry even in heavy rain, especially when nesting!

To finish off the Skylarks housing requirements, a couple of large perches across the flight or a corner at about 1m high will provide a singing perch for the cock bird and roosting should they wish to be off the ground.

Nest sites can consist of a good handful of hay and some coconut fibre placed in a corner, perhaps with a grass or couple of logs to give them some privacy.

 

A potted shrub or fir also add to the appearance & gives more cover should they need it.

 

These birds will share happily with other birds without issue or major interference. Being ground dwellers, they tend not to compete to much with another species.

 

You do not need to worry too much about pairing these birds up, just introduce them into their breeding flight as soon as you have a pair and they should be fine.

 

Like all softbills, there are exceptions so please do watch them after introduction to each other or even a change in their environment, as there can be issues of aggression especially with an overzealous cock bird with a hen that is not ready, it can lead to disaster. Make sure you give some cover for the hen to be able to retreat, if the cock does become difficult.

One thing is to regulate the livefood  the cock bird gets, so he does not get “over-fit” before the hen is ready

Introduction is best before winter or during the early spring.


Feeding


The basic diet for these birds is something I mix up in a tub full at a time, consisting of mainly a good universal softbill mix, weed seeds, a moist type egg food, a sprinkling of niger and a few sunflower  earts.

When feeding, I then add grated broccoli or carrot and a little grated cheese occasionally.

The food is offered on the floor in a shallow dish.

 

Always provide a dish of clean drinking/ bathing water, although these birds do not appear to bathe
particularly often!

 

The breeding diet when chicks are imminent, consists of a large shallow dish containing an unlimited
supply of mealworms, plus I also give frozen pinkie and regular maggots and occasional wax worms, which like most birds appear to be favourites.

 

Breeding

 

If you over winter birds indoors (not that there is a need – but some chose to, for ease of management), then mid April is when to let the birds into their breeding quarters.

Some birds can be very easy & prolific, just building a nest in full view in a corner of the flight using coco fibre & hair & get straight on with it.

Some can be a bit more secretive & I have offered areas with logs for them to hide behind, or even a large plant pot laid on its side with hay stuffed in.

I have also known thenest up in the air in robin type nest boxes or even thrush nest sites - but this is the exception & only offer sites at ground level.

 

They lay between 4 or 5 eggs, and one thing you have to remember with Skylarks is they incubate for just 11 days, one of the shortest in British birds, so don’t let it catch you out!

 

The fluffy chicks hopefully hatch and grow very quickly. It is because these birds are ground nesters that the incubation period is short and the growth is rapid, in the wild these birds need to be mobile as soon as possible to reduce risk from predators. If being fed well, you will need to ring the chicks at 3 or 4 days old with the size G rings, you have a very short window when the feet are just the right size.

 

At around 10 or 11 days old the chicks are leaving the nest and scurrying off to hide in the flight, in fact I have known the hen to start lay another clutch in a new nest with the previous chicks just 10 days old!

A good cock bird does a lot of the feeding & obviously takes over completely when the chicks fledge to allow the hen to nest again.

 

I have more recently been attempting breeding these birds in large breeding cages!

 

They take to this surprisingly well, and a cage of 4ft or 6ft long, and with an 18” depth seems  to be very suitable!

 

You do of course need steady birds that are used to being in the cages, but they nest quite happily in a corner either under the cage front or at the rear of cage, I use a deep wood chip bedding, some hay & coco fibre & they build quite happily.

The majority of skylarks tend to be good reliable breeders and good parents, but one thing is always guaranteed with birds – nothing is ever certain!

 

They certainly are an  interesting, bird & well worth trying!