My First Breeding Of Stonechats 

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First Breeding for my Stonechats

 

Robb Brown


After keeping British hardbills for about 15 years I was looking for a new challenge with the birds, I had gone as far as I could with the hardbills and as soon as I became aware of the softbill side of the hobby and gained the confidence to give it a try I was quite simply hooked!

 

I chose the Stonechat as my first softbill for several reasons; it is a striking bird in terms of its attractive appearance, quiet melodious song and its delightful mannerisms, it is a relatively peaceful species, you can keep pairs together all year round and it is also classified as a “beginner” bird as it is reasonably easy to cater for. The challenge with all birds, is of course to successfully breed them and that is what I set my stall out to achieve.

 

The stonechat is abird full of character and it is a bird I have grown very fond of. I have only
ever seen one in the wild once whilst on holiday, so being so close to birds like these is truly an honour.


The Stonechat is a relatively simple bird to cater for with a basic diet of a good insectivorous

food and some livefood such as mealworms, you can then just add some small amounts of grated cheese, fruit or grated broccoli as variety occasionally. I also experiment with my own food mixes (using such things as dog meal, ox heart, liver, egg etc) – but only as far as using it another supplement, the basic diet is always the universal insectivorous food.


For housing, the birds are quite comfortable in a standard 2M x 1M flight, but obviously if you

can offer a larger enclosure then this is greatly appreciated by the birds. An advantage of softbills over hardbills is the fact that you can use planted flights without worry of the birds stripping the vegetation and so you also gain attractive garden features! For each species you can create as natural environment as possible.

 

I had obtained my pair of Stonechats in the autumn of 2005, both birds having current year closed
rings on them.

2007 was my 2nd year attempting the breeding of the Stonechats, the firswt year was not very
successful, mainly due to the cock being over amorous and throwing the chicks out! I learned from that, so this year I was prepared!


I had changed all my flights over winter and set a new one out ready for my pair for the spring,

creating a raised planting bed and setting it out with some good sized heathers and some tall grasses creating a natural environment and also giving places for the birds to hide from each other, should courtship become to much.

 

Stonechats can be reasonably early nesters, so with the weather mild, I released the pair from
their winter flight into their new quarters by mid March and carefully watched their progress for the next few days.


The birds settled down and he soon started singing his quite melodious song and courting her. His

display shows his huge white patches in his wings, very attractive.

 

It was not until the middle of April however that I saw signs of the hen carrying nest material
about, deciding where to build.

 

I had offered the usual dried grasses (hay borrowed from the guinea pig does the job), coconut
fibre and fine animal hairs and she took to these readily.

 

I had put a couple of open fronted nest boxes at 2 or 3 feet from the floor, as these birds nest
on or close to the ground and it was similar to what she nested in last year. I fill the boxes with hay just to help start them off.

 

To my surprise, she ignored the low-level nest sites and tried to build behind a couple of bits of
artificial Xmas tree up at high level! There was no-way that the chosen site was substantial enough to take a nest, so I fitted a wicker basket right next to it, hoping she would choose that, but after a couple of more days she was not going with that and was still trying to build in the Xmas tree! I then decided to improvise a bit and found a wire framed bird bath and hung this up on the aviary wire right next to where she was trying to build. Stuffed full of hay and hollowed out a bit, it gave a nest site and also cover for the wicker basket. She duly went to nest in the bird bath, starting to lay eggs and finally started sitting on 28th April.

After a week, I carefully caught the cock bird up and placed him in a large cage I managed to sit in the flight. He was prone to throwing chicks out to drive the hen to nest again and I was not taking any risks this year!

 

I also put a tray of mini mealworms on the floor, a big bowl of buffalo worms and a fruit fly culture all in the flight all in readiness!

 

On 11th May there were eggshells all over the place from the newly hatched chicks.

 

In addition to the unlimited mini's and buffalo, I also had some cultures of nice small sized
waxworm, which I started feeding a dozen or so at a time (these were favourite food) and also offered defrosted mini crickets.

 

On 16th May I went in and successfully rung all 6 chicks - just the right size, so they were growing fast. I wrapped a small piece of elastoplast around each ring to hide it and there was no problems.

 

On 26th May they were all out of the nest – quite late for Stonechats as they can be early to
jump out and hide in the undergrowth, but it is always best to let birds stay in the nest as long as possible.

 

As you can see by the amount of grasses dropped onto the top of dad’s temporary cage, the hen
soon started carrying again wanting to go back to nest, she was however continuing to feed the young so all was well.

 

I did deliberate over whether to let the cock back out to help feed the young but was worried he
may cause trouble. Perhaps I was being to cautious, as what is recommended in situations like this is the cock be allowed to join after about 5 days and then should help feed the young without an issue.

 

Well, we got through the first few days with the hen both trying to nest and feeding the young and the birds were all soon self dependant, although I left them in for a few more days just to make sure.

 

I then moved the youngsters to their own large flight cage to leave the parents to round 2.

 

I got the timing a bit wrong, as I discovered the hen had in fact started laying her next round as
well, and they were not fertile as the cock was not with her.


I allowed her to sit these for a few days, just to check they were clear and also to give her a rest.


I then let the cock bird rejoin his mate and they soon nested again, this time it was in the wicker basket I had placed beside the bird bath.


Once she was sitting the cock was removed again, and the third round hatched on 4th July


This time we had 4 chicks and again they were well fed and grew fast on their diet

of waxworms, mini and regular mealworms, buffalo worms and crickets.

I would have re-introduced the cock this time after 5 days, but due to bad timing we were away for a weeks holiday and so decided to leave it as my bird caretaker had enough to do already!

These chicks are still with the hen as I write, she is now moulting out and the cock bird has been retired to separate quarters for now – I was worried he may try and drive the chicks away if introduced when they had fledged.

Next year, if I am successful, the cock bird will be allowed back in when the young
are 5 days old and hopefully he will help with the rearing!

 

I had found the move across to softbills to be challenging and yet very
rewarding. To be honest I find the softbills to be easier to cater for than the
hardbills I used to keep, so would recommend anyone with a few years bird
keeping experience to give them a try.


BirdFacts


The Stonechat is a striking and delightful member of the chat and thrush family of a very similar size to the Robin.

It is a UK resident living here all year round.

It tends to be found mainly in the south and the west of the country on heaths, and coastal sites, quite often in and around gorse, heathers and brambles.

They can be seen flitting between low bushes, sometimes fluttering their wings and bobbing tails whilst making the clicking noise it takes its name from of 2 stones being struck together.

The cock is a bright bird, having a black head, a pure white ”collar” and a russet / orange breast. The hen is a duller colour without the black head and just a pale smaller collar.