Blue and Purple Waxbills

by Ian Hinze

Of all the Waxbills available to the aviculturist those of the genus Uraeginthus, the Blue and Purple Waxbills, are among the most popular. There are five different species in the genus with the Blue Waxbills or Cordon-bleus consisting of three species: the Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu (U. bengalus), Blue-headed Cordon-bleu (U. cyanocephala) and the Cordon-bleu or Blue-breasted Waxbill (U. angolensis). The Purple Waxbills are the Violet-eared Waxbill (U. granatina) and the Purple Grenadier (U. ianthinogaster).

While all five species should be considered delicate on first arriving from their native tropical Africa once settled they can be quite robust, the Blue Waxbills in particular. Nevertheless, this robustness has much to do with the temperature in which they are housed, at least 18ºC (65ºF) for the Blue Waxbills and 20-25ºC (68-77ºF) for the Purple, which can only be achieved in a thermostatically controlled heated birdroom.

The best species for the beginner are undoubtedly the Red-cheeked and Blue-headed Cordon-bleus. Only one pair of either species should be housed in their own flight-cage, which should be a minimum of 4 feet long x 2 feet square. I prefer cages of the wooden box type with a wire front. This enables me to stack my cages one on top of the other, with a breeding pair to each cage. The birds are unable to see one another but their calls stimulate nesting activities, which is what would occur in the wild.

As well as heat, the birdroom must allow for plenty of sunlight to filter through but with enough shade for the birds to retreat into. I like to hang a nesting basket high up at the back of the cage and towards the left hand corner. The reason for this is that, when the birds are nesting, all my feeding is performed in the right hand side. The birds soon realize that ‘their side’ is never disturbed. I should add that in front of the nesting basket I place a pot-plant, such as a bushy Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina). The best nesting materials are coconut fibres, 4-inch long sacking fibres and dried hay that has first been allowed to soak in hot water containing a few drops of bleach. This kills off any fungal spores that may have been growing on the hay when it was baled.

The staple food should consist of mixed white, yellow, Japanese and panicum millets with Canary seed. To this one can add lettuce seed and a British Finch mixture, which contains numerous seeds the birds enjoy. When in season, the ripe and half-ripe seeds of meadow-grasses can also be offered on the stalk. Greenfood by way of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrot pushed through a hand-grater is also beneficial as is daily amounts of fresh eggfood.

I don’t offer livefood to my Blue Waxbills until just prior to the breeding season, thereafter it is given throughout. Livefood acts as a stimulant for breeding and is best offered gradually. Once eggs are in the nest it should be considerably increased thereby encouraging the birds to fulfill their nesting duties. The best livefood is white-skinned mini-mealworms, waxworms and fruit-fly larvae.

The Blue-breasted Waxbill is not as commonly available as its blue congeners and it is less frequently bred. Its husbandry needs are identical, however, but, primarily because of its rarity, it cannot be considered a beginner’s bird.

The Violet-eared Waxbill and Purple Grenadier are definitely birds for the most accomplished aviculturist only. While often appearing hardy and sprightly in a bird dealer’s establishment they actually require very specialized care. To start with, their flight cage needs to be a minimum of 6 feet long x 6 feet high x 3 feet wide. Once successful breeding is achieved it may be possible to house the young in smaller flights – but breedings are far from successful!

Again, only one pair per their own flight should be housed and the flight must be well planted. Because of the size of the flight the pot-plants, likewise, must be bigger. Weeping Fig is excellent as it grows into a lovely bushy tree and I have also found two Philodendron species excellent: the climbing philodendron (P. erubescens) and the sweetheart plant (P. scandens). Philodendrons are frequently listed as being poisonous, but I have never once had a problem with the two listed.

The seed mixture, greenfood, wild seeds and eggfood can be the same as for the Blue Waxbills, but the livefood must be considerably varied and offered daily throughout the year. Besides that listed formerly, fruitflies, whiteworm, spiders, soft green caterpillars, aphids and young woodlice, etc., will all help to meet this requirement. Also, when in season, supply plenty of chickweed, including its seeds, and the half-ripe seeds of dandelion.

Essential at breeding time is to keep the heat in the birdroom around 26ºC (75ºF) and make as little disturbance as possible.

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