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Breeding and Handraising Blue-cap Cordon Bleus

Part I – Breeding Blue Cap Cordon Bleus

I acquired my first waxbill quite by coincidence, an elderly gentleman gave him to me. I had no experience with the waxbills; most of my experience lied with the Australian finches. I took the male, blue cap cordon bleu home, and began scouring my books for all the information I could find on this beautiful little fellow. Had I not been so struck by his lovely song and stunning appearance, I might have sold him and have missed out on the truly rewarding experience of keeping waxbills.

I had heard all the stories. Waxbills were difficult to breed; needed privacy; plenty of places to hide; lots of live food; and most importantly a preparedness for failure in successful rearing of offspring.

I first headed to my local arts and crafts store and loaded up on lots of fake ivy, plant leaves, birch branches etc. Prepared a flight measuring roughly 3 ft. long, 2 ft. deep and 2 ft high and placed lots of ivy etc. around the sides, back and front. Had a large ficus tree in the birdroom, which I stationed to one side of the flight pulling branches through the sides of the cage giving complete privacy and plenty of hiding places.

Perches were placed here and there throughout the flight. I have found that the highest up perches, hidden in the ficus branches are the favorite roosting spots. The nest I gave even more serious thought. The books didn’t tell me which type of nest, in captivity, would be acceptable to blue cap cordons. I settled on a cone shaped grass nest with a hole opening in the front of it. I filled it with bermuda grass and feathers from a down pillow. I left a large deposit of additional materials on the floor of the cage.

Now that I had the flight set-up I had to locate a mate for my male. A month later I acquired a beautiful hen. After an isolation period she was released into the flight with the male. Didn’t take them long. He began displaying within hours; carrying a large feather, singing and dancing to her. I never saw the mating but within days they were busy adjusting the nest to their liking.

The books had always stated to NEVER bother a cordon’s nesting site. I was not accustomed to such a forewarning. After all, I could take chicks out of my zebra, owl, parson and shaftail nests with no problems. How in the world would I monitor the hatchings, band the chicks, even see that they were being fed? But, I heeded the warning. When I began to notice the hen spending a great deal of time in the nest I decided to take action. I climbed up on a chair hidden next to the ficus tree and peered over the top of the flight. There sat 6 eggs!

I was thrilled and delighted! I had eggs! I had eggs! Upon lights out though I discovered a problem. The pair left the nest and went to roost in their usual spot among the ficus tree branches. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night. Why wouldn’t they sit? The eggs needed to be incubated.

The following morning I re-ran the extension cords so that the light above their cage would stay on 24 hours daily. That next night I tested it out, and it worked like a charm. So the light remained on.

So now I had eggs but, how was I to overcome the pending failure of the offspring being thrown out or abandoned upon hatching? I re-read all the literature I could find and the only correlation I kept coming across was FEED LOTS OF LIVE FOOD!

So, slowly the mealworm rations were increased. In the beginning it was 2 each 2x daily. Upon nest building and egg laying I had increased the mealworm ration to perhaps 6 or so each 2x daily. Which knowing waxbills, they devoured them within seconds, looking at you for more.

They were always provided an eggfood with sprouted seeds, crumbled hard-boiled egg and eggshell every morning. Within time they both learned to enjoy it. But, the mealworms were the true key to success. The birdroom being indoors, I was not going to introduce termites; although I had read they were an excellent food source. The live food available here in the states was limited so I decided to stick to the mealworms. I did introduce a dry insect food made by Cede but, they wouldn’t even touch it. Live and learn right?

The incubation period was 13 days. By hatching time their mealworm ration was increased to about 12 each 2x daily. No signs of diarrhea etc. which you would expect with feeding so much live food. They devoured each and every worm and still waited for more. Needless to say, I ordered more mealworms. Lots more mealworms.

The chicks hatched one per day. Again, I checked this only by climbing upon my chair hidden in the ficus tree. By the time they had all hatched the parents were consuming upwards of 60 mealworms daily. I never left their bowl empty. They were provided the eggfood 3x daily. I witnessed them eating it but, whether they fed any of it to the chicks I do not know.

I had hatching of all six eggs. Although I ran into another problem, after the youngest hatched. The parents threw out the youngest but kept the oldest, loudest beggars. I returned the youngest chick to the nest (quickly) and they did keep it for a day or so before it was thrown out dead.

By the eighth day the parents were consuming around 150 mealworms daily! I was shocked at the consumption rate, but continued to keep their bowl full. The nest would move from time to time and I could hear the faint sounds of the young begging to be fed. The parents were diligent. One was always on the nest while the other was busy eating, bathing or just plain sleeping out of exhaustion. By this point I had returned the lighting above their cage to normal, meaning it turned off at night like everyone else’s. The parents remained on the nest with no problems.

It wasn’t until the 12th day that I had a serious problem. I had noticed that the parent’s mealworm consumption had been dropping off in the past couple days. I assumed that they were feeding more eggfood at this point so I hadn’t thought much about it. This was a mistake. On the 12th day I found two chicks dead in the bottom of the cage. The parents were obviously not feeding the chicks or at least, not all of them.

At this point I decided to pull the clutch. I removed the nest of chicks and found three still alive. The smallest being very close to death, quite skinny and underfed. It was at this instance that I became “Bird Mom”.

Part II – Handraising Blue Cap Cordon Bleus

I had read that only 1 in 15 to 20 pairs of societies would successfully raise Cordon Bleus. This had been written by Robert Black. My societies had no experience raising cordon bleus; and none of them were raising young of their own at this point. Had any of my societies been raising young I may have opted to try fostering the cordon chicks. At this point this was not an option, so I sprang into action.

I took a Tupperware container measuring roughly 12-14 inches long by 5-6 inches wide. I placed a heating pad inside the container and set it to LOW. I took a plastic bowl from the kitchen (about soup size) and placed it in the center of the Tupperware container on top of the heating pad. I placed a washcloth inside the bowl with a folded paper towel on top of that, and placed the chicks within this bowl. The lid was placed loosely on the top. Another option is to purchase a “Critter Keeper” at your local pet store, which has a lid that is ventilated so that it can be closed tightly.

The above set-up has worked wonderfully for me. The chicks stay nice and warm, get plenty of air, and the sides of the heating pad covering the inside of the container keeping the environment nice and dark; just like a bird nest.

The chicks at this stage were 12, 11 and 10 days old, or there about. I had a much better chance of keeping them alive. Newborns or those within the first few days of life are considerably harder to keep alive. They have a tendency to spit up their food and choke to death. I have learned that the hard way; on a couple of occasions while trying to handfeed a friend’s newly hatched Gouldian Finch chicks. Have only had success with one newborn.

I always keep handrearing formula on hand for emergencies, so I was somewhat prepared to feed the chicks. I took a small cup and put maybe 1/4 tsp. powdered formula within it. I added double that amount of hot tap water and a light sprinkle of Ornalyte to combat dehydration. I mixed the formula up so that it was not at all pasty but very runny. I used an eye dropper for dispensing the formula. I found it easier to work with versus the feeding tubes I had on hand at the time.

When first beginning to feed chicks that are unaccustomed to being handfed they will not immediately beg for food. I took the chicks one at a time in my hand and lightly touched the side of their beaks with the eye dropper. This stimulation or a light touching on their back will usually entice them to beg.

I deposited small amounts of the formula within their mouths and allowed them to swallow it on their own. I have had a much better success rate allowing the chick to swallow the food itself versus feeding directly into the crop. The key thing to remember at this point is to feed SMALL amounts of food. Allow time between feedings. Let the chicks swallow the food completely before feeding them more. And above all, NEVER force food upon a chick that has stopped begging.

Each chick was fed successfully and returned to their makeshift nest. I continued the process each hour throughout that day. Within hours, the smallest of the bunch was already showing signs of coming around. By talking to them softly, within a day or so they will begin to associate the sound of your voice with feedings and will beg more vigorously.

After each feeding gently wipe off any food that may be left on them. I use a damp paper towel to wipe the corners of their mouth and anywhere else food may have gotten on them. It is important to keep the chicks clean of excess handrearing formula to avoid a bacteria infection. I would also remove the paper towel the chicks slept on and replace it with a clean one after each feeding.

The eye dropper was rinsed out completely and kept in a small cup in the kitchen with water and a drop of bleach for disinfecting. Make sure to rinse the feeding instrument completely before feeding again to remove any bleach residue that may be on it.

I fed them a couple of times at night for the first couple days. I obviously did not get up each and every hour, but have found that a couple feedings during the night is helpful to the chicks in terms of gaining strength.

Within a couple days the chicks will think of you as “Mom” or “Dad” for that matter. I kept the chicks in the dining room on the table and when they would hear the sound of my voice anywhere in the house I could hear them peeping. Kind of a neat feeling.

The chicks progressed and grew. Once they were larger in size I would remove the bowl they slept in and covered the heating pad with a towel and allowed them a larger area in which to “cruise around”.

The next stage of the process begins when their pin feathers open up. Once they are feathered I moved them to a small cage with a regular nest box and a heat light above the nest. I did not place nesting material within the box at this point; again using a washcloth and paper towel on top for easy changing after each feeding.

Once the chicks fledge the nest, provide food for them to nibble at. I provided a shallow dish of water, some spray millet, a shallow bowl of seed and fresh eggfood. I found that the cordons, even being handfed, fledged fairly early, being quite anxious to test out their flying skills.

Feedings through this whole process were slowly spaced out. Initially, hourly, then every hour and a half; slowly moved to two hours apart and so on. The consistency of the formula was also changed. Watery in the beginning and slowly less water was added so that the formula had the consistency of pudding. I would once daily add a small amount of yogurt to the formula and a couple times of day add a light sprinkle of Noah’s Kingdom VMA herb powder.

The chicks upon fledging were curious as all chicks are. Learning to nibble at the food in the bottom of the cage etc. Two of the chicks began to attempt singing and I realized that two of the three were cocks. At this point I moved their cage to the birdroom so they could be around the calls and sounds of other birds of their kind, therefore learning the proper “language” for their species.

If you work with the chicks on a regular basis; providing plenty of hand contact they will become quite tame and will remain as such if you continue the process. They would come and perch on my finger or peck at my arm. One in particular chose to stay in the palm of my hand and each time I tried to return him to the perch he would immediately fly back onto my hand. He seemed to be comforted by my touch. I chose not to do work diligently on the handtaming and allowed them to be just birds. Although the fully independent chicks completely weaned, will still fly over and rest upon my forearm if I come for a “visit”.

The most amazing thing I experienced with the cordons was when I introduced mealworms to them when they were approximately 3 weeks old. They of course had not been fed them at all by me; only by their parents during the first 12 days of their life. These little birds knew instinctively what to do and were able to devour mealworms like a pro. Instinct is very strong indeed.

Part III – Continued Breeding of the Blue Cap Cordon Bleus

Mom and Dad Cordon began a second clutch a couple weeks after I removed the first. This time around they ate a lot more eggfood and I was hopeful that they would succeed in completing the whole chick rearing process. Unfortunately, once again on the 12th day they stopped feeding. The above process was initiated all over again. This time a clutch of four was saved.

Where I fall short in providing the breeding pair with the proper environment for success, I do not know. However, I am hopeful that I am on to something. Have spoken to many breeders around the country who raise the blue caps and a lot of them are not getting even this far. The chicks are thrown out of the nest upon hatching or the parents refuse to incubate the clutch.

I am absolutely captivated by these beautiful little birds and have been lucky enough to acquire additional bloodlines. Perhaps if I continue modifying my process I will experience total success. My goal is to work towards total parent raised Blue Cap Cordon Bleus. In the interim, should my assistance be necessary; I am more than willing to jump in and once again become “Bird Mom”.

I hope the above was helpful to those of you working with these little birds. Should any of you out there be experiencing success with these little birds I would be most interested in conversing with you on your successes.