Among the more popular of foreign finches the Cordon Bleu has in many years been the choice of many fanciers, and during that period has been bred to a great extent under varying conditions, some in large planted flight aviaries, and others in smaller box type cages. Of these it can be said that they are established in collections, this following the ban on imports in 1938. In this respect they share with a number of foreign species, which are still capable of producing quite good broods in spite of the fact that fresh stock has not been introduced for such a long period. However, it must be realised that this has only been possible because of the sound methods employed, and our climatic conditions which at all times have been a most valuable asset in making this possible.
The Cordon Bleu is definitely not a difficult bird to sex. The male features red ear patches and is of a deeper blue, which is far more prominent than on the female. They are very active birds and for that reason they are very much at home in a planted flight aviary where they are able to conceal themselves in a shrub and by the same token view intruders and keep up their warning of chattering. In this respect they are very much like the Australian Masked Finch; these birds also delight in giving a warning signal and then retreat to a shrub to view the intruders and all the time keep up the chattering, only relaxing when they are satisfied that the intruders mean well or have departed.
The alarm these birds give is heeded by all other birds, which take cover the moment it is given, and from their vantage point gaze skywards, a natural precautionary procedure. Very often this proves to be accurate, and in many instances a glance skywards will reveal the presence of a hawk or some other large bird hovering immediately in the vicinity of the aviaries.
They are very much at home in a planted flight aviary, and usually some good results are obtained from them when housed under these conditions. However, they do respond to conditions that are comfortable and in less spacious quarters, and which carry facilities that are suited to their requirements for breeding. Usually they select a site in a shrub or in dry brush; rarely will they select a nest box. The height from the ground varies with almost every selection. The nest they build is a neat dome-shaped nest usually constructed with dry grass with a final lining of very fine grass, or if available, cotton wool, coconut fibre and a few feathers.
Egg-laying usually commences once the nest has been completed and usually a clutch consists of four to five eggs, these being white in colour and a little larger than Zebra Finch eggs. Once they have commenced laying they really take an interest in their nest; and if flushed at any time they really show their resentment and continue to do so until they are satisfied that they can return to their nest. In most instances, they flush fairly easily, but will return to the nest equally as quickly once they are certain no further intrusion is likely. However, if possible, unnecessary flushing should be avoided; this will eventually cause them to become exceptionally wary, and once in this state they very easily give up the job of settling down to serious incubation.
Incubation usually commences after several eggs have been laid and both birds will share these duties. The period of incubation is twelve days, and a further three weeks will elapse before the young leave the nest. On occasions when the young leave the nest they appear to have done so a little premature. Their body feathers do not fully cover the body and their power of flight is not sufficient to take them to a suitable camping site or on to the perches. This may l be the case for several days, and if so the young birds should be caught up each evening after they have had their final feed for the day and placed in a small carrying cage for warmth, and then again released in the aviary at daylight. This may be necessary for several days until the young birds are able to respond to the parents’ calling and make a camping site for the night.
In approximately three weeks they become independent of the parents, and several weeks after this they can be transferred to a holding cage. The young birds, on leaving the nest, show a little blue. Usually the male birds are a little more prominent, but mostly they are a dull fawn colour, with patches of washed-out blue. Their diet is similar to that required for most finches, consisting of pannicum, grey millet, white millet and canary. In addition they are very fond of seeding grasses; they really relish them and these will assist greatly to rear young.
Live food in the form of white ants without a doubt is the best that can be supplied to them to induce them to rear young. Some measure of success has been achieved with the supply of mealworms, these of course supplied in moderation and several times during the day. With these it is hard to estimate the amount they require for the young they have in the nest, and it is wise to keep them down to approximately six per bird each day, The risk of feeding this type of live food is in over-feeding, whereas with white ants no risk in this regard exists.
Generally they are among the hardiest once they are really settled in to their quarters, and providing the aviary is of reasonable size, it is possible to keep several pairs housed for breeding purposes. Occasionally they are cause for concern, and it is quite possible that a good breeding pair will follow up a good brood of young with a full clutch of infertile eggs, which however in most instances is only temporary and usually occurs when they appear to go to nest well before the previous brood of young are independent. Occasionally this will also happen at the beginning of the season, usually before the birds are properly mated.
They are a type of bird that responds to a good amount of care; they accept it readily and accordingly will give good results. They accept conditions which provide facilities for foraging, and whilst they can be kept on the move they are very contented and their call can be heard continually whilst they are on the move.
Reprinted from the August 1964 edition of Bird Keeping in Australia, the official publication of the Avicultural Society of South Australia Inc.