Whoever thinks that the ancient nursemaid does not exist anymore, knows nothing about the Bengalese, a bird which hatches all year long, and also looks after other birds' babies.
With the importance atributed to efficiency in the 80's, it became an activity of the "square" people to stay at home watching the kids and taking care of the family. For those who think the old times are buried for good, meed the Bengalese. This is a bird of a discrete appearance, but whose efficiency is shown in a different way. Without it, many species practically wouldn't exist in captivity, and this for a very special reason: they loves their litter. And more, not only their own babies, but the babies of other birds in the same family, which they raise with no prejudice. This talent to be an "adoptive father" has earned him the consideration of breeders in Brazil and around the world. After all, the Bengalese is father and mother, 24 hours a day, exactly like in the old days.
This bird from Asia is a member of the family of Estrildinos, and, contrary to many other birds, it came about thanks to man's intervention. The Bengalese is the result of a selection done by Japanese breeders with the original wild species Lonshura striata - extremely rare nowadays. With aproximately 11cm of size, it used to inhabit certain regions of India, Southern China, Taiwan, all the way from the South to Sumatra.
Through selection the Lonshura striata got its domestic descendent, the Bengalese. It has several different names in different parts of the world, but it is a small bird with a humble air and discrete color, going from black to white, brown and cinnamon. The colors may be mixed to form a uniform or absolute pattern. The Bengalese birds can be totally white, white and cinnamon, or even have three colors.
There is an old Brazilian saying that states there is always room for one more in a mother's heart. Similarly, in the nest of the Bengalese there is always room for babies - their own and those of other birds of the family. The Lady Gould, for instance, is one of the species that for some reason does not breed in captivity. When they do lay eggs, they are of no use, if it weren't for the efficiency of our friend.
Friendly, the Bengalese leaves no doubt that the most important thing in its life is reproduction. It is an incredibly prolific species, like rabbits and rats, procreating the whole year, pausing only during the moulting period, which usually occurs between February and May. This is one of the reasons why exotic bird breeders do not give up their Bengalese, so important during the breeding cicle.
The first step when starting breeding this bird, is the separation of the couples. The Bengalese does not present physical differences between male and female, so it is necessary to leave several adult birds (4 or 5 months old) together in a same cage. The first one to start singing, with a short trill (something like tch-thc-thc), slightly opening wings and raising throat and chest feathers, is probably a male, and should be put in a separate cage. To diferenciate it, the breeder can use a metal ring locked to one of the legs, or identify it by the color markings.
After that, introduce one by one, the other birds, letting them adapt to place for about 20 minutes or half an hour. The ones who start singing, like the first male, are also males. The ones who keep quiet, are the females. The method, unfortunately, is not 100% garanteed, for the Bengalese may pair homosexually: two males build a nest and hatch other birds' eggs placed in their nest.
There is only one situation in which the family instinct of Bengalese does not work, and that is its conduct in the aviary. Some breeders state that many times several couples decide to sleep in a same nest (due to their habit of living in groups). They may then choose a nest where there are babies, and involuntarily end up suffocating the babies, or breaking eggs. To avoid that, it is advisable to put two or three Bengalese couples with couples of other birds, controlling, that way, their population. It is important to remember that this practice may lead to another problem: the Bengalese may mate with another species, generating hybrid babies.
Cage: Extremely adaptable to captivity, the
Bengalese procreates even in small cages (40 x 30 x 30cm). Just put a nest, a
wood box (about 15 x 10 x 10cm) with a hole in the front. If the breeder wishes,
he can help the happy couple leaving them pieces of grass 20 to 25cm long, with
which they will decorate the nest.
Feeding: The Bengalese is a granivorous bird, and must be fed with seed mix (birdseed, millet), green vegetables (chicory), and the famous Canary meal, specially during the breeding period. Finally, a bowl with sand or rocks, to provide calcium and minerals.
Special Care: Water must be changed on a daily basis. The Bengalese loves to bathe, so the breeder can put a small basin in the cage, so bird can have some fun; this water must also be changed everyday. The water, in this case, also helps to maintain the necessary humidity for eggs to hatch. But don't keep the basin when there are babies in the nest, for one of them may fall on it and drown. The cage and perch must always be very clean. The tray must be cleaned every other day, and the perch, once a week (on those days, you should also spread insecticide on perch tips, where they are stuck to cage, avoiding, that way, proliferation of lice.
Reproduction: After couples are separated, and nests are built, the Bengalese female goes through a 13 to 18 day period of incubation, at the end of which it lays up to 8 eggs. The male helps the female in the hatching task. When the babies are born, it is a good idea to complement feeding with Canary meal. After an average of 45 days, the babies are ready to feed themselves, and must be separated from parents. The whole proccess starts again.
Trading Eggs: The more experienced breeders maintain an average of 5 Bengalese couples for each couple of exotic birds, enhancing the probability of coinciding the reproduction periods of both species. The whole proccess goes like this: if the periods of egg laying coincide, the eggs of the Bengalese are substituted by the eggs of the other birds. Thanks to their instinct, the Bengalese dad and mom will hatch the alien eggs, as if they were their own, taking care of the babies during the whole nursing period, until they reach adult age. It is advisable, however, to give the real parents a chance to exercise paternity: wait for a few days for exotic birds to hatch their eggs. If that doesn't happen, then transfer them to the Bengalese nest, which, as always, will do the job without demanding any pay.
Research: Soraia Yoshida
Picture: Rolando Arual Freitas
Owner: Zoo-Lógico Store