Robins & Silver Eared Mesias
by Gordon M Duncan©
The small, colourful, inexpensive and easily cared for Pekin Robin
is probably the best known and most widely kept of softbills in
aviculture. In their native countries single cocks of both the Pekin
Robin and its more aristocratic cousin, the Silver Eared Mesia are
widely kept as cage birds for their singing ability. This may be
the reason for the scarcity of males in our importations.
These little birds are responsible for many a keeper of foreign
finches purchasing their first softbill, and it is only a small
step from there to a fully fledged collection of softbills.
Species and Origin
In the Genus Leiothrix there are only two species, the Pekin Robin
(L. lutea), in six subspecies, and he Silver Eared Mesia (L. argentauris)
which occurs in eight subspecies.
Both species are found in the Himalayas, Burma, Thailand, South
& East China, Kampuchea, Vietnam and Laos. The Silver Eared
Mesia is also found in Malaysia and Sumatra. They are active birds,
moving about in medium to large flocks with other species of babblers.
They seem to prefer the undergrowth, not being birds of the treetops.
At breeding time they split up and establish territories as pairs.
Neither of these birds is aggressive. When not breeding they are
totally inoffensive and can safely be housed even with birds as
small as waxbills.
Even when breeding, they will only defend the immediate area surrounding
their nest. They can often be kept, even with their own kind, without
problems of aggression. If the aviary were too small for each pair
to establish their own breeding territory, I would recommend one
pair of Pekin Robins or Mesias per aviary.
Unfortunately they have a reputation for stealing eggs and small
babies out of smaller birds’ nests. I, personally, have not
experienced this problem, but it is probably as well not to house
them with breeding waxbills, just in case. Certainly with birds
their own size and larger, there is not a problem.
These birds are amongst the easiest of softbills to feed. When not
breeding, a simple mixture of mixed diced fruit, grated carrot and
Avi-Plus is adequate. Use ”Mynah and Softbill” as a
maintenance diet and “Finch and Softbill” in the breeding
season. The addition of five or six mealworms or maggots (very well
cleaned) per bird per day completes your maintenance diet. The live
food is not necessary but is a great help in taming the birds.
When the birds are breeding you must increase the live food to almost
unlimited quantities. Mealworms, termites, well-cleaned maggots,
silkworms, moths, crickets and fruit flies are all suitable. A little
finely minced raw meat and hard-boiled egg can also be offered.
All foods should be dusted with vitamin, mineral and calcium supplements
to prevent deformities in the chicks.
Of course it goes without saying that clean drinking and bathing
water must always be available.
Pekin Robins and Silver Eared Mesias are hardy birds. Once acclimatised,
simple open fronted shelter and flight accommodation is adequate
in the South African climate. A small aviary of 2m long by 1m wide
and 2m high would adequately house a single breeding pair or a small
non-breeding group. A much larger aviary (about 6m long by 2.4m
wide by 2m high) would probably house two or three breeding pairs
without serious problems.
As these birds are totally harmless to all plants, the aviary should
always be planted. It looks better and also gives them interesting
areas to explore. Plants have the added advantage of attracting
insects that the birds will soon discover and eat.
Considering the tens of thousands of Pekin Robins and thousands
of Mesias that have been imported over the years, and considering
the ease with which these birds breed, it is a crying shame that
we still need to import them at all! We should be totally self-sufficient
with established aviary bred strains by now.
The biggest problem in breeding these birds is in obtaining true
pairs. The visual differences between the sexes are subjective.
Males are brighter, redder or more colourful than females. A bright,
colourful female might look like a male! And a dull or young male
like a female! Differences in shading in the various species add
to the confusion. Without surgical sexing, the only way to distinguish
is by the cock’s song. Have your pair surgically sexed and
you will be sure.
As spring begins to approach, change to the higher protein diet.
Also increase the live food proportion of your birds diet. Provide
half open-fronted boxes (budgie size), wicker baskets, wire baskets
and dense bunches of brushwood. Hang these at various levels in
both the shelter and flight area. Conceal them in and behind the
plants. Provide small twigs, coconut fibre, pine needles, fine grass,
moss and small feathers for nest building.
You will soon notice that the cock is singing continuously and courting
his hen. They will build a very neat little cup-shaped nest and
lay 3 – 4 pale blue eggs, spotted with red. Both sexes will
incubate and the chicks will hatch in 14 days. Live food, and LOTS
of live food, is now essential. They will not feed anything but
live food for the first week, and experience has shown that day
ten seems to be the greatest danger time. Thereafter the normal
diet will gradually be incorporated.
The chicks fledge at about two weeks, but are still fed for a considerable
time by their parents. Watch for aggression by the cock once the
chicks become independent, as the breeding pair will probably want
to start a new nest.
Howard, R. and Moore, A. A complete Checklist of the Birds of the
World; Macmillan, London, 1984
Vince, M. Softbills: Care, Breeding and Conservation, Hancock House,
If you wish to breed Pekin Robins and Silver Eared Mesias, invest
in a good book, or buy a video such as Birdkeeping the South African
Way or consider joining a bird club like the Rand Avicultural Society.
The members of the Rand Avicultural Society meet at the Honeydew Country
club Tennis club section, No 1 Boundary Rd Honeydew, Johannesburg on the LAST
TUESDAY OF EVERY MONTH, except December.
If you wish to find out more about the club then click back to RAS