Java sparrow in days gone by.

It is fair to say it has been and still probably is still in certain areas; hated by the farmers who tend the many rice paddy fields spread over Asia and beyond, places where the Java sparrow today has a stronghold. If you take a look back as far as you can you see quite quickly that the bird has had a very close relationship with man albeit an unintentional one and one that has had its highs and lows for both parties.

Few avian books or publications I have seen tell the story of the early days when Javanese agriculturists were farming rice basically just to feed their families but had flocks of hundreds of Java sparrows devouring the rice crops which were so vital to their survival. I have read that young children were sent out to collect eggs of the Java to either eat or sell on to make money to buy food for the family. This activity then I suppose, eventually and logically moved onto the trapping of birds for the swiftly growing international bird trade.

The birds themselves were even trapped and eaten probably in times when crops failed or were poor. Robin Restell in his acclaimed book “Munias & Mannikins” states that even in modern times the bird is sometimes seen on menus served whole in a rich brown sauce as a delicacy in certain Asian capital cities! Also the Java is hunted by shooting in certain parts of Asia, this is reported to be seen as both a sport and having a purpose of keeping numbers of the so called flying pest down! Another example is that in Hawaii you can get a shooting permit and then go out and shoot yourself some Javas along with other species that are classed as vermin.

To me this only goes to show how the bird as a species is loathed and felt as a total pest and is widely classed as vermin by those who have felt the impact of living with the bird locally when you can say they were just trying to survive.

This new a swiftly growing bird trade outlet proved to be a godsend for the locals in a few ways I guess, with the little income from trapping and selling the birds making the Javanese locals lives a little better and more stable, the crops they were sowing had a greater chance to survive and therefore would be more sure of the rice they were growing was making the dinner plates of the farmers families.

Wild Java today.

If we take a massive leap along the timeline to the present day I can tell you that although maybe not in the Java sparrows original homelands of Java or Bali (where and is now classed as vulnerable and is currently listed on CITES Appendix II) the same years old problem does exist today in other islands like on for example Viti Levu, Fiji; this island is some 4250 nautical miles away from Java, the bird’s Indonesian homeland.

I was recently (August 2006) at a bird fair on Rutland Water and I spoke with a representative from Fiji who was promoting birding tours to his islands. I asked him if he was aware of the Java sparrow in particular on his island and he immediately frowned and smiled. He then got a map illustrating birds on Fiji and visually confirmed that were we talking about the same species of bird. He went on to explain his main job was working on the rice fields between Savu and Navua in the south eastern part of Viti Levu, an area of flat lowland on the island where all the paddy fields were located. The Java was doing very well there and as usual from the point of view of a rice grower possibly too well; with groups of easily 200 and more birds being seen feeding on the paddy fields on a very regular basis.

Rice production was falling in Fiji like a lot of places; the gentleman did not say it was solely down to the Java but due to the downturn in rice production globally was an issue, so the threat to it from the Java was not seen as a priority but it was still there never the less.

As a point of interest to show with a modern day view the impact the Java sparrow possibly had in island locations in the past, in the Fiji Times, (July 26th 2006) it stated as part of a government drive to boost its economy and rice production, “in Fiji there are about 4000 farmers with approximately 16,000 family members who depended on the rice industry for their livelihood”. Imagine yourself a few decades back as one of many, many poor farmers in Java how you would feel as a very poor local farmer with a family if you had to deal with massive groups of birds of any species threatened your families’ very existence? Remember rice was the staple diet and still proves to be the mainstay for Asia’s inhabitants today. What would you do? What has occurred in the past centuries perhaps, trap, eat, -and sell the pest birds?

In captivity the Java shines.

Without doubt the forming of the Java Sparrow Society UK in January 2004 has firmly cemented the position of the bird in UK aviculture. A position where it now has a great base to challenge the more established species we as birdkeepers in general recognise as truly part of our hobby. The endearing qualities of the Java are reasonably well documented, with more deserved focus being put on the species over the last few years, when I say this I am talking about in the UK in particular. Please excuse me if I briefly repeat some of the things you may have read in the past; things that in my opinion make the Java sparrow such a special bird to its followers. The Java is a bird that once you have a few will grab a hold of you when you start to witness what it is really about. The true character of the bird soon comes to the fore once you start to keep some of these great finches.

Ideal for all.

This species has a lot to offer all aviculturists, the days of folks saying “it’s only a Java” upon seeing some in a cage or a flight might not be totally gone but they will be soon, I feel. The bird offers differing areas of interest and potential to birdkeepers of all skill and knowledge levels. For instance, you can decide to specialise in keeping just Java sparrows if you wish, you can keep a small selection of the growing mutations alongside other bird species if you are into different colours of the same bird. Breeding Javas is arguably less challenging than a lot of finches but no less rewarding. If you wish to contribute to the maintaining of stock levels of the true Normal Java in the UK then why not do so along with fellow members of the JSSUK. Are you into showing birds? Well the show benches have never seen so many Javas on them; why not take on the task of developing a good strain of 50/50 pieds for the show bench. These are a few quick examples of the possibilities for lovers of the Java and what can be achieved in aviculture is in my mind, truly endless with this charismatic finch.

Easy to feed.

The demands placed on a birdkeeper with Javas are to be honest very low, the bird is so able to adapt to different conditions in the wild it easily transfers this attribute into cage and aviary life. It is a decent sized, strong busy bird and is not at all fussy when it comes to the diet it requires even when breeding. You can have a strict tight regime for feeding or an elaborate full diet with either the Java will still not let you down.

Accommodation>

Housing too is an area where the Java is easy to please, whatever your setup large or small it doesn’t matter it will be happy with what you provide as long as the common sense basics are met, like not over crowding etc. I guess some will say the bird is better in flights and some will say no cages are best, this I have attempted to cover in a past article, really whatever you want to get out of your hobby the Java will help you achieve it in most cases, but there are always exceptions remember, like a rogue bird that is bullish in a flight to others yet fine in a cage.

Willing to breed.

The Java will not let you down here generally once of course, you have got over the only real obstacle in keeping them, getting true pairs down to nest. The Java in my experience averages 6 young per nest with it being possible to have 8 or 9 hatch out in some cases even more, I have heard of 11 young being successfully reared in a single round in an aviary this year.

Inexpensive.

Another good thing going for it is the fact that the Java in no matter what colour you want it in is not that expensive to buy, ok the newer mutations are more expensive when they first hit the scene but tell me a species of bird that this in not the case for as well! Generally good quality stock can be purchased, in most colours for £45 or less a pair, I would recommend that you go to a Java breeder this increases your chances of getting a true pair of birds.

Increased popularity.

Well I feel it goes without saying the Java has reached new heights in the UK regarding its popularity, increased popularity which has brought for instance many a Budgie man into the world of the Java sparrow, I have spoken to quite a few who have said they have seen the increased publicity on the bird and this has made them think more seriously about a bird they never even contemplated keeping before. Once the switch has been made the people I have spoken too all have said they cannot understand why they did not do it earlier, such is the way the great Java sparrow can put its hooks into you.

Summary.

The future of the Java sparrow on its home isles in Indonesia is still uncertain, the history attached to the bird may take a long while for its human neighbours to let go of but here in the UK the future is seemingly very bright and since the forming of the JSSUK in 2004 with the help of the committed growing group of Java fans of all levels of experience in the society its future has got to be brighter. More information on the JSSUK is available at the following website addresses, www.javasparrowsocietyuk.co.uk (<<< this is the old society website which is still active) and www.javasparrow.org (<<< the new look updated society website with private members only area.)
Steve’s website – www.snaviaries.co.uk

© Steve Nesbitt 2006