Northern Italian Bird Breeders
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A Visit With Northern Italian European Bird Breeders
All Rights Reserved by: G. A. Abbate, Sr.
Elizabeth, NJ 07207

Between May 6th and May 11th, 1999, while I was on a business trip in Milan, Italy, I spent one whole day (May 8th,) with five well known highly successful European bird breeders.  Every minute I spent with these gentlemen was well worth it, and I am sure all of you will enjoy reading about my delightful and memorable experience.

I became acquainted with Mr. Angelo Fumagalli of Monticello Brianza, Province of Lecco, in the beginning of 1999 through the  Internet.   Ever since, Mr. Fumagalli and I have been corresponding through the Internet, exchanging a lot of information about European birds.  However, visiting with him in person was indeed a rewarding and delightful experience.

Mr. Fumagalli is an enthusiastic and very successful European Finch breeder. The latter part of this long article will be dedicated to an interview with Mr. Fumagalli.  It was a highly educational experience for me and I am sure all of you who are reading this will learn many new things, especially how to take better care of the European birds.

On May 9th, bright and early, through the arrangement with Mr. Fumagalli, Mr. Alberto Pasini picked me up in front of the  Hilton Hotel in Milan where I was lodging.  Mr. Pasini showed up in a brand new Toyota equipped with a navigation system. He boasted about this new technology now available in Italy. I told him that I was also very excited when I first encountered the navigation system in my car a few years ago. At that time, I thought it was the best invention I have seen since the invention of the wheel.

After a self-introduction with Mr. Pasini he gave me a tour of the outskirts of Milan. While driving we discussed birds, bird breeding and bird conservation. Our first stop of the voyage was at the residence of "Ill Ragioniere" Renato Migliavacca of Sirtori provincia de Lecco. Mr. Migliavacca  lives in an isolated area on the outskirts of the city on a mountain slope with luscious green vegetation. Nature at that time of the year in Italy was fully awaken—flowers everywhere; you could hear the birds singing on that serene countryside. Clearly recognizable were the songs of the Green Finches, Goldfinches, Black Birds, Thrushes and many other European birds.  It was an unforgettable melodious concert, very pleasant and enjoyable.   Although the weather was rainy, foggy, humid, and chilly, it seemed that the birds were happy and enjoying life. I personally was sort of uncomfortable.  My camera's lens was continuously foggy and rain drizzled on it so it was a mess.  Although Mr. Migliavacca was a professional man, CPA, I guess now retired from that profession, he together with his sons dedicate their time on raising exotic plants and birds. At Mr. Migliavacca's place, I witnessed exotic plants originating from many tropical areas of the world. Mr.  Migliavacca and his sons care for them meticulously.

Well, Mr. Migliavacca gave us a tour of his estate, including the exotic plants and the bird aviaries.  Several outdoor planted  aviaries contained colorful exotic soft bill birds. Unfortunately, I can't recall their names. There were also many songbirds in those aviaries and their songs blended harmoniously with the European birds singing in the outside gardens and wooded areas. 

.In one enclosure, Mr. Migliavacca had a breeding room with Siberian Goldfinches and other Finches. At that time of the year he already had some youngsters in the nest, such as Black Headed Siskins and other species of Siskins. It was a bit early for the Gold Finches to breed, but he was preparing them for the approaching reproduction season.   The larger Siberian Goldfinches in Mr. Migliavacca's breeding room were healthy, beautiful and very colorful.  Of all the five gentlemen that I visited, two of them are strictly breeders of European seed eaters and some other Finches.  One of them is strictly a breeder of European Soft Bills, such as Black Birds, Thrushes, Starlings, etc. However, Mr. Migliavacca and the rest of the gentlemen's breeding activity is a combination of European seed eaters, as well as European and Exotic Foreign Soft Bills.

In all of my 60 years as a nonstop bird fancier, whenever I visit any other bird fanciers anywhere in the world, my first thought has always been to observe the environment where they keep their birds. Believe it or not, in this stage of the game (old age) I am still learning!  Remember that there is always something new to learn.

Mr. Migliavacca's Soft Bill birds were fed a dry base soft bill diet mix supplemented with live insects, such as meal worms, fruit flies, (fruit flies are abundant and readily available for the Italian breeders) plus some other insects, along with fresh fruits.  While the seed eating birds are fed a mixture of dry seed containing canary, hemp and  niger seed (niger and hemp seed are not sterilized in Italy, which is advantageous for the Italian breeders), plus various millet seeds, etc.

Incidentally, by the end of the day, after visiting with all of these gentlemen's breeding facilities I realized everyone fed their Finches practically the same method as Mr. Fumagalli. Mr. Fumagalli's method of feeding  will be the subject of an interview with him in the latter part of this article.

The next stop was in Crosio della Valle, Provincia di Varese, where at a Sea Food Restaurant we met Mr. Daniele Arsuffi.  After  a very delicious lunch we moved on to Mr. Arsuffi's bird breeding facility.  He lives on a couple of acres (plus) on the outskirts of Crosio della Valle. It would take several pages of this article to fully describe Mr. Arsuffi's unique and unusual bird breeding activity, so I will try to bring out the most interesting points and highlights of my observation.

Well, to say the least, there were more Blackbirds, Thrushes, Starlings, etc., in Mr. Arsuffi's back yard than perhaps the whole Provincia of Varese?  Literally I estimated over a couple hundred birds of miscellaneous European Soft Bill species, including mutations of European Black Birds (Merli) in white grayish, pastel (?) Albino (?) and variegated black and white.  The same was true for the Thrushes and the Starlings in many mutations.  Perhaps some other species?  Sorry, I lost my notes.  To be frankly honest, some of them I have never seen before.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  All of his breeding birds were in full breeding mode. Every pair was either sitting on eggs or feeding youngsters.  There were healthy, colorful birds in excellent plumage sitting on colorful eggs everywhere. If they were not sitting on eggs, they were busy feeding babies.  Hundreds of breeding aviaries, approximately 4ft. to 5 ft. wide, 7 plus feet high and 6ft. to 7ft. deep. Let me repeat this without hesitation.  I have never seen such a large operation of breeding of the Black Birds, Thrushes, Starlings, etc.?

Again, the weather was miserable!  Cold, with drizzling rain.  Due to the adverse weather conditions, my bones were  getting chilled and beginning to  ache.  However, the breathtaking view of the birds acted as a pain killer for me. I kept shooting pictures and video, but to my disappointment at the end of my trip all of the outdoor pictures turned out to be of very poor quality due to the high humidity and the fogging of my camera lens.

After the long walk through the long rows of aviaries, Mr. Arsuffi--who incidentally is in the breeding  partnership with Mr. Pasini--led us to a huge barn with very poor lighting, no heat (cold).  When he opened up sort of a large metal closet, dark with no light, and no heat inside the closet either, he pulled out tray after tray containing dozens and dozens of Black Birds, Thrushes and Starling babies which he was hand feeding.  Right in front of my camera and my eyes Mr. Arsuffi picked up a dry mix of some ground up food grain, to which he added simple cold water, he mixed it together with a stick and immediately began to feed the hungry youngsters with the same stick.  In my estimation, I don't think the temperature of the food that he was hand feeding the baby birds exceeded 40 – 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  In much contrast to what bird fanciers do and feed here in the USA?  The bird breeding nursery contains heat, running hot water, microwave to warm up the food, plus other gadgets, and yet lots of fanciers experience loss in youngsters. Mr. Arsuffi only had a large bowl, a wooden stick, cold water, perhaps rain water (?) and he just shoved his concoction into the baby birds' mouth. I remarked, "Mr. Arsuffi, what the heck are you doing? Are those babies going to survive with that kind of cold food?  When the mother bird feeds the youngsters the body temperature is much warmer than this. That food is too cold to feed the baby birds." He immediately replied, "I have been doing this for over 30 years and I have never lost a youngster. However, when I let the parent bird feed their own youngsters many of them simply die.   The same has been happening in their wild habitat. I have observed many nests of wild birds in the wild state with originally five youngsters, sometimes three or two survive to the fledging stage.  Perhaps many of them don't even make it to be parents themselves.  Many adverse conditions exist in their wild habitat, which means i.e., predators, poisonous insecticides, human…… know what I am trying to say, and lack of food due to the reduction or destruction of their natural habitat, etc., etc."  To say the least, I was dumb founded.

When Mr. Arsuffi prepares the hand feeding formula for each feeding he adds a small amount of powder antibiotic. It can be either ampicillin or any other drug related to penicillin. I asked Mr. Arsuffi, "Why do you use drugs in the nestling food?"  He replied, "I cannot give a technical answer, but I know one thing if I don't mix some antibiotic in the hand feeding formula, at least for the first five-six days I experience loss of youngsters. I repeat.  I don't lose any youngsters with my method of feeding. (On my next trip to Italy I will go out of my way to visit Mr. Arsuffi again and get the name of the antibiotic that he uses).  Perhaps some of you hand feeders want to follow the same method? Keep in mind however that Mr. Arsuffi has a method of his own. He puts roughly about a couple of pounds of dry nestling food in a bowl. He adds a pinch of the dry antibiotic and he adds water to make a mash like consistency.  I assume however that a little aureomycin such as 100mgs in two pounds of hand feeding formula will do the trick?  I will have a better answer at a later date.  Many of us know that bird breeders use the words a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Personally, I don't believe in antibiotics.  It should be used only to cure a disease under the direction of a professional in the field of avian medicine.

In conclusion, Mr. Arsuffi breeds between 200 and 300 European Soft Bills each year and he exhibits them in many exhibitions throughout Europe. With pride he also showed me his numerous Gold Medals and other awards. Every bird produced by Mr. Arsuffi/Pisani Partnership are closed banded with regulatory rings which are under strict control of  the Italian Government and the Italian EPA. 

The next stop was at the facility of Dr. Claudio Croci, a Veterinarian by profession, who resides in Sacro Monte di Varese.  Dr. Croci is a very enthusiastic and meticulous European bird breeder.  By the time we got to his place the rain had intensified (pouring).  Thank God his long row of aviaries and the walkway were under cover.  Over 100 well built, planted aviaries were against a slope with the front facing downhill that was covered with green luscious vegetation.  The melodious songs of the numerous pairs of European Chaffinches, European Goldfinches, European Green Finches, Siskins and also Black Birds, Thrushes and many others which I cannot recall their names, blended harmoniously with their counterpart in the luscious vegetation in the surrounding rolling hills.  Almost the same surroundings as Mr. Migliavacca's.  Immediately I reached for my cameras, but Dr. Croci said, "Sorry, no pictures."  However, after almost an hour of conversation Dr. Croci realized who I was and he changed his mind. He gave me the liberty to photograph. Unfortunately, with the same weather conditions it was a terrible day to take pictures. However, I promised Dr. Croci and the rest of the people, I would be back on a nicer day.  That trip will be the publication of another article with plenty of photography?

Every aviary measured about the same size as Mr. Arsuffi's; which incidentally Mr. Arsuffi helped build Dr. Croci's very well organized breeding facility.  All of Dr. Croci's aviaries were planted with evergreens, similar to hemlock, some sort of small pine trees, and other types of shrubs which are meticulously trimmed. This assures the birds a  sense of security and I am sure they feel some how they didn't totally lose their wild habitat.   Each and every aviary was half covered. The other half was totally exposed to the rain and all the other elements. Grass and weeds were growing on the bottom of every aviary which, I believe, also supplied fresh grown greens for the birds.  This aviary was so well designed that it could be serviced in a very short period of time.  All the seed and food containers were attached on the front of each of the aviaries and were accessible from the walkway. I believe the water was supplied automatically through a system of pipes, so fresh water was always available.  Again, the method of feeding for Dr. Croci's birds was practically similar to Mr. Fumagalli's and the rest of the breeders in the region.

We slowly walked through the long rows of aviaries.  Towards the end Dr. Croci said, "Shhh.(quiet). My Blackbird pairs are feeding their babies. They were just hatched and I don't want to frighten them." However, he allowed me to go very close to the nests and I saw several babies, primarily mutations of Blackbirds.

Dr. Croci's location was on the top of a steep mountain which we drove up. As we were climbing my blood pressure was rising rapidly. Think about it, What Goes Up Must Come Down.  The road driveway was very narrow and steep and in some spots covered with wet mud. I was thinking that perhaps on the way down we were going to slide down instead of drive down.  Nevertheless we made it.  Thank God!  To say the least, I enjoyed very much the visit with Dr. Croci.  He also enjoyed talking to me immensely and we said we shall meet again another day when the weather is better.

So downhill from Dr. Croci's place we drove all the way to Saronno, Provincia di Varese, where we stopped by Mr. Gianni Faggin's  place.  Mr. Faggin is a plumbing contractor. He has a small but very unique breeding facility. On the cement roof on top of the garage he had several small aviaries each containing, again, a pair of birds consisting of European Finches, such as European Goldfinches, European Green Finches, Siskins, Chaff Finches, etc., plus some South American Finches, such as Black Headed Siskins and others. Again, I lost my notes and cannot remember all of them. When we arrived at Mr. Faggin's place, although the rain had stopped, it was already dark.  I observed as much as possible and took a couple of pictures. Ironically, these pictures came out half way decent.  

To say the least, I had a very interesting and fulfilling experience that day. But…I'll be the first to admit I couldn't wait to get to my comfortable hotel room where I immediately took a very hot shower to re-energize my aching body.  It had also been a very stressful learning experience!  Yet, I still look forward to my next adventure.