Also known as the Senegal Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala), this spectacular African import is one of the few entirely red-colored birds available to aviculturists. Northern Cardinals, one of my favorites, are not legal to keep here in the USA…the Red-Billed Firefinch is the only species I’ve found that comes close to matching it’s brilliant plumage. They are not rare in the wild or captivity, but never lose their appeal – even to lifelong bird keepers, Firefinches always seem “special”.
Range and Habitat
Ranging throughout much of Africa south of the Sahara, Firefinches have adapted well to people…in many developed areas their chirping is among the most familiar of the day’s sounds. The typical natural habitat is savanna, overgrown scrub and the edges of lightly-wooded areas.
Several related species, some of which are equally as gorgeous as the Red-Billed Firefinch, also occur in Africa, but none are well-established in captivity.
Firefinches are quite amiable towards other finches and small softbills, and are excellent candidates for mixed species aviaries. Their even temperament allows for colony breeding. Pairs also adjust well to indoor cages, but bar-spacing is an important consideration…their diminutive size (3.5-4 inches) may allow Firefinches to wedge their tiny heads between the bars of cages designed for canaries or budgerigars.
Despite their small size, Firefinches truly come into their own in large outdoor aviaries. There they will remain active from dawn to dusk, foraging for insects, which are among their most favored foods, seeds and sprouting plants. Although somewhat shy in close confines, in large cages and aviaries they seem much more at ease and willing to show us a great many interesting behaviors.
Firefinches are birds of grassy habitats, and forage mainly on the ground. Bamboo and other grasses and shrubs planted in their aviary will make them feel at home and provide foraging opportunities. They adapt well to cool temperatures (i.e. 65 F for short periods) if slowly habituated, but need shelter from damp and drafty conditions.
A high quality finch seed mix should form the basis of their diet, but a steady supply of insects is essential if Firefinches are to remain to remain in good color and peak condition.
Small crickets, mealworms, waxworms, grubs and wild-caught insects should be offered year-round, and are an absolute must for parents with chicks. Canned insects should also be considered. In outdoor situations, a variety of live plants can be used to attract local insects into the aviary.
Fresh sprouts and egg food should also be a regular part of your Firefinch’s diet.
Once habituated to their new surroundings, Firefinches may nest in either cages or aviaries. A thick, low-growing shrub will usually be chosen outdoors, while a nest box is essential if the pair if kept in a cage. They construct a complex, dome-shaped nest with a side opening and do not tolerate nest inspections (so leave them be!).
Females may produce up to 3 clutches yearly, each containing 3-4 eggs. The eggs are incubated for 11-12 days and the chicks fledge by day 18-21. They gain independence quickly, but are best left with the parents for 1 month after fledging.
Sexual maturity is often reached by the age of 9 months, but breeding is best delayed until the birds are at least 1 year old.
Comprehensive article on Breeding Firefinches (several species) in Outdoor Aviaries.
Red-billed Fire Finch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tom Tarrant