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Ideal Finches for Beginning Bird Breeders – The Silverbills

SilverbillsAttractively colored in shades of brown, tan and cream, and with distinctive silvery-gray beaks, the Silverbills are hardy, peaceful and breed readily.  They almost always raise their chicks without incident, and many pairs are even tolerant of overly-enthusiastic nest inspections.  Today we’ll take a look at 3 readily available species that make wonderful additions to any collection.


Silverbills fare well on relatively simple diets – a high quality finch seed mix along with some greens and sprouts    will meet their needs.  Tiny mealworms, crickets and other insects may be offered to nesting pairs, but the addition of extra sprouts is all that most parents need in order to successfully raise their young.

African or Warbling Silverbill, Lonchura cantans

This attractive, 4 inch-long native of Central and West Africa is clad in creamy-brown and sports dark brown wings and a black tail.  It favors savannas and other grassy habitats, farms and villages, and often nests under the roof eves and within open-fronted buildings.

The sexes are similar in appearance and best distinguished by the male’s quiet, pleasant song.  Pairs are inoffensive to other finches and their own kind, even when on the nest.  This suits them well to mixed species aviaries, but they must be protected against more aggressive species, however small.

Female African Silverbills usually produce 4 eggs, which are incubated for an average of 13 days.  The chicks fledge in 21-25 days, and a second and even third clutch may follow.  African Silverbills make excellent parents… in fact, they are sometimes used to foster the chicks of other, more highly-strung species of finch.

Indian Silverbill, Lonchura malabarica

Indian SilverbillPerhaps because of the muted colors of its plumage, the Indian Silverbill has never been very popular among aviculturists in the USA.  This, I believe, is a mistake – I had a chance to work closely with these delightful little birds in a large aviary and found them to have a unique beauty all their own.  The background color ranges from tan to light brown, with white highlights about the head; the tail is a darker shade of brown and the under-parts are buff-colored.

This 4.5 inch-long finch inhabits open woodlands, parks and gardens in India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.  It is intolerant of cold, damp conditions, but is otherwise extremely hardy.  The sexes are best distinguished by their behavior, but same-sex pairs are commonly formed.

The Indian Silverbill is a prolific breeder…oddly for such a tiny bird, clutches may contain 10-12 eggs, with up to 3 clutches per year being produced by some (well-fed!) females. Otherwise, their reproductive biology is similar to related species, with the eggs being incubated for 12-13 days and the nestlings fledging by day 21.

Gray-Headed or Pearl-Headed Silverbill, Lonchura caniceps

Many aviculturists find this Silverbill to be the most attractive of the group.  Its head is a unique shade of gray, and the cheeks and throat are heavily spotted in white.  The body, rich brown in color, is tinged with pink, while the wings and tail are black.

Pearl-Headed Silverbills hail from East Africa, where they occupy open habitats from southern Ethiopia to Tanzania.  They are quite trusting and friendly in demeanor, to people and other birds alike.

Pearl Headed Silverbills are among the best finches with which to hone one’s breeding skills, even allowing close nest inspections in many cases (but don’t push your luck!).

Further Reading

African Silverbill information and Face Book Page.


Indian Silverbill image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J.M.Garg



  1. avatar

    I have 3 silver bills that up until today got along. Now one is being bullied. What would cause the change in their behavior? I have separated out the one being bullied but I’d like them to be together again. Any thoughts?

  2. avatar

    Hi Erin,

    Hard to say, as captivity changes their typical behavior. Most commonly this will happen when 2 birds form a pair; same sex pairs can form as well, and they also may then attack other birds. Best, Frank

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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