Although a few commonly-kept finches dominate the pet trade, an amazing range of unusual species are available. Many are delicate and rarely seen, but quite a few are just as hardy as the ever-popular Zebra Finch. Today I’d like to introduce some of my favorite less-commonly-kept finches, each of which is special in its own way – the Red Avadavat, Gray-Headed Silverbill and the Star, Masked and Spice Finches. All are hardy, breed well, and may be housed in large indoor cages or outdoor aviaries. I’ll cover husbandry details in future articles; until then, please write in with any questions.
Star Finch, Neochmia ruficauda
An olive-green body topped by a white-speckled, vermillion head and a thick, bright red bill grant this Australian beauty a most striking appearance. Somewhat shy and very peaceful, the Star Finch does well in small groups and mixed aviaries, even during the breeding season.
The Star Finch belongs to a group commonly known as the Australian Grassfinches. It is native to Northern Australia, where it frequents wooded savannas, rice fields and cane plantations. Much of its time spent foraging on the ground, often in the company of Crimson Finches.
Star Finches are reliable breeders, and may produce up to 3 clutches each year. However, parents have the unsettling habit of tossing their chicks from the nest if the food offered is not to their liking. Therefore, be sure to provide breeding pairs with a wide assortment of live and canned insects, egg food and bits of hard-boiled egg.
Gray-Headed Silverbill, Lonchura griseicapilla
Also known as the Pearl-Headed Silverbill, this African native possesses a subtle beauty resulting from the blending of pink-tinged brown and several shades of gray. Small white or silver spots mark the head, and the wings are jet black. They inhabit dry thorn scrub and brushy grasslands from southern Ethiopia to Tanzania.
Grey-Headed Silverbills are an ideal choice to those new to finch-breeding. Unlike most finches, pairs are quite calm when brooding, and will even allow careful nest inspections. They get along well in groups and can be kept with other peaceful finches. Silverbills are somewhat fussy when it comes to mate selection, so the best breeding strategy is to house a group of 6 or so together and watch for naturally-forming pairs.
Masked Finch, Poephila personata
The jet black mask of this stocky, 5-inch-long finch makes it seem something of an “avian raccoon”. Certainly it is one of the most distinctive of all cage birds, especially as the dark mask is just above a thick, brilliant yellow bill. White and fawn color morphs have been produced, but are not often offered for sale.
Hailing from Northern Australia, Masked Finches are found in thorn brush, grassy scrub, parks and gardens, always within daily flying distance of water.
Masked Finches are sociable and do well in groups, but can be quite noisy. These qualities, and their high activity levels, suit them well to outdoor aviaries.
They construct a covered, intricately-weaved nest, which is usually located within 3 feet of the ground. Interestingly, the female does not usually lay her first egg until 2-3 weeks after entering the nest. Masked Finches are known to add bits of charcoal to their nest, perhaps in an effort to control humidity levels. Many breeders report that they will not lay unless provided with charcoal.
Spice Finch,Lonchura punctulata
Also known as the Scaly-Breasted Munia, the Spice Finch stands out it any mixed aviary due to its unusual markings. A chocolate-brown breast sprinkled with white, dark-edged feathers gives this Asian import a most distinctive flair. Add to this a trusting nature and hardy constitution, and you can see why the Spice Finch has long been a favorite pet wherever it occurs.
Spice Finches adapt well to cage life, as they are very steady in demeanor and even willing, in time, to feed from the hand. Males sing so quietly that the song may go unnoticed if one did not observe their “singing posture” – another plus if you keep your birds indoors and do not like to rise at 5AM!
Their huge range extends from India and Sri Lanka through much of southern China and Southeast Asia all the way to the Philippines. If acclimated properly, Spice Finches are quite cold-hearty and may be wintered outdoors even in fairly temperate regions.
Strawberry Finch or Red Avadavat, Amandava amandava
This 4-inch-long ball of energy is much beloved by finch aficionados worldwide, and with good reason – the fiery red plumage of mature males is rivaled by few birds. It is also far simpler to keep and breed than such relatives as the Green Avadavat, and males give forth a very pleasant song each spring.
Strawberry Finches generally live near water, but they range widely and often visit parks, gardens and farms. They are found from India and Pakistan east and south through southern China and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
The Strawberry Finch is one of the few cage birds to exhibit eclipse plumage – that is to say, the male molts after the breeding season and resembles his somewhat drab mate for a time (but fear not, the red feathers’ return is worth waiting for!). Unfortunately, the depth of the feather color sometimes fades in captivity. This is particularly common among birds housed indoors, but may also be related to diet. Please see the article below for tips on maintaining your finch’s color.
Star Finch image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J J Harrison
Masked Finches image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Justin Rumao
Scaly Breasted Munia image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J M Garg