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Natural History and Captive Care of Tri-Colored and Black-Headed Munias

Black-headed MuniaAlso known as Tri-Colored and Black-Headed Nuns or Mannikins (Lonchura Malacca and L. atricapilla), these pert little birds make excellent pets for both beginning and advanced finch keepers.  While neither sports the flashy colors of certain related species, contrasting black, chestnut and white plumage renders them quite striking.

Natural History

The 5-inch-long Tri-Colored Munia is found in southern India and Sri Lanka.  It is most common in and near swamps, flooded meadows, riversides, rice fields and other moist, open habitats.

The Black-Headed Munia was long considered to be a subspecies of the Tri-Colored, but has now been designated as a distinct species.  However, captives interbreed readily, and will also pair up with related finches. Its natural range, which lies north and east-southeast of the Tri-Color’s, extends from northern India through southern China, Thailand and Vietnam.  It tops out at 4.5 inches in length.

Both species rely upon grass seeds as their primary food, and may form large flocks outside of the breeding season.

Captive Care: Housing

Tri-color MuniaDue to their diminutive size, Munias are usually kept in quite small cages.  While most will adjust to such accommodations, they will be much more content and active (and more interesting to observe!) if provided with a large flight cage.

Outdoor aviaries are ideal for small groups.  If not crowded, they will get along well with other similarly-sized finches, but aggression can occur during the breeding season.


A high quality finch seed mix containing dehydrated fruit and vegetables (they do not take much fresh fruit, but seem to benefit from dried bits included in commercial diets) should form the basis of the diet.

Small amounts of chopped kale, romaine and other greens, as well as fresh sprouts, should be offered several times weekly.  Soaked seed are beneficial to pairs rearing chicks.

Although most accounts claim that Tri-Colored and Black-Headed Munias will not eat insects, those under my care have taken waxworms, mealworms, wingless houseflies and small crickets.  Perhaps food preferences vary among different populations, and this is reflected by captive bred descendants.  In any case, I suggest offering insects, especially during the breeding season.

grit and cuttlebone should always be available.


Breeding is most likely to occur when a pair has plenty of room.

Munia nestIn the wild, both species construct a covered, oval nest of dried grasses and moss, usually located 6-8 feet above-ground.  Nesting baskets may be accepted by captives.

Both parents incubate their 4-5 eggs for 12-14 days.  The young fledge when they are approximately 3-4 weeks old.

Special Considerations

In common with other savanna-adapted finches, Black-Headed and Tri-Colored Munias have very long, curved nails that assist them in clinging to swaying grass stems while feeding. Their nails grow quickly and may become entangled in cage mesh or wire if not trimmed regularly.  Be sure to seek assistance from an experienced bird keeper or veterinarian if you are not familiar with nail-clipping.


Further Reading

Black-Headed Munia videos and sound recordings

Finch Facts: an overview

Video: wild Tri-Colored Munias

Basic Finch Care


Black Headed Munia image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Heini Wang and Snowmanradio
Tri-color Munia image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Krayker
Munia Nest image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kguirnela

About Frank Indiviglio

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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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