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The African Silverbill – a Near-Perfect Finch Pet

African SilverbillZebra and Society Finches are often recommended to those new to finch keeping, and with good reason.  However, in my opinion, the attractive little African Silverbill or African Warbling Finch, Lonchura cantans, deserves consideration as well.  In addition to being a hardy captive, it is also a prolific breeder that hybridizes readily with several other species – ideal qualities if one wishes to experiment with the creation of new finch color phases.


The African Silverbill may seem “plain” to some, but its varied shades of brown, tan, buff, fawn and black both blend and contrast, lending this 4 inch-long mite a unique beauty.  The sexes are alike, but only males produce the pleasant, warbling song.

Chocolate, fawn, cinnamon, white and other mutations have been produced, often influenced by related species with which the African Silverbill has been crossed.

Range and Habitat

The African Silverbill’s range extends in a narrow band across Sub-Saharan Africa and south through central East Africa.  It has been introduced to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

It is a bird of open savannas, brushy grasslands and farm edges where grass seed, its primary food, is plentiful.  Shy but adaptable, African Silverbills often nest among roof eves and in other sites near people.


African Silverbills adapt well to standard finch cages, but should always be provided with as much room as possible.  Outdoor aviaries are a great option, especially given that they mix well with other small, peaceful finches and softbills.


I favor dietary variety for most birds, but African Silverbills have rarely responded to my efforts in this regard!  They favor canary seed, and do well on a high quality finch/canary mix.  Some individuals will accept a bit of egg food or hard-boiled egg, but most do not; even insects are usually disdained.  Sprouts and shredded greens may be taken, and should always be available to breeding pairs.  Millet spray is a great favorite and will keep them occupied for hours.

Grit and cuttlebone should always be available.


Indian SilverbillAfrican Silverbills are ideal for those new to finch reproduction and are also excellent subjects for advanced breeders wishing to experiment with color morph creation.  However, breeding pairs are quite sensitive to disturbances, so it is best not to check on the eggs or young.  This is usually unnecessary anyway, as African Silverbills make fine parents if left to their own devices.  In fact, they are sometimes used to foster the chicks of other finches.

The carefully woven, enclosed nest will be constructed in a basket, open finch box or, outdoors, in a thick shrub.  The 4-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 13 days.  Soaked seeds, sprouts and chopped greens should be provided to the parents once the young hatch.

The chicks fledge in approximately 20 days, and are fed by their parents for an additional 2-3 weeks.  The family continues to get along as the youngsters age, and they will roost together at night within the nest in a most amusing fashion.

Hybrids have been produced between African Silverbills and Zebra Finches, Indian Silverbills (they and Africans were once considered to be the same species), Spice Finches and numerous other species.



Further Reading

Video: Silverbills constructing a nest

Feral African Silverbills on Hawaii

Keeping other Silverbills



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

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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