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Keeping the Bengalese or Society Finch – the World’s Only “Manmade” Finch

Society FinchesThe pert, attractive Society Finch (Lonchura striata domestica) has never existed as a wild, “natural” species.  Rather, it was produced in captivity, by breeders who crossed Sharp-Tailed and Striated Munias (Lonchura acuticauda and L. striata, please see photo). Interestingly, while the Society Finch is a very popular cage and lab bird, its parent species are rarely seen in private collections or zoos.  It is an ideal choice for those who desire a hearty, easy-to-breed bird with an “exotic” history.


The species that gave rise to the Society Finch, members of the family Estrildidae, are native to southern Asia and closely related to Indian Silverbills, Tri-Colored Nuns and many others popular in the pet trade.  The Society Finch most likely arose as a distinct species (or subspecies) in Japan, but there is also evidence that Chinese breeders had a hand in its development.  The details are unclear.  

A wide variety of color phases, such as fawn, white, piebald and black, have been produced.  Certain strains vary in size, feather appearance and behavior, with some being harder to breed than others.

Sociable in the Extreme

Society Finch is an apt name, as these little birds are, indeed, quite “social”.  Society Finches breed readily, and have highly-developed parental instincts.  In fact, breeders and zoos routinely use them as foster parents for the chicks of other species.  Fostering is useful in the case of abandoned chicks, and essential to a breeding technique known as “double-clutching”.

Double-clutching is used to obtain the maximum number of offspring from a pair of birds; breeders pull the first clutch (to be reared by foster parents), so that the female will produce another.  Double-clutching is also well-known to zoo aviculturists…I successfully used this technique at the Bronx Zoo with Mauritius Pink Pigeons, which were fostered by Ring-Necked Doves (after a time, the Pink Pigeon chicks exceeded their foster moms in size, but the hard-working doves somehow managed to produce enough “pigeon milk” for their giant “guests”; I do recall that the doves consumed a great deal of food!).

Society Finches are quite accommodating, where breeding is concerned, in other ways as well.  Two or more females will use a single nest if not discouraged, and groups will crowd into tiny nest boxes to roost.  They will reproduce in mixed species aviaries, and have even been known to take over the nests of unrelated species and “kidnap” their chicks!  Society Finches will also form same sex pairs, and have been cross-bred with unrelated species, including Star and Zebra Finches.

In common with the Zebra Finch, a willingness to reproduce under highly artificial conditions has rendered Society Finches as important laboratory subjects.

Captive Care

Society Finches will thrive in either indoor finch cages or outdoor aviaries.  When properly acclimated and provided with a dry shelter, they are quite cold-hearty.

A good finch seed mix, comprised largely of canary seed and millet, will meet most of their needs.  Pairs rearing chicks do best when provided with sprouts and egg food, but the young can also be successfully reared on seed alone.  Grit and cuttlebone should always be available.


White-rumped MuniaStandard finch boxes will be readily accepted as nest sites. Despite their eagerness to reproduce in captivity, most Society Finches will not tolerate nest inspections, and may abandon their eggs if disturbed.  As they are usually excellent parents, breeding pairs are best left to their own devices.

If several pairs are kept, care should be taken that multiple females do not use the same box.  The eggs, 4-8 in number, are incubated for 14-18 days.  Healthy females are very prolific, but producing more than 3-4 clutches per year may weaken them.  The young fledge at day 20-21, and may reproduce when 3 months old.  Ideally, however, Society finches should not be paired until 6-8 months of age.


Further Reading

Society Finches as Foster Parents

Photos: Black-Brown and other Color Phases

Video: Society Finches grooming and interacting

Keeping Nuns, Munias and other Society Finch Relatives


White-rumped Munia image referenced from wikipedia and originally by J M Garg


  1. avatar

    This comment “The Society Finch most likely arose as a distinct species (or subspecies) in Japan, but there is also evidence that Chinese breeders had a hand in its development. The details are unclear.” is in error. The society finch (bengalese in UK) is merely a domesticated Lonchura striata swinhoei, the White-rumped munia. It’s not a hybrid of different mannakins.

  2. avatar


    Thanks for your interest. When the article was written, the statement was correct per colleagues at the Am Museum of Natural History. Please forward any references you may have when time permits, thank you, Best regards, Frank

  3. avatar

    Wondering if you ever received any further info from Richard regarding the origin of the Society finch?


  4. avatar

    He may be referring to a different species…sorry, I haven’t looked into it any further.

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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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