Introducing a Beautiful African Finch, the Green Twinspot

Parrots, pheasants, doves, shama thrushes – hobbyists are fortunate in having a great many species of widely differing birds available as pets.  It is the tiny and relatively inexpensive finches, however, that offer us the easiest route to a mixed collection of gorgeous species…among no other group is such a diversity of interesting and hardy birds so readily available. Today’s subject, the green twinspot (Mandingoa nitidula), is a perfect example.


Rich olive above and with nearly black wings and, in males, a bright red face, this 4 inch African native is a sight to behold.  What truly sets it apart is the breast and abdomen, which are jet black with numerous pure white spots.  The overall effect is of a fine hand-painted toy!

Natural and Captive Habitats

Green twinspots are birds of rather open country, but never stray far from thick brush or similar retreats.  They favor forest edges, woody scrub and the overgrown margins of rice fields and farms.  Captives fare best when given plenty of cover, with a well-planted outdoor aviary being ideal.

When housed indoors, they should be provided with as much room as possible – the Blue Ribbon Peaked Bird Cage  is perfect for 2 to 4 twinspots.  Some hanging silk plants  and thin cotton cable perches will make them feel right at home.


Green twinspots have higher protein requirements than most finches, and should be offered a diet rich in insects. They readily accept small crickets, mealworms and waxworms and, if kept outdoors, will spend hours chasing small flying insects (which, like minute falcons, they catch on the wing).


Zoo Med Anole Food (dried flies) , canned silkworms , Cede Eggfood  and bits of hard boiled egg should also be offered on a rotating basis.  A Vita Kraft Sprout Pot will enable you to offer your finches fresh shoots, a favored and important food item.  The balance of their diet can consist of high quality finch seed mix  to which has been added a bit of Pretty Bird Softbill Select .

Further Reading

You can read about the green twinspots in the wild at



Outdoor Aviaries: Their Role in Promoting Breeding and Good Health – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for basic information on our new line of Outdoor Aviaries.

The influence of natural light, weather cycles and the additional space provided by an Outdoor Aviary often promotes breeding in birds whose reproductive urges have lain dormant for years.

Exercise for Body and Brain

Outdoor aviaries can also serve as exercise areas for birds otherwise confined to cages, and may allow you to keep species which, while they “get by” in typical cages, really do best with more room, at least for part of the year.  Birds which fall into this category include mynahs, larger parrots, toucans, most doves, red-crested cardinals and turacos.

Your pets’ interest in what is going on around them will increase markedly as well – this is good for their well-being, especially as concerns parrots and other highly intelligent birds.

Pheasants, Wild Birds and Other Outdoor Species

Other species, some of which I will highlight in future articles, are nearly impossible to keep unless an outdoor aviary is available.  Included among these are the golden and other pheasants, most quail, fruit doves, ducks and fancy (or “plain”!) chickens.

If, like I, you are a licensed wild bird rehabilitator, an outdoor aviary will greatly expand the list of species with which you might become involved (I tried caring for owls, small herons and gulls indoors…trust me, it’s difficult!).

Along with the fun, there are some special considerations involved in keeping birds outdoors…please write in for details concerning the species in which you are interested.

Further Reading

Outdoor aviaries are indispensible to those who rehabilitate injured native birds, and, where legal, for keeping native birds.  Please see my article Rehabilitating Native Birds  for further details.


Research Update: Stress Experienced by Finch Chicks Affects Adult Behavior

Research at the University of Glasgow (March, 2009) has established that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) exposed to stress as chicks exhibit a more intense and longer stress response as adults than do birds raised in a stress-free environment.

The Effects of Early Exposure to Stress

Pairs of sibling finch chicks were used for the experiment.  To simulate a stressful situation, one member of the pair was injected with corticosterone, a hormone produced by birds in response to stress; the other sibling was used as a control.  As adults, the resting corticosterone level of the birds was identical.  However, when subjected to a stressful situation, all previously-stressed chicks produced greater amounts of stress hormone than did their siblings, and their stress response lasted for a longer period of time.

Stress and the Health of Pet Birds

Pet keepers should take an important lesson from this research, as an unnaturally strong stress response has been shown to be damaging to health in a variety of species, humans included.

Stress arises from disturbing situations that evoke fear as well as from poor diet, improper hygiene, disease and inappropriate housing.  Exposure to these and a host of other factors can shorten your pet’s lifespan dramatically by weakening its immune system.

The effects of stress on the immune system are well known.  While working at the Bronx Zoo, I learned that birds transferred to a new exhibit (a major stress) invariably came down with a severe Aspergillosus infection, despite the fact that this fungus is ever-present in the environment yet rarely causes health problems for birds living in secure situations.  The current research findings are significant in highlighting just how serious and long-lasting are the effects of exposure to stress.

Captive vs. Wild Caught Birds

This research also highlights the importance of purchasing only captive-bred birds, as wild-caught individuals are exposed to the highest degree of stress imaginable.

Lessening Stress – Knowledge and Nutrition

Knowing and meeting the needs of those bird species which you keep is a vital first step in providing them with a stress-free environment.  Please write in with any husbandry questions you may have.

Vita Flight Vitamin Supplement, specifically formulated for birds under stress, should be kept on hand to help see your pets through the difficult situations (new arrivals, breeding, molting, illness) that arise in every collection.  Please see the article noted below for more information on the interplay between diet and stress.

Further Reading

An interesting article on the importance of proper nutrition to birds in stressful situations is posted at


Bat-like Birds: Meet Asia’s Brilliant Hanging Parrots (Genus Loriculus)


The aptly-named hanging parrots are unique in their habit of roosting upside down – hanging from branches in the manner of brightly colored bats.  When I first kept these birds in a zoo exhibit, I was quite surprised to hear a soft call being produced by the resting males, but subsequently learned that this odd behavior is also typical of the group.

Some, including the commonly-kept blue crowned hanging parrot (L. galgulus), are stunningly beautiful in coloration, and all are active and a real pleasure to watch.  In common with certain love birds, to which the hanging parrots are likely related, females carry nesting material tucked among the rump feathers.

Range and Habitat

Fourteen species of hanging parrots range throughout south and Southeast Asia.  Their distribution is such that, except for 2 species which occupy the Celebes Islands, nowhere do the ranges of any one species overlap with that of another.

Most favor lightly-wooded areas and forest edges, and often appear in parks, gardens, orchards and plantations, especially when food trees are flowering.

Diet…and alcohol intake!

Hanging parrots often feed in a head-down position, and favor soft fruits, figs, berries and, especially, nectar.  They behave much like lories and lorikeets when foraging in flowering trees – scrambling wildly among the blossoms and seemingly untroubled by people in the vicinity.  Seeds and insects are taken by some species as well.

In regions where coconut palm liquor is collected in open containers, the vernal hanging parrot (L. vernalis) is said to gorge itself until “overtaken by drunkenness”!

Threats and Endangered Species

Some hanging parrot species adjust well to human presence, and even colonize agricultural areas, feeding upon commercially grown fruits and flowering trees.  Their small size renders them relatively inconspicuous, and persecution as crop pests is not common.  However, habitat loss is a real concern for many, and 2 species are in rather desperate straits.

The Sangihe hanging parrot (L. catamene), limited in distribution to the tiny Indonesian island of the same name, is threatened by logging and the diseases spread by parrots that have escaped captivity.  It seems to feed largely upon coconut nectar, but little else is known of its natural history.

Found in only 8 locales on Flores and nearby islands in Indonesia, the endangered Flores hanging parrot (L. flosculus) has lost most of its habitat to farms and other forms of development.

Hanging Parrots as Pets

Hanging parrots are rather shy and need frequent attention if they are to become accepting of close contact.  They do not talk, but mimic whistles very well.  Not nearly as noisy as most of their relatives, hanging parrots do best in warm (they are cold-sensitive) calm, quiet surroundings.  They are quite inoffensive, and in an aviary will get along well with finches, doves, button quail and other birds.

The Blue-Crowned Hanging Parrot, Loriculus galgulus

Ranging from southern Thailand to Borneo, this little fellow reaches a mere 5 inches in length, and is the most commonly-kept and spectacularly-colored of the group.  Its bright green plumage is set off by very brilliant red feathers about the throat, rump and above the tail, and there is a yellow cast to the back.  Males have a blue blotch on the head.  The effect of all this bright color on such a tiny, animated bird must be seen first hand to be fully appreciated.

Blue crowned hanging parrots will utilize a parakeet/lovebird sized nest box  for breeding.  The 3-4 eggs are incubated for approximately 20 days, and the chicks fledge in 5 weeks.  While incubating, the hen is fed by the male, but only she feeds the chicks.

Hanging parrot care generally parallels that of lories and lorikeets, and lory nectar  is an important component of the diet.

Further Reading

You can read more about the endangered Sangihe hanging parrot and related species at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by snowmanradio.


The Unknown Side of the Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata castenosis) and the Timor Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata guttata): Natural History, Role as a Lab Animal and Entry into the Pet Trade, Part 2


Please see Part I of this article for information on zebra finch natural history and the story of its entry into the pet trade.

An Avian Lab Mouse

The zebra finch is one of our most important laboratory animals, so much so that researchers have christened it the “Avian Lab Mouse“.  Each year studies of zebra finches provide valuable insights into many aspects of human health, genetics and speech and brain development.

One particularly interesting group of zebra finch studies illustrated how a bird’s early experiences influence behaviors that are not put into practice until maturity is reached.  It seems that zebra finch chicks which are placed under the care of Bengalese finches overwhelmingly prefer Bengalese finches to zebra finches as mates once they mature.  The adopted birds also sing the song of the Bengalese finch, not that of their own species.  These findings have led to other studies with direct bearing on the process of learning and language acquisition in humans.

Please see my articles on Zebra Finch Research  for further information.

Zebra Finches as Pets

Zebra finches make great pets…their care in captivity is very similar to that of related species.  Please see my article on Nuns, Munias and Mannikins  for details.

The National Institutes of Health has posted an interesting article on the importance of zebra finches as experimental animals at



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