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Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part II

Click: Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part 1 to read the first part of this article.

The Importance of Insects in the Diet

The Melba finch’s beak is much thinner than that of those finches, such as the Gouldian, that rely on a seed-based diet.  In the wild this species consumes a good deal of insect prey, and such is particularly important in bringing the birds into breeding condition, and when they are raising chicks.  This is true of Melba finches to a much greater extent than for any other finch species.

Melba finches do well when provided with small crickets and mealworm grubs and pupae, but increasing the dietary variety is always a good idea.  Waxworms, Canned Caterpillars and insects collected with Zoo Med’s Bug Napper Insect Trap (moths and small beetles are especially favored) will help assure your success.  Higgins Eggfood is indispensible for Melba finches, both in and out of the breeding season.  The young are fed entirely upon insects for at least 10 days after hatching, so be sure to have plenty on hand.

In addition to the aforementioned foods, the basic adult diet should consist a mix of high quality Finch Seed, sprouts and a bit of romaine and other greens.

Eliciting Natural Feeding Behaviors

Melba finches in the wild and in outdoor aviaries forage mainly on the ground.  Dry hay or grass can be placed on the cage bottom – insects or seed scattered within this will keep them occupied for hours.

The Breeding Cage

Although success has been had in fairly small cages, I would suggest using one along the lines of the Blue Ribbon Peaked Bird Cage.  Melba finches favor an open wicker cup as a nesting site, which should be situated behind Hanging Silk or live plants.

Typical Reproductive Behavior

The male will indicate his breeding readiness by singing and commencing nest-building (provide dry grass or 8 in one nesting hair).  Females lay 3-6 eggs, which are incubated by both parents. Most importantly – these birds will not tolerate nest inspections.  Doing so almost guarantees that they will toss the eggs from the nest.

The eggs hatch in 12-13 days, and fledging usually occurs at day 19-21.  The fledglings are fed by the parents for approximately 2 weeks after leaving the nest.  They should be removed shortly thereafter, and can be kept as a group for 7 months to 1 year.  However, I suggest splitting them at age 5-6 months, as aggression triggered by maturity can come on quite suddenly.

Adult plumage is attained at age 7 months, but birds rarely breed before 2-3 years of age.

Techniques used by Australian aviculturists to breed this and related finches are discussed at:


Click here for an image of the Melba Finch.

Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part 1

The hardy Melba finch is among the most popular of the Estrildidae (an order of approximately 130 species of waxbills and grass finches), but after reading most husbandry accounts, you would quickly abandon any hope of breeding it in captivity. Most authors suggest not even attempting such unless you can provide the birds with a large, well-planted aviary.

True, I have observed this bird to breed regularly in huge zoo exhibits, but I also know of hobbyists who have accomplished the same indoors, in surprisingly small quarters. Today I’d like to pass along a bit of what I’ve learned from them.

A Mix of Sensitivity and Aggression
I think that aviculturists often give up on this bird because they fail to realize how long pairs may take to settle in – both to each other and to their cages. Melba finches are quite sensitive and, while new birds may calm down and feed normally, they will not reproduce until conditions are exactly to their liking. They are easily stressed by conditions that might not phase related finches.

Mature pairs may take 6 months to 1 year before settling down to breed. Under no circumstances should more than 1 pair be housed together – even in large zoo exhibits I have had trouble with aggression. Pairs housed in the same room, but in different cages, may also inhibit one another from breeding… this is less likely if sight barriers are utilized.

Range and Description
Native to southern Africa, the Melba finch frequents dry savannas and overgrown, thorny scrub. It forages in pairs or small groups, and does not form large flocks.

Males have scarlet-orange to red faces, with traces of red on the breast. The gray underside is marked with white streaks, while the chest, wings and back are olive. Hens are somewhat duller overall, and lack red coloring on the face. Adults top out at 5 inches in length.

Reproductive Triggers – Humidity and Insects
A colleague who bred Melba finches in a small, standard-sized finch cage identified an increase in humidity and insect food as keys to her (or the birds’!) success. This makes sense, as budgerigars, cockatiels and other finch species hailing from arid climates are stimulated to reproduce by the onset of the rainy season (or even a passing storm).

Humidity can be increased via a small room humidifier, but several contacts have reported that daily misting with a water bottle works just as well. I have noted that many zoo birds respond to seasonal “rains” delivered via a morning and evening hosing of their exhibits, so misting could well deliver the stimulus needed by caged finches.

Check out an excellent picture of a Melbra finch here.

Click: Breeding the Melba Finch (Green-Winged Pytilia), Pytilia melba – Part 2, to read the conclusion of this article.


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