These finches — the zebra finch, the star finch, the painted firetail finch, and the red-headed parrot finch — might be just what you’ve been looking for! From a single cage decoratively hung in your home to a huge planted outdoor aviary, these finches offer something for everyone.
The zebra finch (Poephila guttata), or “zebbie” as it is affectionately known to us in Australia, is the perfect starting point for any journey into aviculture and has been just this for some of the top bird keepers. Many fondly remember their first pair of these guys and how the zebra finch’s confiding nature and easy-going behavior got them hooked on bird keeping as a hobby.
The star finch is native to Australia.
Apart from their lively nature and pleasant colors, especially the male zebra finch’s bright orange cheek patches, they are constantly active and chatter away to each other nonstop. Mind you, this “chatter” is not like the ear-piercing chatter that parrot species are capable of. It is a docile “cheeping” and low-level pair-bonding calls.
The zebra finches’ propensity for breeding is legendary. They will nest in any given situation and aviary/cage set-up possible. I was once living in a flat and really missed not having birds around, so I purchased a small budgie-type cage and a pair of normal grey zebra finches. I placed a waxed cardboard fruit juice container on the outside of their cage as a little secluded hidey-hole for them; no nesting material mind you. Imagine my surprise some weeks later when it became obvious there were baby zebra finches in that container.
As soon as the box was replaced, both parents would immediately check that all was well and recommence feeding their brood. Not many birds are that tolerant of us cumbersome humans. Don’t worry too much about your zebra finch youngsters when they leave the nest, as the parents will call them back every night for warmth and security.
The wild-type zebra finch is a uniform gray in color, and the male has beautiful chestnut flanks and orange cheek-patches. There are numerous mutations of the zebra finch in every shade of the rainbow, from: whites, pieds, slates, fawns, Isabels, charcoals, penguins through to the aluminas, opals and silvers.
Zebra finches are easy to feed. They thrive on a basic finch-type seed mix and a regular calcium supply, supplemented with green food when they are breeding.
Zebra finches can also be kept as a small colony of their own kind but can take over an aviary if mixed with timid finch species. These finches are also very well suited to mixing with the Neophema group of small parrots, such as the scarlet-chested parakeet and turquoisine parakeet.
Perhaps you’re starting to get the finch-keeping bug and are ready to make the move into another denizen of Australia: the star finch.
The star finch (Neochmia ruficauda) hails from the Kimberley region of Western Australia, with a small critically endangered subpopulation in Queensland. The wild-type form is the red-headed star finch, where the male is distinguishable by the red feathers that extend up over his head and under the chin. The female star finch has little more than a mask of red around her eyes and numerous white dots under her chin. Both birds have a yellowish chest and, depending upon the area the star finch’s ancestors originated from, this yellow can range from very faint to almost bright lemon, which is dotted with white spots. It is certainly a striking looking bird and one that contrasts nicely with the somber normal gray zebra finch.
Food similar to that outlined for the zebra finch will see that star finches do well in your flight cage or aviary. When young are in the nest, star finches take large quantities of green food or grasses. However, nest inspection is very much akin to Russian roulette, as some will desert the nest if it is touched. This is especially true for those that are breeding in an aviary situation.
The nest is usually constructed from green grass, which is woven into a ball and often lined with finer filamentous grass. The actual nesting chamber is lined with copious amounts of white feathers. These guys love soaked/sprouted seed mixes and will raise many youngsters if this is included during the rearing phase. The star finch also does well in a colony situation and mixes well with most other finches.
The star finch comes in a number of color mutations, as well. The most common is the yellow-headed star, which is as popular as the red-headed form these days. Add to these fawns, Isabels, cinnamons and various pastel shades, and you have another finch that has appeal for all tiers of the bird-keeping community.
Painted Firetail Finch
Well, we’re doing well with our zebbies, and the stars are breeding to expectation and the “finch bug” is beginning to bite. So where do you go from here? What better choice could we make than to opt for the stunning painted firetail finch (Emblema picta)? A member of the Australian firetail finch family, the painted is perhaps the most extroverted of the group when contrasted with their flightier “cousins” in the beautiful firetail (Stagonopleura bella), and the diamond firetail (Stagonopleura guttata). This finch is one of the most confiding finches that we could include in our aviary. It has a really inquisitive nature and will be the first to drop down and see what goodies you have supplied during feeding rounds.
The male has a brown back and wing covers with a striking upper red tail cover, his head has a beautiful red color that extends down the chest. Each side of the chest is covered with white spots, which creates a stunning overall picture. The female painted firetail finch is a more demure version of the male, with far more white spots and a much reduced red flash on her chest.
Unlike the other two finch species, the painted firetail finches spend much of their day on the ground foraging about, so more care must be taken to ensure that they do not succumb to the ill-effects of spoiled ground during the winter period if kept in the aviary situation.
Apart from their obvious long, pointy beak, painted firetail finches also have unique skills when it comes to nest building. In their native Kimberley region of Australia, they frequently nest on the top of Spinifex grass tussocks, which have barbs that are like sharp steel knitting needles. In order to offset this obvious disadvantage, the painted builds a nest platform on top of the tussock and then proceeds to build a normal finch-type nest on top of this platform. This translates to a very complicated nest in the aviary situation, as most painteds insist in building this platform out of any small pieces of material available in the aviary and, yes, even in nest boxes.
Nesting is readily undertaken, and youngsters are reared with minimal fuss and simply require the same feeding outlined for the other species. The young never return to the nest and spend most of their early life outside the nest on the aviary floor, which can create some problems during cooler nights. Take care to check for baby painted firetail finch clinging to your clothing when leaving an aviary housing painteds.
Red-Headed Parrot Finch
Our fourth candidate is the red-headed parrot finch (Erythura psittacea), also known as the red-faced parrot parrot. The red-headed parrot finch hails from the Pacific Island of New Caledonia. This finch has a vivid green body with a bright red head and upper tail coverts.
The red face is constantly on the move as it searches the aviary floor for tidbits. With this in mind, it is essential that this species has somewhere to hide, whether in a cage or aviary. The red face is often seen as a shadow moving through the thicker areas of cover, but when it finally flits out into the sunlight the wait is well worth it.
This species constructs its own nest in the brush of the aviary but is equally at home in nest boxes and wicker baskets. They favor course grasses for the outer shell and line it with a large amount of finer, delicate grasses. The actual nesting chamber is a profusion of white feathers. The nest is a far bulkier structure than that of other finches, so supply them with plenty of raw materials. Their young are very noisy, and you will not have to guess when they have hatched. Up their rations of green seeding grasses at this time.
The red face is more difficult to sex, but the male generally has a larger extension of the red face patch, which is often well back behind the eyes.
If you’re still not convinced to join the “brotherhood of the finch,” here’s another I couldn’t quite fit into my list; the stunning Lady Gouldian finch, arguably the most beautiful bird in the world. Add to this the tiny orange-breasted waxbill along with the amazing antics of the weaver finches, and you have a diverse group that has much to offer novices through to the most experienced breeder.