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A Guide To Exotic Finches

If you are new to bird keeping or looking to expand into a new area, then there are certainly exotic finches for every set-up and budget.  I am referring here to the family called Estrildidae which are nicknamed exotic finches to separate them from British finches and canaries.  In this family are some of the most familiar aviculture birds, such as the Zebra Finch or the Bengalese Finch.  This is an overview of who is who and who can live with each other happily, without cross breeding.  The list isn’t exhaustive but is based around the birds I have encountered most frequently until now.

Familiar faces

The zebra finch is probably the most commonly kept Estrildid finch and in it’s home country of Australia, one of the most populous.  There is a wide range of mutations of zebra finches which come in all different colours and of course, all of these mutations can cross breed with each other.  But the zebra finch has a close relative also commonly kept; the Owl or Bicheno Finch.  Known also as a Double Barred Finch, these are another little Australian finch and can cross breed with zebras.  However, they can also live happily with zebra finches, so if a bonded pair move in, cross-breeding probably won’t occur.

The Bengalese is another common face in bird-keeping.  This is a domesticated bird which has never lived in the wild, but has plenty of cousins who are.  It is part of the Lonchura family which features birds such as Silverbills and Mannikins.  All of these species can cross breed though most of the off-spring will be fertile and simple show crosses of colours and sizes from its parents.

There are three main species of Parrotfinch, which are kept in captivity in this country, although there are lots more in the wild.  Of the three, the red headed Parrotfinch can happily live with the Tricolour or Forbes Parrotfinch without cross breeding or problems.  But the Blue Headed Parrotfinch is the most awkward one.  These birds can cross with the Tricolour and seem to disagree with the red headed, so may be best kept alone.

The Cut-Throat Finch is an unmistakable little fella with a bright slash of red feathers across his throat, giving him his name.  Opinions vary about whether these birds make good companions in a mixed set up and a lot depends on the conditions the bird has been bred in.  They are closely related to the Red Headed Finch and can cross breed with them easily.

The Plum Headed or Cherry Finch is another aviculture bird who is relatively popular, as is the Star Finch.  These birds come from the same family though I have not heard stories of cross breeding.  The main problem with keeping them together comes from personality.  Star finches are generally timid little birds who can be quick to abandon their nest, while the Plum Headed are more confident and curious birds.  They will investigate nests in their home which could cause Stars to abandon eggs or chicks, so keeping them apart may be wise.


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Waxbills

Waxbill is a general term for these exotic finches, but there is a family within Estrilididae which are called Waxbills.  These tiny birds can be more expensive than those mentioned above, with some species over £100 pair, and they can have more specific accommodation needs, again depending on their breeding.

The Lavender Waxbill is one of the most eye catching finches, his feathers a soft lavender colour with a bright red tail.  They are known to be a bit aggressive with everyone when breeding time comes around but also not to cope well in small enclosures.  Therefore, these might be birds to keep alone in a large cage or in a flight where they can have extra space.

The Common or St Helena Waxbill is a tiny finch, usually around 10cm in length.  When breeding these birds, remember their chicks are even tinier so make sure bar spacing is as tight as possible to avoid escaping birds.  They are often confused with the Black rumped Waxbill due to the similarity of appearance with red beaks, red eye stripe and similar body colours.  The Common Waxbill has dark barring on its tail feathers and a crimson stripe down the middle of the breast.

To add further confusion, the black rumped waxbill can hybridise with the orange cheeked waxbill so the pairs should be kept separate to avoid this.  Orange cheeked waxbills are said to be quite disruptive when breeding, so a solo cage or breeder may be the best method.

Cordon Bleus

You may have heard the term cordon bleu associated with a chicken dish but it also a section of the Estrildid family.  There are five species, three which appear similar to each other two which are different.  The three are the Blue Waxbill; the red cheeked Cordon Bleu and the Blue capped Cordon Bleu.  All of these birds can cross breed, and there are only slight visual differences between the three. 

The other two members are the violet eared waxbill and the purple grenadier.  These birds, who are as purple as their name suggests, do not like to live with other grenadiers and may become aggressive with their Cordon Bleu cousins, so solo accommodation can be the way to go.   The Violet eared Waxbill is similarly best kept as a single pair and is very cold intolerant, so special heating levels are needed for these birds.

Conclusion

This is just a snippet of information for a few of the exotic finches that are available to buy in this country.  Most of them are easy to keep and feed and have little specialist requirements, but always research your species thoroughly and talk to the breeder.  Some of these birds can be very expensive and to loose them is always sad, but a little research may remove some of the randomness from this.  Once you know which is the right bird for you, they are a pleasure to watch and listen to and will give hours of free entertainment!


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