Neochmia is a family of estrildid finches from Australia and Asia and features four species of birds, all of which are kept in aviculture in this country. They are typical exotic finches, seed eaters with short and thick bills.
The Star Finch (Neochmia ruficauda) is a finch of the grassland and dry savannah in Australia. They are threatened by habitat loss due to the grasslands being overgrazed leaving the finches nowhere to live, as well as the burning of grassland during the dry season.
In the wild, they eat spinifex seeds, millet seeds, green food and insects. They can be sexed by the hen having a small amount of red on the face of a normal coloured bird and by the cock bird being the one who sings. In a mixed aviary they are generally calm and friendly, though will defend their nest if they feel it.
Star finches have a reputation as light nest sitters, who will abandon eggs or chicks if disturbed, but this can be dependant on individual birds and how they have been raised. A typical clutch is 3-6 eggs which hatch after 13 days incubation and fledge at 21 days. They are weaned from the parents at around 6months and go through their first major moult at age 4-5 months.
There have developed different colour mutations in captivity, including yellow, where the red face area is dark yellow and the back feathers a darker olive green; fawn and cinnamon.
The Plum Headed Finch (Neochmia modesta) is also called the Cherry Finch and is a common resident in the savannah and dry shrublands of Australia. They tend to move around in the wild depending on food resources and often live in large groups.
In captivity, they will live happily on a foreign finch mix and will often take egg food, as well. Live food is important when rearing young, and they enjoy gathering from seeding grasses such as chickweed and dandelion.
In the wild, they breed from September to January in the south of their area and August to March in the north of their range. The nest is made from grasses low to the ground and built in thick bushes with 4-6 eggs laid. Both parents incubate the eggs for 12-14 days and the chicks fledge at around 21 days. They breed easily in captivity and mix well with other species.
They do not have specific heat requirements but do need to be able to get out of the cold and damp so sheltered areas are important if they are living outside, the hens being particularly vulnerable. They also enjoy plants in the aviary to hop in and out of.
The Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton) is found across Australia, West Papua, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It lives in the moist savannah and shrubland areas of these countries.
There are two common subspecies of the Crimson finch; the black bellied and white bellied, with the former being the more common. They are also known as the Blood Finch due to their colouring. The females can be sexed by them having a brownish-grey breast, as opposed to the red colour in the male birds.
They live on cane grass seeds, sedge, bamboo seeds, as well as insects so in an aviary, will be happy with a standard foreign finch mix. Additional seeds such as milk thistle, chickweed and summer grasses, can be offered, and live food is important during breeding season.
They typically lay 5-8 eggs with both birds incubating during the day but the female alone at night. They fledge at around three week old. These birds can be aggressive once their young are mature so is best to separate them once they have weaned to avoid fights.
The Red Browed Finch (Neochmia temporalis) is an inhabitant of the east coast of Australia and has also been introduced into French Polynesia. It lives in temperate forests and dry savannah landscapes as well as in mangrove forests in the tropical regions. It is commonly known as the Sydney Waxbill in this country or as the Red browed Firetail.
The bird has a bright red eye stripe and a red rump with the rest of the body being grey with olive patches on the wings. These birds are usually around 11-12cm in length. Generally they live well with others but do like some planted coverage and can get stressed if overcrowded.
In the wild, these birds live in flocks of 10-20 birds and are very sociable. They usually live in one specific area but can move around if food requirements aren’t met. They live on grass and sedge seed and will even come to gardens seeking food. In captivity, a foreign finch mix will serve as a good basis along with Japanese millet, canary seed and niger seed if not included. They need live food when rearing young.
Their nest is a domed construction with a side entrance made from grass and twigs. They are built 2-3 metres above the ground in dense shrubbery and nests are made in communal groups. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs and take turns in feeding the chicks. They lay 4-6 eggs and can have 2-3 clutches a year between October and April. The young are weaned at around 28 days.
These are four related species who look completely different to one another and have different temperaments. As a rule, all will live in mixed aviaries or good-sized cages as long as not overcrowded and protected from the extremes of weather. They can be cautious breeders by reputation, but this can often be irrelevant to individual birds. If you have different environments to offer them, then if they don’t settle in one, try another. For example, I am moving my star and cherry finches into the aviary as they seem a little bored in cages and need stimulation. They are beautiful, small birds who cause no great amount of noise and are endlessly entertaining without needing too much special care. Good all-rounders.