Species group: Waxbills
Other common names: Melba Waxbill; Green-winged Pytilia
Scientific name: Pytilia melba
The Melba Finch is one of the traditional favorite African waxbills, thanks to the male's gift for trilled song and the attractive appearance of a mated pair. Some of the Melba Finch's requirements, such as a large appetite for insects including termites, make this species more suitable to hobbyists who already have experience with partly insectivorous finches.
There may be as many as eight or nine subspecies of this highly successful finch, which is widespread in Africa south of the Sahara, eastern, and southern Africa, though it is mostly missing in western and west-central Africa. There is also a natural morph or mutation where the red is replaced by yellow that has been occasionally reported from the wild. They seem to prefer dryer, open areas where they may easily forage on the ground for grass seeds and termites.
The adult male Melba's brilliant red-orange face and throat are offset by his otherwise gray head. Considering his orange bib, barred underparts, rich olive back, and red rump and upper tail, he makes a dapper display indeed. The female lacks the red-orange face and throat, as well as the orange bib, and her plumage is otherwise a bit more muted, but she still shows the barred underparts and red upper tail.
15 - 17 grams (0.5 - 0.6 oz.)
12 - 13 centimeters (5 in.)
5 - 7 years
Behavior / temperament:
Like many waxbills, the Melba Finch male may present his female with a bit of grass as he performs for her, but he stands out from the crowd because of his song. Many people would rate him the best singer of the waxbills.
The Melba Finch likes to sunbathe, so watch your step in the walk-in aviary, and don't inadvertently tread on a finch sprawled out to enjoy some sun.
Melba Finches may be aggressive in season, especially to each other or other species of red-faced Finches. They will show beautifully in a large planted aviary, but you must monitor the situation to make sure that there is enough cover and nest sites for all the birds to nest safely without conflict. Other breeders have enjoyed success in large cages that give the birds room to fly, court, and exercise, without coming into contact with competitors. A good size for each pair would be 36” wide by 24” deep by 18” tall. Have barriers between the cages so that the pairs can hear but not see each other.
Their breeding season may be triggered by rainfall and an increase in the supply of live insects, and you might wish to have a sprinkler system in a larger aviary. However, the cage-breeding birds can have the benefit of a fake rainy season if you spritz them several times a day with a clean spray bottle that has never held anything but water. You could even play them recordings of rainstorms while you're spraying them. Melba Finches are sensitive to cold and damp, so they need access to winter quarters to keep them healthy.
The Pytilias have thinner beaks and larger bodies than the other waxbills, reflecting the fact that they crack fewer seeds and devour more insects. True, the backbone of the Melba Finch diet is a high quality small seed mix, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. These finches love the milky seeding heads of grasses, in addition to the sprouts.. You should also supply a finely chopped salad that includes greens, apple, carrot, and broccoli, as well as eggfood and/or a high quality finch pellet that the birds will eat.
However, you cannot ultimately expect much success with Melba Finches unless you provide a good supply of live insects. Variety may be important, and you may wish to construct a home trap for collecting small moths, beetles, and so on, as well as providing the standard small commercial insects like mealworms and waxworms. In the wild, they prefer termites, and some Australian breeders have experimented with supplying termites, but the average homeowner is unlikely to be willing to risk it.
Written by Elaine Radford