Orange-cheeked Waxbill

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Liam Wolff

Is the Orange-cheeked Waxbill right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: N/A

Scientific name: Estrilda melpoda

The basics:
The perky Orange-cheeked Waxbill is a traditional favorite among finch hobbyists because it's fairly hardy, inexpensive, and active. This adaptable specieshails from western and west central Africa, where it feeds on the seeding heads of grasses. They feed on or near the ground and, perhaps unexpectedly for a tiny finch of this size, they also nest there. The male may build an elaborate, well-decorated nest, sometimes called a “cock” nest, on top of the real nest, perhaps to fool predators into looking in the wrong place.

This charming Orange-cheeked Waxbill is easily identified because of the orange “cheeks,” red bill, and red rump, which contrasts nicely with the otherwise grayish plumage. Females have somewhat smaller cheeks and less vividly colored bills, but it can be difficult to sex this species by eye.

7 grams (0.25 oz.)

Average size:
10 centimeters (4 in.)

7 - 8 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Orange-cheeked Waxbill is a gentle, peaceful bird who can harmonize well with other species in the aviary. However, if you really want to succeed with a breeding effort, give them their own place, lots of privacy and greenery, and protect them from interfering humans or birds. They can be somewhat nervous about breeding and quick to toss youngsters out of the nest if they feel threatened.

Orange-cheeked Waxbills are active and fast-flying finches, so they need more room than might seem reasonable at first. They also require some lots of planted greenery in the cage or flight to give them a feeling of security. One breeder suggests a minimum size of 4' long by 2' feet wide and 2' tall, with a minimum bar spacing of ½” wide. Make sure that you have a nice bushy bird-safe plant in front of the nest basket. They really like warmth, and if you have them in outdoor breedings quarters, you may need to arrange for a place to bring them indoors for the winter.

One reason you will want to seriously consider housing Orange-cheeked Waxbills in an outdoor aviary in the warm months is to give them access to natural sunlight, to prevent their orange cheeks from fading. Note that they tend to nest near the ground, and provide supportive material like nest baskets and plenty of weaving material accordingly. Watch your step when you're in the walk-in aviary. While they do well in mixed-species planted aviaries as display birds, they will probably not breed very well unless each pair is given the security of its own flight.

Orange-cheeked Waxbills demand a high protein diet, and they cannot be kept successfully for long if you are unwilling to supply live food. The backbone of the diet is a high quality small seed mix, perhaps mixing together finch and canary blends, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. You can also sow the seeds in sterile soil and, when they start to sprout, you can place the pots in their flight so they can enjoy the green food. These finches will also appreciate the milky seeding heads of grasses and the flowering heads of broccoli, in addition to the sprouts. You should also supply a finely chopped salad that includes chickweed, greens, apple, carrot, and broccoli.

Don't skimp on the eggfood, high quality finch pellet, and, most importantly, a daily supply of live insects. As you approach the breeding season, increase the supply of tiny white-skinned mealworms, waxworms, and perhaps ant pupae or fly larvae to bring them into season. Don't run short on the live food, or the pair will almost certainly stop feeding their youngsters. All finches should have access to a small amount of clean grit, as well as a clean cuttlebone.

Written by Elaine Radford

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