Pintail Whydah

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Is the Pintail Whydah right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Pintail Whydah Finch; Pintail Widow; Pintailed Whydah

Scientific name: Vidua macroura

The basics:
The beautiful but challenging Pintail Whydah is a bird for the expert breeder who enjoys a challenge. This African bird is closely related to the Weavers, but if you're expecting this species to create the intricate nest that most Weavers build, you're in for a shock. The Pintail is a parasitic species that lays its eggs in the nest of the Common Waxbill – not the easiest bird to breed in its own right. Therefore, to enjoy success with breeding Pintails, you need a very large aviary where you are successfully breeding Common Waxbills.

The Pintail is a widespread bird of open grasslands in many nations of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. You can hardly fail to notice the breeding males when they perform their courtship dances, although the watching females are usually a bit more cautious and tend to blend into the blades of grass. Unlike some parasitic cuckoos, the female does not destroy her host's eggs. She simply adds her own eggs to the nest.

Americans might most easily view the wild Pintail Whydah in Puerto Rico, where they have been introduced along with a number of other popular African species, including the Black-rumped Waxbill, a close relative of the Common Waxbill, which the Pintail can parasitize in the absence of its favorite host.

The Pintail Whydah sexes are very different. Like its relative the Weavers,females and out-of-season males are unimpressive birds that look much like small sparrows. However, the breeding season male is a snappy dresser indeed in his black and white plumage that includes a long black ribbonlike tail that adds a solid 20 centimeters to the length of the bird. His bill is a showy lipstick red.

15 - 17 grams (0.5 - 0.6 oz.)

Average size:
Females and Eclipse males: 12 - 13 centimeters (5 in.)
Breeding males: 33 centimeters (13 in.)

12 - 15 years

Behavior / temperament:
You are taking on an interesting behavior challenge with the Pintail Whydah. Its host, the Common Waxbill, is rather nervous and doesn't particularly enjoy colony breeding or the interference of other species in a breeding aviary. The breeding male Pintail Whydah is an aggressive bird who may chase his hosts and who will not tolerate any other adult male breeding Pintails in the aviary. You need to provide space and lots of cover for everyone, designing the large aviary to create the best possible breeding environment. You will also need to be very observant. If you do succeed, keep an eye on the youngsters and be prepared to remove any young males that start to come into color.

The complicated lifestyle of the Pintail Whydah demands a huge walk-in planted aviary if you are serious about breeding these beautiful birds. They are polygamous, so you are not just setting up a pair. Instead, you should supply a male with multiple females, perhaps four or more. (Do not attempt to house multiple males in full breeding plumage together.) Of course, you will also need a successful colony of breeding Common Waxbills. Since these somewhat shy waxbills don't breed well in colonies unless they have a great deal of space and cover, then you understand that you are talking about a large-scale project. Pintails are also cold sensitive so you may have to remove them from an outdoor aviary in the winter. Do not skimp on plenty of plants to provide cover, since breeding male Pintails do become quite aggressive and will chase their hosts.

The Pintail Whydah does best on the same diet as the bird it parasitizes, the Common Waxbill. 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, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. Be sure to offer 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. As you approach the breeding season, offer plenty of tiny white-skinned mealworms, waxworms, and perhaps ant pupae or fly larvae to bring them into season. True, the birds don't raise their own young, but the male needs protein to develop his lovely plumage, and the female must still produce and lay the eggs. So be generous.

You may want to strongly consider having several feeding stations in the aviary, to give everyone a fair shot at favorite foods like milky seeding grasses and tiny insect larvae. Remember, both the Common Waxbill and the Pintail Whydah will require an abundance of these items for a successful breeding. 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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