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Plum-headed Finch

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Greg Miles

Is the Plum-headed Finch right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Plumheaded Finch; Plumhead Finch; Cherry Finch; Diadem Finch; Modest Grassfinch; Plain-coloured Finch

Scientific name: Neochmia modesta

The basics:
The Plum-headed Finch is a modestly patterned little finch who is often overlooked next to the more vividly marked Australian Finches. Despite being somewhat unknown to pet owners, the Plum-headed Finch can be a good choice for a mixed-species aviary, especially one with some exposure to direct sunlight. The plum crown looks much more beautiful in good light, and these agreeable birds get along well with other species. They also tend to be friendly finches who can learn to fly to their breeder in a walk-in aviary or birdroom.

Australian breeders have pointed out that the Plumhead can make a great beginner's bird for the hobbyist who already has some experience with Zebra or Society Finches but wants to work with more exotic species.The Plum-head is endemic to eastern Australia, where it prefers warm, somewhat dry lowland areas.

Appearance:
The words “cherry” and “plum” in the common names of the Plum-headed Finch tend to suggest a more brightly colored bird than it really is. The plum or cherry is only a very dark browny-plum cap on the otherwise quietly colored bird's head. The male also has a small, very dark plum throat spot, which is absent in his mate.

Weight:
10 grams (0.35 oz.)

Average size:
10 - 11 centimeters (4 in.)

Lifespan:
7 - 8 years

Behavior / temperament:
Plum-headed Finches are sweet, gentle birds who get along well with others who will not harass them. Like many other finches, the male performs a song and dance for the female, offering a bit of grass to her as he dances. However, the male of this species also may also “snap” his wings, creating a distinct click that seems to win the female's attention.

Housing:
Plum-headed Finches have been cage-bred, and there is even a fawn mutation as a result, but they like to choose their own mates and are easily discouraged from breeding if people disturb the nest, so most breeders recommend a large, well-planted aviary. If you are confident you have a compatible pair, you may set them up in a spacious cage that gives them room to exercise and to engage in their entertaining courtship maneuvers – a good minimum size might be 36” in length, 24” in width, and 18” in height, with a bar spacing no more than ½” wide. If you'd like them to breed, you could try attaching some sort of greenery (even if it's plastic) to the outside of the cage to give the birds a feeling of privacy.

Many breeders prefer a planted aviary large enough to hold a colony, as the gentle Cherry Finch gets along with other birds well. They are not cold or damp tolerant, so they need a source of warmth in winter.

Diet:
The Plum-headed Finch is fairly easy to feed, thriving on a simple Australian grass-eater's menu. The core of the diet should be a high quality finch mix, with plenty of spray millet on the side. Most people will also offer a high quality eggfood during the molt and breeding season, as well as sprouts, greens, and a bit of chopped fruits and vegetables. Some people also like to add a good finch pellet, and there are even breeders who have taught Cherry Finches to eat live food by providing a “teacher” finch in the colony that already eats it, although the live food might only be taken during the breeding season. You should also provide clean cuttlebone, grit, and the vitamins and other supplements recommended by your avian vet or your breeder.

Written by Elaine Radford