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Red-billed Firefinch

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Is the Red-billed Firefinch right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Senegal Firefinch; Common Firefinch; Ruddy Waxbill; African Firefinch; African Fire Finch (a poor usage but can be found in older books)

Scientific name: Lagonosticta senegala

The basics:
The Red-billed Firefinch has traditionally been the most popular African firefinch in captivity. This tiny African waxbill wins attention not just for its beautiful plumage but for its relatively calm, social personality, which makes it a practical choice for the mixed-species planted aviary.

Because of its pleasant personality, the Red-billed Firefinch has much to recommend it for an intermediate or advanced bird breeder's aviary. However, because it is a waxbill that requires some live insects and plenty of room, you shouldn't choose this species until you've had some experience with the easier finches. The Red-billed Firefinch is a good starter firefinch, but it shouldn't be your very first finch.

The study of the African firefinches is in a state of flux. As of the time of writing, there are considered to be six subspecies of the very widely distributed Red-billed Firefinch. The old common name of Senegal Firefinch is a huge understatement for this little waxbill that can be found over a very wide area of western, eastern, and southern Africa. These confiding birds may associate with other species, and they may also be found near human dwellings. By the way, if at all possible, avoid using the old-fashioned term African Firefinch which you may find in some older avicultural books, as birders and ornithologists now use the term African Firefinch as the preferred English common name for a different species, L. rubricata..

Appearance:
The adult male Red-billed Firefinch is a splendid mostly red bird with brownish wings, with a yellow eye ring that gives him an alert, intelligent look. The female looks quite different, as she is a mostly quietly brown bird with a bright red eye-stripe and a matching red rump.

Weight:
9 grams (0.3 oz.)

Average size:
10 centimeters (4 in.)

Lifespan:
5 - 6 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Red-billed Firefinch is a great beauty and a peaceful personality – sometimes a tough combination to find in a red bird. They also seem to be more confident about breeding in captivity than most of the other firefinches. All in all, if you are ready to invest in a mixed-species aviary or colony breeding aviary, you might find that the Red-billed Firefinch can make a great choice. However, they should not be crowded together in too-small quarters, or they may feather-pluck.

Housing:
The easy-going Red-billed Firefinch can be bred in a colony or as part of a mixed-species aviary, and most people will want to display these vibrant, social birds in a very large flight or aviary setting. However, provided you offer enough room, it is possible to pair the birds and breed them in large cages. A good size might be at least 36” in length, 24” in width, and 18” in height, with a bar spacing of 1/4” wide. A cage built for the better known Orange-breasted Waxbill might be just about perfect.

If you are using a birdroom rather than an aviary with access to natural sunlight, install full spectrum lighting to allow you to appreciate the bird's spectacular color. Red-billed Firefinches are sensitive to cold and damp, so make sure you provide warm, snug winter quarters.

Diet:
If you have kept other African waxbills in the past, you will recognize the Red-billed Firefinch's diet. The core is a high quality small seed mix, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. They will benefit from millet sprays and from 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, small crickets, and perhaps ant pupae or fly larvae to bring them into season. You may need to have multiple feeding stations, so that more aggressive birds don't eat all the goodies before the firefinches get their share. Many people over the years have noticed that the Red-billed Firefinch is somewhat sensitive to stress – including changes in the diet. Make sure you understand what the breeder fed them, and don't make a lot of unnecessary changes when you first acquire your new birds.. All finches need access to clean grit and clean cuttlebone.

Written by Elaine Radford

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