Red-billed Leiothrix

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Is the Red-billed Leiothrix right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Pekin Robin; Pekin Nightingale; Japanese Nightingale; Japanese (Hill) Robin

Scientific name: Leiothrix lutea

The basics:
The Red-billed Leiothrix is a handsome old world babbler (not a true robin or nightingale) with a very large natural range from the Indian subcontinent and into China. It may prefer forested mountain streams and the sound of running water, such as from waterfalls. In the wild, it lives in small flocks, mates for life, and sings loud and melodious songs. Its diet consists of fruits and insects.

The Red-billed Leiothrix has been introduced in the wild to a number of other countries, and is established in Hawaii, Japan and some parts of Europe. Perhaps the easiest place for an American to observe this species in the wild would be in Honolulu, where an introduced population of Red-billed Leiothrix lives in the Manoa Falls area, which is a dark, wet, rainforest area of tall trees and large waterfalls – a world away from the desert climate of Diamondhead on the other side of town.

The Old World native habitat of the Red-billed Leiothrix includes mountain forests in the Himalayas, so it is by nature a hardy, cold-tolerant, altitude-tolerant bird. Too much direct sunlight and heat would be a bigger problem for these birds than too much rain and coolness, so situate an aviary accordingly.

A small songbird with colorful touches such as a yellow throat and an orange bib.

17 - 20 grams (0.6 - 0.7 oz.)

Average size:
12 centimeters (4.7 in.)

8 - 15 years

Behavior / temperament:
Pekin Robin's don't know their own size. They have a bold, curious nature, and they will learn to fly to the hand to take their favorite treats like mealworms or blackberries. They are confident singers, although they may not care to sing in a dead silent house. They are social so, if you lack the ability to spend much one-on-one time with your pet, you should probably pair the bird with a companion, even if you don't want to set them up in a breeding situation. Because they are so bold, be cautious in an aviary situation because they may interfere with another pair's nesting attempts.

Although Leiothrix lutea are small, they need large flights or aviaries. They cannot exercise by climbing. Red-billed Leiothrix need to fly. I recommend long flights, with plenty of area to include bird-safe green hanging plants. Since they have soft feces, keeping the area around the flights clean can be a consideration. You can use absorbent litter and scoop out any lumpy, damp places in the bottom every day, with a major cage cleaning at the end of each week. Or you can house the birds in an outdoor flight or conservatory with a concrete floor that's easy to hose off each day. All outdoor birds need protection from mosquitoes, so make sure the aviary or conservatory is properly screened.

The Pekin Robin will sometimes be seen picking up seed, but they cannot digest hard seed. They are true softbill birds, although they seem to be low risk for iron storage disease. A popular diet that works well is to mix the softbill pellets of your choice with chopped fruits and maybe a little bit of fruit juice to moisten the pellets. Any modern low iron mynah pelleted diet is probably fine. Red-Billed Leiothrix love mealworms, but to keep the diet from becoming unbalanced, feed a non-breeding adult no more than 10 small mealworms a day. Give the mealworms to the bird by hand, to keep your pet tame and interested in you. You can also offer waxworms and/or small crickets. Never give more small crickets than the bird will clean up immediately, because crickets that get loose can make a lot of noise. You can allow the breeding and young growing birds to eat significantly more live food, up to 40 small mealworms a day, since they have a much higher need for protein.

Very important: When the Red-Billed Leiothrix molts, sprinkle a color-enhancing powder on the pellets. The kind sold for color-bred canaries works well. If you forget, the red and yellow feathers will fade. It does not harm the bird, but the proper color food will help to maximize the beauty of the bird's appearance.

Written by Elaine Radford

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