Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu Finch

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Is the Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu Finch right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Cordon Bleu (also refers to two other species), Abyssinian Cordon Bleu (U. b. schoanus)

Scientific name: Uraeginthus bengalus

The basics:
The Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu is one of the most popular pet finches, and it's the species that many people mean when they simply say, “Cordon Bleu.” There are four subspecies of this highly successful, widely distributed finch, which is found over a large area of central and eastern Africa. They can be encountered fairly easily in dry habitat such as savannah or scrub.

The adult male Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu is a truly striking specimen, with his powder blue face marked with the red cheek patch. His throat, breast, flanks, and tail are the same lovely shade of blue. The female lacks the cheek patch, her blue is somewhat muted, and her tail is somewhat shorter than her mate's.

Some confusion arises when searching for Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus or information about them because people may also call other species “Cordon Bleu.” Once you know that there are three lookalike species, it isn't difficult to tell the adults apart. We'll start with the three easy decisions first. An adult Cordon Bleu with a red patch on its cheek is the male Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu. An adult Cordon Bleu with an off-white belly is a female Blue Waxbill, also known as a Blue-breasted Cordon Bleu, U. angolensis.. Any adult Cordon Blue with a blue crown is a male Blue-capped Cordon Blue, U. cyanocephala.

To distinguish male Blue Waxbills, female Blue-caps, and female Red-cheeks – three similar-looking Cordon Bleus with blue faces, brown crowns, and no red cheek patches - let us now look at the underparts. The male Blue Waxbill has bright blue underparts with a lighter patch in the center. The female Red-cheek has a substantial blue breast and blue flanks with a brown patch in the center. The female Blue-capped has only a small blue bib and mostly brown underparts with perhaps a touch of blue on the flanks. Whew. If you are in any doubt, always check the scientific name, or ask someone who has birded in Africa, as a great many pet hobbyists seem to casually confuse the English common names of these three species.

10 grams (0.35 oz.)

Average size:
12 - 13 centimeters (5 in.)

7 - 9 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu may be quite territorial in breeding season. Successful breeders have suggested cage-breeding set-ups that allow the pairs to hear but not see each other, since the males may become very angry if they see another male in the presence of their mate. The sight of a rival could even cause a male to chase or attack his own female, perhaps because he's trying to get her away from the other guy. Pairs may also become somewhat nervous at that time, and they may toss their youngsters if the human keeper or a nosy aviary mate like a Zebra Finch interferes too much.

Each pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus requires its own cage or flight. They need more room than might seem reasonable, because they exercise by flying and they also require some 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. It likes warmth, and its aviary should never be allowed to become chilled.

While they are considered a grass and grain eating bird in the wild, the Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu would naturally pick up some insect matter along the way, 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, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. These finches love 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. Don't run short on the live food, or the pair may 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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