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Strawberry Finch

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Is the Strawberry Finch right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Red Avadavat; Red Munia; Bombay Avadavat (A. a. amandava); Tiger Finch (A. a. amandava); Indian Strawberry Finch (A. a. amandava); Oriental Strawberry Finch (A. a. punicea)

Scientific name: Amandava amandava

The basics:
The Strawberry Finch is one of the most fascinating finches, as the only member of the waxbill group that undergoes a seasonal eclipse plumage. The male also offers a pleasant, if not too loud, song that is superior to most other waxbills.

Unfortunately, captive breeders face a real challenge with the Strawberry Finch, so hobbyists might want to gain experience with other finches first. Captive-held birds seem to lose color, and captive-bred birds often don't seem to ever develop the same deep color as the wild birds. You will have to pay scrupulous attention to diet, housing, and other variables in order to create the most beautiful possible baby Strawberries. Yet, you will not necessarily know how well your plan is working for a good two years – the time it takes for an adult male to come into his full color.

The three subspecies of the Strawberry Finch are found over a wide range from the Indian subcontinent and on into China and Southeast Asia and onward to the islands of Indonesia. They are a bird of the marsh and swamp, and they are also bold enough to enter gardens and parks. An adaptable species, escapees have created introduced populations in a number of warm climates, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Egypt.

Appearance:
In spring and throughout the breeding season, the male Strawberry Finch develops a variable amount of rich red spotted with white speckles, giving him the appearance of a flying strawberry. During the eclipse, he is temporarily a much duller bird similar to his mate, but he may still maintain a brighter red rump and larger spots.

The Chinese subspecies, A. a. flavidiventris , may naturally offer the deepest, darkest red color. Some people believe that much of the reason we see color loss in captive birds is because of interbreeding with the other subspecies, especially the nominate Indian Strawberry, which was very widely available to aviculturists for a long time at a low price. Under this theory, the more dilute the Chinese genes become, the less colorful the birds can ever be, regardless of food, sunlight, or other conditions. As a further twist in the plot, a different subspecies, A. a. punicea has been called the Chinese Strawberry, even though it is not from China. At this point in history, your chances of finding a pair of pure birds down to the subspecies level in captivity seem pretty low.

Weight:
9 grams (0.3 oz.)

Average size:
9 centimeters (3.5 in.)

Lifespan:
7 - 10 years

Behavior / temperament:
Despite the tricky care required to maintain its color, the Strawberry Finch is a favorite aviary bird because of its peaceful and curious nature. However, the males are somewhat aggressive in breeding season toward males of their own species or other bright red species, so you may want to plan on keeping only one breeding pair to a flight unless you have a very large walk-in aviary with lots of cover. Their song is not very loud, but if you listen for it, you may be surprised at how tuneful these little waxbills can be.

Housing:
Strawberry Finches need more room than might seem reasonable, because they are extremely active birds that need plenty of room to fly and to perform their entertaining courtship dances. They also require lots of 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. They really like warmth, and if you have them in outdoor breedings quarters, you may need to arrange for a place to bring them indoors for the winter. While holding them indoors, take care that the birdroom does not become too dry, as a lack of humidity could also affect their plumage.

One reason you will want to seriously consider housing Strawberry Finches in an outdoor aviary in the warm months is to give them access to natural sunlight. Providing natural sunlight, full spectrum lighting, or both may help you to improve their color. While they are highly social birds and do well in a mixed-species aviary, don't house them with Gold-breasted Waxbills, because they are proven to hybridize with their cousins.

Diet:
Strawberry Finches 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, perhaps mixing together finch and canary blends, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. You can also sow the seeds in sterile soil and, when they start to sprout, you can place the pots in their flight so they can enjoy the green food. These finches will also appreciate the milky seeding heads of grasses, in addition to the sprouts. You should also supply a finely chopped salad that includes chickweed, greens, apple, carrot, and broccoli.

Don't skimp on the eggfood, high quality finch pellet, and, most importantly, a daily supply of live insects. In addition, some breeders recommend that you offer freeze-dried tiny shrimp to this species, in an effort to help maintain or improve the color. As you approach the breeding season, increase the supply 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 will almost certainly 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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