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African Silverbill

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Is the African Silverbill right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Warbling Silverbill; Black-rumped Silverbill

Scientific name: Euodice cantans

The basics:
The African Silverbill is a hardy, agreeable finch often recommended to beginners. Easy to feed, eager to breed, and available in a range of mutations, the modestly colored African Silverbill adds life and activity to the cage or aviary, but they are frequently overlooked because of their quiet plumage.

The three subspecies of the African Silverbill originate from arid habitat such as dry savannahs or thorn scrub in Africa and the Middle East. These social birds forage and breed in large flocks, and they are often observed sitting in physical contact with each other. From time to time, the African Silverbill and its relative, the Indian Silverbill, have been placed in a separate genus from the other mannikin finches, Euodice. However, this division makes little sense to aviculturists and pet owners, since they are so similar in care and behavior to the other Lonchura finches.

Appearance:
Both African and Indian Silverbills have the trademark silver bill but the African species has a black rump, while the Indian species has a white rump. All Lonchura are difficult to sex by eye, but the African Silverbill male is a little larger than his mate, and his two central tail feathers are noticeably pointed. You may also identify the male by his behavior, since he will perform a soft warbling song to charm his female.

Weight:
15 grams (.5 oz.)

Average size:
10 centimeters (4 in.)

Lifespan:
5 - 8 years

Behavior / temperament:
Their great personality makes these little birds worth a second or third look. They can be used to create a colony breeding aviary, or they can fill in a mixed-species aviary. They're easy-going and not trying to harm the other birds, although they may steal a desired nest from time to time. Only the males sing and display, to impress the females. They are good parents and have been used to foster the eggs and babies of other species.

It would be a very rare African Silverbill indeed that would want to fly to or be handled by a human. For the most part, they are curious about us and enjoy watching us from their territory, but they do not want our hands or fingers poking into their cage.

Housing:
African Silverbills exercise by flying rather than hopping or climbing, and they are happiest flying in their own territory, although a few rare birds have learned to fly to their owners. Many so-called finch cages are only suitable to serve as hospital or temporary homes for birds awaiting sale. The permanent home of a pair of Silverbills should be 36” in length, 24” in width, and 18” in height, with ½” bar spacing. A larger flight would not be excessive. A variety of perches, swings, and even toys will keep them busy and allow them to provide you with endless action and entertainment. They love bathing, so have a bath available, or you may find them trying to splash in the drinking water.

It's possible to house African Silverbills in colonies or aviaries, and if you decide to provide a very large flight, you may wish to add more pairs. As a rule of thumb, always remember that finches can't count above six. Therefore, if you want to prevent a pecking order from developing in a flock, you can have one pair of birds in the flight, or you can have three pairs or more in the flock, but if you have between three and five birds, then the finches at the bottom of the pecking order could be harassed, injured, or even killed.

African Silverbills are gentle birds who can do well in mixed collections, but watch out for a couple of issues. Do not house them with other Lonchura finches, because they could hybridize. There have also been reports that a Silverbill pair has stolen a nest from more passive waxbill species, so always know what's going on in your aviary.

Diet:
The African Silverbill is remarkably easy to feed, although you should never expect this bird to subsist on dry seed alone. However, the backbone of the diet will be a small seed mix, so obtain the best quality you can afford. They love many varieties of millet, including spray millet. The seed should be fresh enough to sprout, and you should test it by sprouting it regularly. You should also supply a small chopped salad containing such items as chopped romaine, grated carrot, fresh sprouts, chopped apple or grapes, and other dark greens such as chickweed or dandelion. This species does not demand live insects, one of the reasons they're considered an “easy” finch, but they should certainly be offered eggfood throughout courtship and breeding. All finches should have access to clean grit, as well as cuttlebone or another source of calcium.

Written by Elaine Radford

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