The Red Billed Fire Finch

Posted by Rancel Borges on

The red-billed fire (Lagonosticta senegala) has 8-11 subspecies depending on your personal school of thought. So we can have a better understanding of the subspecies I will list each subspecies and the location where they are found. In this article I will focus on (Lagonosticta senegala) which is the species that I am currently working with.

Lagonosticta senegala senegala - Senegal

Lagonosticta senegala brunneiceps - Ethiopia, Sudan

Lagonosticta senegala kikuyuensis - Kenya

Lagonosticta senegala abayensis - Ethiopia

Lagonosticta senegala flavodorsalis - Nigeria

Lagonosticta senegala pallidicrissa - Angola

Lagonosticta senegala rendalli - Zambia, South Africa

Lagonosticta senegala rhodopsis - Cameroon, Mali

For years there has been one finch in particular that has caught the attention of both novice and expert breeders, the Fire finch. This beautiful little gem belongs to the Estrildidae family. Measuring a mere 3-4 in in length these dazzling red birds are a delight to keep in any aviary. There average life span is estimated between 5-7 yrs depending on how they are kept.

Males are crimson red with some brown coloration in there wings and tail, while the females are predominantly brown with more white spots on the sides and flanks than males. They both have a pink bill, and yellow eye rings which are very prominent, especially in older birds. Juveniles are similar to females but lack the yellow eye ring, and white dots along the sides and flank.

In the wild fire finches tend to live in large groups that are usually found in Savannah Woodlands. The grass cover here although sparse provides good reliable seeds. In the wet season it grows very fast reaching up to 3 meters high, flowering, and then spreading its seeds. Fire’s spend their day searching for small seeds of grasses and plants, along with insects and some herbs. These hardy little birds love to eat Echinochloa colona (Jungle rice), Setaria (bristle grasses), Urochloa (signal grasses), Panicum (Guinea grasses), Chloris, Digitaria (finger grasses), Eleusine (goose grasses). As well as some insects like termites, flies, ants, mealworms, thrip nymphs, aphids, spiders, and fish moths.

In captivity it is crucial that we provide our birds with the necessary nutrients they would receive in the wild. A good seed mix diet is necessary, along with a valuable source of protein like egg food and insects. Although fire finches are known to successfully rear their young without the need of live food, it is still essential that we feed them insects. I feed my African finches a mix of freeze dried insects that consist of mealworms, bloodworms, and crickets. Other sources of nutrients that need to be provided to the birds at all time to thrive and maintain good health are as follow:

Charcoal ( Although charcoal has no nutritional value it helps with the birds digestion, which can demilitarize toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria in the gut. )

Calcium ( Most of us have experienced first hand the loss of a hen due to calcium deficiency and now know how essential it is to give our birds calcium, specially during the breeding season. Good sources of calcium are cuttle bone, crushed oysters and egg shells )

Herb salad ( Herb Salad is 100% Organic leaves, roots, bark and flowers of the plants. It contains nutrients, minerals, vitamins and healing capabilities. Herb Salad has 22 medicinal herbs that address common health issues safely and without the dangers that improper medicating and over supplementing can produce. )

Gravel, Grits (Although finches hull their seeds before consuming them, it is my believe that gravel and grits are still essential in their digestion, specially if the birds are breeding as this helps aid in breaking down the foods that will be fed to the chicks. Not only does it help with digestion but its also nutritious. Finches in the wild have been found to search for it on a regular basis )

Fire finches will readily breed in a mix aviary, as long as their needs are satisfied. Their passive characteristics allow them to get along great with the rest of the habitants. During the breeding season males and females become more active foraging around the floor of the aviary searching for insects and nesting material. I have found that all my fires are very secretive when it comes to mating. I have never been able to see their mating ritual. Most fire finches will accept a variety of nests like wicker, bamboo, half open, or in other cases they prefer to build there own free standing nest. Materials used to build the nest are alfalfa grass, coconut fibers, and white feathers to line the interior of the nest.

After the male finishes the nest copulation will begin. I have had some males build up to three nest, using one only and the other two as decoys. Each nest is divided into two section, upper and lower. The upper segment of the nest is a bit more open, this branch is known as the decoy nest or cocks nest. Males will stand guard here and act as decoys flying away from the nest if a predator gets to close, this will usually distract the predator away from the nest site. The lower area is were the eggs are laid. This section is a bit bigger and has a different entrance, usually through the sides. The interior of this section is lined with feathers, and more often than not they will place a white feather covering the side entrance.

Females will lay on average 2-4 eggs. During the incubation period both sexes will share the duties. I have noticed with my pairs that the females will do all of the incubation during the night as she goes into the lower section of the nest and the male stays in the cocks nest. During the day they switch roles and the females leave the nest at daylight to go find some well deserved food. After a few minutes she will return and again they will switch. This routine will go on for most of the day for about 11-13 days.

When the chicks hatch the parents anxiety for insects will become obvious, they will search desperately, scavenging the aviary floor for any aphids. The chicks are very quiet and hard to hear. This sometimes may concern the novice breeder, but I strongly recommended that you restrain yourself from doing any nest checks as most pairs will abandon if the nesting site is disturbed. If you plan on close banding the chicks do so when they fledge. After about 20 days the chicks will fledge the nest. The parents will continue to feed them for an additional 2-3 weeks after which they will be weaned.

I tend to leave them with the parents one more week before separating them. The reason behind this is that during that full month out of the nest the parents will usually start a second clutch of eggs. I’ve noticed with my fires that their chicks are very attentive to what they do. And a week or two after they fledge the female is already sitting on another clutch of eggs. They get a chance to experience first hand their parents mating ritual, building of the nest, and how they incubate.

The juveniles will begin to color at around 3-4 months of age. They are quick to become sexually mature usually between 6-9 months, but it is advisable to wait till they reach one year of age before breeding them.

Breeding the red-billed fire finch is an art not a science, but unfortunately some breeders are loosing this art ! It is up to us to help and continue domesticating these enticing little birds. We have lost to many species in the past and the numbers on some of our current species are declining! We must work harder with the fire finches we have available to us now as to insure that this does not happen to them, and hopefully others can in joy them in their aviaries for years to come !

Rancel Borges
Paradise Aviaries


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