The Crimson- winged Aurora (Pytilia phoenicoptera)


We have been studying the behaviorhavior and breeding of estrildid finches for approximately eight years now and have kept many rare and unusual species. But when we consider its elegant beauty, ease of breeding, and charming personality, we know the Crimson-winged Aurora must be one of our favorite finches. Although not as flashy as some of the other African estrildids, this is more than compensated for by its many positive attributes. Since it achieved its CITES III status in 1976, there has been increasing interest in the propagation of this little bird. This is very fortunate since importation of this species has now stopped and all we have are the bloodlines already in the country. Since there are no strains in Hawaii or Puerto Rico, there seems to be no "loopholes" for any further importations.

We have worked with this species through several generations and its requirements in captivity appear to he quite basic. Most of the literature on this species claims it to be easily bred, readily raising its own young, and doing fine in a community setting. Our study of its behavioral traits leads us to disagree with some of this. It is indeed easy to breed in captivity, hut we would stay away from a community setting. Pytilias, by nature, are aggressive and territorial and this aspect must he addressed. We have found the Crimsonwinged Aurora reluctant to raise its own young, at least in the environment which we provide, if not kept in four-foot flights ( 4 feet long, 3 feet high, and 2 feet wide) or larger. However, the urge to breed was not diminished in our standard three-foot flights (3 feet long, 2 feet high, and 2 feet wide). Like most of the dry grassland finches, nesting sites should be supplied with dried grass tussocks with a splattering of green foliage-living or silk. We have done a great deal of research concerning the willingness of estrildids to accept silk foliage in the place of living plants and have found that the birds show no preference. This makes the housing of finches much easier, since you are probably more interested in the raising of estrildid finches as opposed to the maintenance of live plants and trees.

If you keep your finches in two areas, one for the tropical jungle types and one for the drier, grassland types, we would suggest the latter environment for the housing of the Crimson-winged Aurora. Although this species is surprisingly tough and adaptive, we see no point in stressing it to make it fit into an environment which is alien to its natural habitat preference. Crimson-winged Auroras are surprisingly tolerant of their own kind, providing each breeding pair has its own territory. If breeding pairs are kept in the same room, they show little interest in the mating calls and displays of other cocks, provided that they are separated by hardware cloth.

These are primarily ground-dwelling birds and food, water, millet sprays, etc. should he placed directly on the ground. This bird has a long, pointed beak which is indicative of an insect-eater or ground-feeder, with the need for poking about in fallen debris easily being met by the provision of dried grass or hay as a bedding. Auroras seem to have a particularly high requirement for protein in their diet. This need is easily met hy mealworms. There has been much conjecture as to the dangers of chitin (the hard outer skin) and since this species seems to eat them skins and all, this could he cause for alarm. However, our birds seemed to suffer no ill-effects from this and we feel there is no need for undue concern. Supplied with a good quality finch seed combined with canary mix, and given Romaine lettuce clipped with a wooden clothespin onto a horizontal perch, we feel the dietary needs of this species will be easily met.

Some may disagree, but we find the song of this finch varied and charming, ranging from short, staccato "chucks" to whistles and musical trills. Singing cocks announce their readiness to breed and seem quite willing to accept a chosen mate, making the breeding of selected bloodlines an easy matter for the keeper. Cocks will entice a hen to copulate by repeatedly pecking at her nape until her tail twitches rapidly, and then, hopefully, proceeding to mount. This pecking about the head and neck is not the serious feather-plucking behavior exhibited by such birds as the Red-headed Parrot Finches tErydnura psittacea), but rather a harmless stimulus which leaves the hen's feathers in their usual immaculate...