EsTRILDID FINCHES IN A VICULTURE ... Breeding the Brunneiceps (Firefinch)


We were, not too long ago, informed by an importer friend that a consignment of birds had arrived from Europe. Among these birds was a species he could not identify. Being most curious about its identity, we took the three birds.

They were obviously some type of firefinch but one with which we were not familiar. This bird was smaller than a Senegal Firefinch tLagonosticta senegala), had a much deeper red, and had no white dots. Most curious of all, however, were its vocalizations. These were most un-firefinch-like. They were high, shrill and haunting. In the only book we consider valid-Derek Goodwin's Estrildid Finches of the World Cl 982)-we once again reviewed the vocalizations of all known firefinches hut could find nothing which we considered "dead on."

We called a good friend, Dr. Luis Baptista, a noted finch expert in California, who was quite excited about the prospects of a possible discovery of a new species, particularly since he is in the process of researching for his new book on estrildid finches. He graciously offered to send us copies of German research papers on firefinches.

We were rapidly congealing our beliefs and we gave Josef Lindholm of the Fort Worth Zoo a call to discuss our theory. We felt that this was not an unknown species but one that had been previously misrepresented as a subspecies (Lagonosticta s. brunneiceps) of the Senegal Firefinch-a mistake we felt needed to be corrected.

We believe the L. s. brunneiceps deserves full species status as it will not interbreed, nor even live in harmony, with the Senegal. Also, the aggressive nature of the Brunneiceps rivals the nature of far more aggressive firefinches. In fact, we lost a hen Brunneiceps when a cock Senegal was housed close enough for her mate to see him. Since the cock Brunneiceps could not get to the cock Senegal, he killed his own mate in frustration.

As we were relating the story to Josef Lindholm, we were relieved but not surprised to learn from him that Dr. Jean Delacour, a well known bird taxonomist and author, had considered the Lagonosticta s. brunneiceps a separate and distinct species many years ago but no one took the idea seriously.

We also contacted a noted show judge and asked him about his experiences with this bird here or abroad. He informed us that he was unfamiliar with the bird we described and was sure it was unknown on the show circuit. This lent credibility to our feeling that this bird was unknown in this country and deserving of further study.

We collected and sent a series of vocalizations to Dr. Luis Baptista (a world class expert on vocalizations) but, sadly, there is no "smoking gun," so to speak, that would determine a separate species either genetically or otherwise. We feel, however, that the evidence of vocalizations and behav.ior is quite heavy enough to prove that Lagonosticta s. brunneiceps is indeed a separate species. Curiously enough, this bird is as bright a red as the Dark Firefinch (Lagonosticta rubricata),but is the only one we know of in which the color fades when not kept in bright light.

In our efforts to breed the L. s. brunneiceps, we considered its breeding needs to be similar to those of the other firefinches and acted accordingly, i.e., nests located within dry grassy tussocks tied into cage comers, etc., with cage set-ups placed within the jungle birdroom.

After misting for a few months, we found them ready to breed, building the typical estrildid domed nest of grasses...