Estrildid Finches in Aviculture: The Java Rice Bird


The Java Rice Bird is one of the largest of the Estrildid finches rivaled, perhaps, only by the seedcrackers (Pyrenestes) and bluebills (Spermophaga) in size. Its big, chunky body and its comparative ease in housing and propagation make it one of the most popular finches for beginners. In fact, this is the first finch I (Stash) kept as a child growing up in Glasgow, Scotland. My mother referred to them as "those stupid Javas," a result of their seeming lack of intelligence and responsiveness-the complete opposite of the seedcrackers and bluebills which we consider to he among the most intelligent of the estrildid finches.

The fact that the Javas were readily available in pet shops 40 years ago attests to the fact that this birds has domesticated for quite some time. Wild-caught individuals are very difficult to get now, .reflecting on the lack of desire on the part of the trappers to obtain them. They are classified as mannikins (Lonchura) but this is still open to debate.

As the name implies, they are native to the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia but have been introduced on many of the surrounding islands. In aviculture, the Java Rice Bird has proven itself to be sturdy, reliable, and long-lived, leading to its being declared illegal in many of the milder U.S. states where it is considered a crop pest.

Housing for this species is comparatively straightforward. A cage size of 3ft. x 2ft. x 2ft. is considered sufficient for a breeding pair, although we have had good results in an 18in cube commercial cage.

These birds should be supplied with a mix of larger seeds than would be suitable for the average finch. A mixture of 1/; parakeet, 1/; cana1y, and 1/, finch mix should be appropriate for these birds, owing to their massive beak size. Javas seem to enjoy their cuttlefish bone a great deal so make sure they have a large one availahle. It is certainly preferahle to have them chew on the cuttle fish hone rather than on one's finger as they love to do during their necessary periodic nail trimmings.

As with all birds, fresh water should be availahle at all times.

Sexing these hirds is straightforward. If possihle, ohserve the individuals in a small colony and select the pair with the most radical differences. Cocks will have a hroader, more massive, redder-tinged heak and will also tend to have a redder eye ring. Hens have narrower beaks and only a pale pink tinge to beak and eye ring.

Vocalizations tend to he a mixture of growling noises, certainly not what one would consider melodic. Although we have not observed these birds allopreening, their plumage usually looks immaculate, with every feather smoothly in place adding to the classic attractiveness of this distinctively marked gray, black, and white bird.

Cocks perform a mating ritual in which they incline their heads downward at a 45° angle, hop up and down on the perch, and grown towards the

 female. This mating growl grows into a rather bizarre, lengthy string of clucking noises which gradually become faster and louder as the "song" progresses. These vocalizations are described at length in Derik Goodwin's classic work Estrildid Finches qf the World where it is noted that these growling sounds have also been observed in hostile situations.

Once a pair has been selected, they should be housed hy themselves as this can be a belligerent species which does not work and play well with others. In fact, we once observed a Java dangling a Gouldian (Chloehia goutdiae) by the foot-a horrifying experience which did not seem to impress the Gouldian at all hut which prompted us to immediately...