Purple Grenadiers, which were supposed to be so difficult to raise in captivity - particularly in cages - have turned out to be some of the most prolific breeders with which I have worked. They are by no means beginner finches, but they are well worth the effort.
This beautiful, slender bird from the dry scrubland of central east Africa measures approximately five and one quarter inches in length including its long tail. The adult male is a reddish brown with a rich, glossy blue on the chest, belly, and base of tail. A similar blue forms a rather wide eye-ring. His beak is a deep coral red. The female is a lighter brown, without the reddish tones. Her chest and belly are a mass of off-white spots, which, at times, form irregular lines. Her eye-ring is most commonly a pale mauve or blue, but can vary from almost white to a blue almost as dark as in the male, According to Derek Goodwin in Estrildid Finches of the World, this variation in color could be an indication of different subspecies, (The color is at least to some extent passed on; one of my females exhibited a much darker eye- ring than the others and, although none of her offspring have eye-rings as dark as hers, they are darker than average.) The female's beak is a pale red, As she reaches full maturity and breeding readiness, a dark, almost black band appears down the length of the upper mandible.
Fledglings are entirely brown, except for some purplish blue at the base of the tail, l have observed some slight differences in the shade of brown among my babies, which, according to Derek Goodwin, indicates gender. I have not tried to confirm or deny this, however, since the sex of the youngster becomes obvious when, at around six weeks of age, a partial molt produces the colored eye-ring. At around four months of age a more complete molt results in the adult coloring, though the male, in particular, displays a richer, more beautiful plumage after the second full molt. It seems as if both male and female display richer colors with each successive molt.
The newly hatched chicks are almost black in color, naked except for a few tiny tufts of down and have deep blue and white gape tubercles. They start out in life surprisingly small considering the size of the adults, but they grow quickly and usually fledge at around two and a half weeks. I have, on occasion, been surprised to sec them out of the nest as early as two weeks.
Although Grenadiers can sometimes be kept in community settings with no problems, l have unfortunately seen too many instances of incompatibility to recommend this as ideal. Grenadiers are aggressive toward related species such as Cordon Bleus and Violet-eared Waxbills, They can also take a sudden and violent dislike to non-related species with disastrous results - even after having lived peaceably with them for extended periods of ti me.
Grenadiers do not seem to be overly concerned about the size of cage or flight in which they arc housed. However, since they are fairly large, active finches, they do need room to move around. My smallest cage for Grenadiers measures 36" x 22" x 22". I provide tumbleweeds and branches of Grevillea as hiding places, and, where there is insufficient natural lighting, I use full spectrum bulbs,
Like. many other finches, Grenadiers are not as fragile as we sometimes think. Though they are obviously more comfortable when kept in warmer temperatures (70's & 80's 'F), they can endure occasional drops. Several of my pairs have been housed in an aviary where winter temperatures have quite regularly dropped as low as 50° F. These are not sudden drops - more a gradual seasonal change which allows the birds time to adjust. On the other hand, one pair was housed on a glass enclosed patio where summer temperatures of well above I 00°F. were not uncommon, This pair also showed no ill effect.
Grenadiers appear to be very territorial, Evidence of this is exhibited in aggression when more than one pair is housed in the same flight. Harmony is disrupted even when the pairs are not housed together, but merely within sight of one another. This aggression, on the part of the male, is directed toward his own female, as ifhe is trying to keep her away from the intruding male, His intentions may be honorable but the results may be deadly, I have found it necessary to keep my breeding pairs totally out of sight of each other, though l think at one time two of the pairs could hear each other but saw no problems between the members of each pair. The problems begin when another pair is set up within sight of any pair. I have housed young Grenadiers in holding cages within sight of my pairs with no ill effect. Could it be that it is the sight of another pair, as opposed to single birds, which is upsetting? Or is there some kind of communication between the pairs which l am missing? Certainly while fairly large numbers of Grenadiers are housed together in quarantine there appears to be no problems, so the aggression is most surely breeding related.
Based on past experience, most finches can be set up when they are fully colored out. When setting up young Grenadiers, however, I have observed considerable aggression on the part of the male toward the female. This is not the case with every new pair that I set up, nor does the aggression necessarily start immediately upon introduction. Sometimes, just when I think I have found a good pair, they start fighting. I began to think that the male matures earlier than the female and when she does not respond favorably to his advances he resorts to violence. To complicate matters, l tried, on two occasions, to introduce an older female to a...
Goodwin, D: Estrildid Finches of the World. Cornell University Press, New York. 1982, pp 156-158.