The Red Strawberry Finch (Amandava amandava)


This is probably many aviculturists' first introduction to finches, as indeed it was ours, when we bought our first pair of Strawberries at a local pet shop on Wednesday, September 23, 1987. This was the first pair of birds we ever owned, and outside of one Yellow-naped Parrot and a few odds and ends, our hearts were definitely stolen by the family of estrildid finches and have not strayed since.

We currently work with the pied mutation only, due to space restrictions, but would not hesitate to acquire the normals once again if space allowed. This is the first finch we bred, in spite of our over-crowded mixed flight. Much of the bird's popularity is due to this readiness to breed, its relative lack of most finch ailments, and perhaps one of the most melodic songs in the estrildid world. Although most keepers of this finch are quite aware of this song, this bird does have a rather large repertoire of vocalizations.

Some of the most interesting Strawberry finch vocalizations that we have recorded are: an electric buzz, uttered by the cock within the nest, with his beak closed, apparently to attract his mate, and a low-pitched growl made by cocks in a high-stress fight situation when they are unable to flee. A cock which we received from Hawaii had an interesting digression from the usual song, consisting of a simple up and down trill, free of any flowery overtones. It would be interesting to do a study of the Hawaiian birds to learn ifthe entire Hawaiian population is simplifying the song or ifit was just this one individual.

There are three subspecies and all are wet, marshland birds. The largest and most beautiful is the nominate Amandava amandavaamandavafrom India, which also boasts the largest white spots. Unfortunately, this bird is no longer available to aviculturists since India has now shut down, Punicea, from Indochina, is a smaller version of the nominate form with smaller white dots.

Flavidiventris, from Timar, is similar to Punicea, but has a much stronger yellow on the breast. We strongly recommend that breeders who still work with the nominate group keep it pure, for it would be a shame to compromise its stature and markings with the less striking forms. The population in Hawaii appears to be comprised of the nominate and Puniceasubspecies. There is also an introduced population in Puerto Rico which is all but trapped out. We have not seen these birds and therefore cannot comment upon them.

The Strawberry is the only estrildid finch of which we are aware that goes through an eclipse plumage, where cocks in breeding season are red (nuptual plumage) and the rest of the year are a drab grayish-brown (eclipse plumage), resembling the hens. This wellknown bright red color phase is very attractive against the white spots and gives rise to the common name: Strawberry Finch. In captivity, cocks need not be in the nuptual phase to breed.

This species, as we mentioned before, is not difficult to breed. For this ve1y reason, we recommend one pair per flight. If you insist upon mixed communities, the most aggressive species will be the only one to breed. There is little doubt that this will be the Strawberry. If you wish to breed less assertive species of finches as well, this bird should be kept separate. They should be housed one pair per flight, but may be kept within sight and sound of other Strawberries as non-breeding pairs may be encouraged by breeders.

We recommend a three-foot flight: 3 ft. long by 2 ft. wide by 2 ft. high. This should be generously planted with a half-and-half mixture of silk foliage clusters and tussocks of dried grass tied against the hardware cloth. Tussocks of dried grass are particularly effective when encouraging marshland species to breed. Hidden in at least one corner should be a large closed wicker finch basket. Housed in this type of environment the Strawberry can be very prolific.

Strawberries build a typical domed estrildid nest using dried grass and strands of burlap. However, we had one pair build a tube-formation nest, open at both ends, allowing light to pass straight through, which permitted easy observation of the chicks inside. They generally make good parents if mealworms and whiteworms are provided for protein. We had one cock which was particularly fond of earwigs and would go hunting for them when his water dish was removed for cleaning. They will also take some eggfood.

Chicks are light-skinned, and for this reason are easy to foster to Societies. Clutch size in captivity seems to average three or four and chicks in the nest make buzzing begging vocalizations, similar to insect sounds - perhaps a protective factor developed to disguise low marshland nests from predators.

Fledged juveniles have an interesting begging posture on the perch and on the ground, wherein they squat low, both wings outstretched and quivering, head twisted to one side. In captivity, where food can be more abundant, this behavior may be reduced to just one wing, or may not occur at all. It is a good idea to place millet sprays on the floor of the cage to help parents teach fledged juveniles to eat independently. Although parents do not seem to show aggression towards independent juveniles when it comes time to recycle, we recommend removing them to separate quarters to avoid...