Black-throated Grassfinch. Photo: Julian Teh

Black-throated Grassfinch. Photo: Julian Teh

Article kindly provided by Doug Hill & Marcus Pollard

Alternate Names

Parson Finch, Black-rumped Grassfinch, Black-throat, Diggles' Finch, Black-rumped Finch. The Black-throated Finch (Poephila cincta) is the correct common name for this species. The white rumped race is commonly called the Parson Finch, Poephila cinta cincta, whereas the black rumped form is known as the Diggles Parson, Poephila cinta atropygialis. There is also what is known as the Chocolate Parson, Poephila cinta nigrotecta where the overall colour of the bird is much darker and this is seen in both the nominate races – Parson Finch and the Diggles Parsons.


The Parson is a common bird in Australian aviaries and they are available at most times of the year. However, finding the various mutations and chocolate forms can be difficult. Many darker coloured birds are passed off as chocolates – both Diggles and Parson finches – so one needs to be familiar with the true type before purchasing these birds.


One of the best sexing methods for the Parsons, in our opinion, is across the top of the head. The male is broader than the hen and has a light grey colouration whereas the hen tends to be a darker brownish/grey. Other sexing methods you can use are; the trouser stripe tends to be wider in the male and the throat patch is smaller and pear shaped in the hen while the males’ bib is much broader.


We have seen Pied, Fawn, Cream and White Parsons. One can at times, see the White and Fawn forms in specialty bird stores. The Fawn, Cream and White mutations are all sex linked recessive. This means that only males can be ‘carriers’ of the trait and females are either ‘normal’ or show the mutation. For this reason males showing these three mutations are rarer than hens and command a higher price.


The Parson is a bird that we will not keep with the smaller waxbills as we have found that they tend to get aggressive towards anything smaller than themselves or with larger quieter species. If they are put with larger seedeaters they will settle into their niche in the aviary. We have kept them in mixed collections of ‘tougher’ birds such as Diamond sparrows, Blue-face parrotfinches, Rufous-backed manikins and any of the larger cup nesters or weavers. We have also found that the Parson will pry into other bird’s nests hopping in and out of them with scant regard for the actual owners! It pays to ensure that you have plenty of nesting material so that the Parsons will not be tempted by the contents of other bird’s nests. Other than these problems we have found that they are a relatively peaceful bird – as long as they are kept as single pairs in an aviary and all the other inhabitants know that they are the Boss! If you intend to colony breed them then you will have real problems with the nesting success of other less ‘dynamic’ species in the same aviary. As a rule we have found that the Parson Finch appears more disruptive than the Diggles Parson.

Ease of breeding (1 easy-10 difficult)

I have never found a problem with the Parson as regards breeding if given the right diet and copious amounts of seeding grasses. I would rate them 5/10, not a bird for the beginner but one for the more experienced bird breeder owing to the need to control their inquisitive and somewhat disruptive tendencies.

Purchasing your bird

You can purchase Parsons just about anywhere where there is a good bird outlet. If you are set on obtaining any sort of mutation then we suggest that you find where there is a breeder of these birds in your area and try to purchase them from there. This way you can ensure you find out the maximum amount of information about the way they were bred, housed and fed. There is, at least in parts of Australia, a tendency for some people to raise the mutations using Bengalese Mannikins in small breeding cabinets. The attempts to true breed from such birds tends to be ‘variable’ so check your proposed stock out carefully!

Good points to look for

It is not hard to see a Parson that is in poor condition. They are a bird that are very smartly ‘dressed’ and appear that way just about all of the time. Check to see if the bib is large and dark on the cock bird and that the feathers are not at all ruffled. The feet and mandible must be clean and free of any type of scaling. The overall colour of the bird is strong. The size of the bird is an important factor. The eyes must be clear and bright with no weeping. The vent should be clean and well feathered as these birds, in common with most of the Poephila family, suffer from scours that, if left untreated, can develop into something far worse! So if you must get birds showing signs of scouring ensure that you place them on an electrolyte based feeding regime until the scours disappear.

The Black-throated Grassfinch is a beautiful bird for an aviary, as long as you take into account their inquisitive nature and in-built need to ‘own’ whatever aviary that you put them into!

Faults to look for

As mentioned earlier it is easy to see a Parson finch that is not in good condition! Do not look at a bird that is not in good tight feather. If the bird is at all fluffed up on the perch or floor leave it there! Scaly legs, beak and overgrown toenails are a definite no, no. Often a sign of age! Watery eyes and a soiled vent would also be a problem. A bird with its eyes closed, not bothering to open them when you touch the cage is best left alone!

Aviary or breeding cabinet

Parsons are an easy bird to breed in either large well-planted aviaries or in a small aviary or breeding cabinet. I have found the best results are when we have had them in an aviary measuring 3.5m x 2m x 2m and as a single pair in the aviary. As they are partial to plain canary they may tend to suffer from obesity if kept in breeding cabinets for lengthy periods.

Breeding season

Although we have had them breed all of the year round we have found their best breeding time is in the Spring and into early summer. I generally separated the pairs over the winter months giving them both a well deserved break from breeding and put them together again at the end of winter, about 2 weeks into September here in Sydney, and we found that they almost immediately went to nest. In cooler climes you can safely leave the pairs together as they appear to have enough sense to not attempt breeding in the depths of winter – which is more than can be said for some waxbill species!

Off-season feeding

This is a bird prone to obesity if too rich a diet is fed to them. I have always fed a diet that is not quiet as rich in fats (as I do in my other aviaries) in aviaries that contain Parsons.

Should I feed soft foods?

Parsons will readily take to egg and biscuit mix as a soft food supplement. We have also fed Parsons with Madeira cake. But please remember the tendency for obesity previously mentioned and limit their intake of both these items. Some birds tend to consume plain cake to the exclusion of most other ‘nutritious’ food stuffs. Also the over consumption of cake could point to a gizzard worm infection – the birds crop is too sore to breakdown hard seeds so the bird tries to compensate for this by eating any soft foods available, usually cake, green and live foods.

What green feed?

Fresh seeding grasses, these are the key to great breeding results when it comes to the Parson finch. We have always fed huge amounts of fresh half ripe seeding grasses when breeding the Parson, as they tend to feed large amounts to the young in the nest. Some of the seeding grasses that we use areAfricanVeldt panic grass & oats, summer & winter grass, clover, barnyard grass, Guinea grass, Newcastle grass, milk thistle and shepherds purse. We also feed bok choy, endive, chickweed, spinach, kale and Lebanese cucumbers - as some of these are usually available at any time of the year. Kale is particularly good in colder climates as it grows during the winter!

What live food?

A lot of breeders do not feed Parsons live food when breeding them. They use the green food mentioned above, but when they are fed both live food and fresh half ripe seeding grasses the breeding results are so much the better. We have used gentles (maggots), mealworms and termites with the better results when the termites were used. If like some of us you don’t have the dreaded termite don’t despair, as they will rear quite happily on maggots and mealworms. However, we do not advise feeding mealworms when the birds are not breeding, as they may tend to become overweight if their intake is not limited. Also watch that they don’t hog the live food bowl to the detriment of other species in the aviary.

I once saw a Parsons nest in the wild some 35 feet off the ground built in a eucalyptus tree just south from Mareeba in North Queensland. The aviary nest is usually a bulky structure with long trailing pieces of grass at the entrance.

Breeding season feeding

We do not feed my birds an austerity diet so they are on a similar diet throughout the year as every other bird that we have. However, our only concession is to limit their access to mealworms during the non-breeding period. But, if you do have your birds on an austerity diet September through to May is the time to have your birds on their breeding season diet. September is when you start to slowly give your birds some extra bits in their feed tray. If you feed live food, let the birds build up to the extra live food such as termites, mealworms and gentles. Scouring is a problem with these birds if you have not been feeding them greens and suddenly begin to.

Separating the pairs

I have separated the pairs when we thought that they have had enough in terms of nests in a season. We feel that 3 nests are certainly enough in a season for this prolific breeder. This ensures that your birds remain in good condition for next years breeding and that you don’t exhaust the hen’s egg laying capacity. Better to forgo that last nest and have your hen ready for next season!

What age do they breed

It is best to wait for the Parson to mature before breeding them. Wait until they are at least 12 months of age before breeding from them.

What if I lose a mate?

Although the bond between the pairs is strong, we have never had any sort of real problems when introducing a new mate to any of our birds. However, there are times, especially in the middle of the breeding season, that the new partner may not be accepted at all. We feel that age and how long the pair had been together play a part in the acceptance of new mates.

Pair of Diggles.
Hen on right.

Nesting receptacles

I have had Parsons nest in just about every type of container that you could think of as well as building their own nest in the brush. Some of the nesting receptacles that they have used for us include; wire cylinders, cane nesting baskets – both large and small, logs, nest boxes – both open fronted and Gouldian type.

Nesting materials

Coarser type grasses are used for the outer part of the nest with a finer grass, such as the November grass, for the lining and then filled with copious amounts of white feathers.

The nest

The nest is your typical grassfinch type of nest being built with an entrance tunnel. By this we mean one that is built in the brush consisting mainly of dried stems of grass roughly 5-8 inches in length and where the nest has either a small entrance tunnel or without any type of tunnel, just a hole in the side or front of the nest. Some nests have a landing platform (such as the nest of the Parson finch) at the front of the nest and some, such as the Cordon Bleu, have a roof over the entrance of the nest. The nest usually consists of at least 2 types of grass stems and we have found up to 8 different types of grass used in the one nest. The main grasses that we have seen used for nesting purposes are, November grass, Couch runners and dried Couch leaves. Other grasses used are Barnyard grass, Kikuyu runners, both dried and green, African Veldt grass, both green and dried, and Clover. Usually this is enough different variety of grass for all of the finches, both native and foreign! Some birds like to use green grasses for their nests and some prefer to use dried grass for theirs. You must take into consideration what grasses you supply for your finches needs. The nest height is only limited by the height of your aviary. I once saw a Parsons nest in the wild some 35 feet off the ground built in a eucalyptus tree just south from Mareeba in North Queensland. The aviary nest is usually a bulky structure with long trailing pieces of grass at the entrance. Parsons also build a roosting nest when not breeding but it is usually not filled with white feathers as the breeding nest is.

Mating behaviour

The courtship dance is commenced by a lot of bobbing of the head and some beak wiping on the perch. Sometimes the male will use a token such as a piece of grass in his beak when courting the female. With his throat patch fluffed out he dances towards the female all the time with his head bobbing and when the hen is ready to accept him she will show her willingness by crouching on the perch.


One can expect anything from 4 to 8 eggs with this species with the parents being very devoted to the young whilst still in the nest. Nests of between 4 to 6 youngsters are to be expected from a good young breeding pair.

Brooding time

14 days is the usual brooding time for the Parson.

Fledging time

The young Parsons generally fledge at 21 days.

Independence from the parents

The young are usually independent of their parents after around 6 weeks. This may appear a long time but we have experienced that some pairs will feed their chick for up to 6 weeks after they have left the nest! We have lost young by separating them after 5 weeks and finding all but one of the youngsters dead next morning. Upon placing the 2 survivors back into the aviary with their parents they were immediately fed. A very harsh way to find out!

How long do the young stay with the parents?

We do not leave the young with the parent’s once they are independent, as they do tend to be a bit of a problem in the aviary by visiting other bird’s nests and interrupting the routine of the other occupants of the aviary. Stick to the rule of one pair to an aviary!

 What do I feed the fledged young?

The young can be fed the same diet as the parents.

When do I ring the young?

The young can be rung in the nest providing the nest is not built in the brush – in other words if you have to wreck the nest to ring them leave well enough alone! We have had no problems ringing the young in any type of nest box, but whenever a nest built in the shrubbery was touched invariably the young, on many occasions, were deserted. The best advice is a nest in the brush must not be touched! 

Showing your bird

This bird, along with the Longtail, were designed for the show bench, with their smart and neat lines they are a bird that will take the notice of any judge! The bib must be of a good size and the overall colour of the bird is important. The bird must be in good feather and not show any pinfeathers. The bird must be alert and working in the show box. The mandible and legs must be free of any sign of flaking. The shape of the Parson plays a major part in their showing. 

Gene pool

The gene pool in Australian aviaries is very secure. However, there is a tendency for some people to cross the Longtail, Parson and Mask finches. The resultant hybrids are, so I am told, fertile and this sort of indiscriminate crossing can only detract from the pure species. The hybrid between the Longtail and Parson usually has a tail that is longer than a true Parsons yet shorter than a true Longtails. The beak tends to be black in youngsters (as for all 3 species) but often develops a tell tale yellow tinge as the bird matures. Crosses with the Mask finch tend to have tiny bibs and are far more obvious than the Longtail hybrid. Avoid these birds like the plague and never mix the three species together in the same aviary.

Life expectancy

One can expect that their Parson when kept in good conditions can attain an age of between 6 and 8 years.  

Left: White rump of Parsons.
Right: Black rump of Diggles.

Common ailments

As the Parson, in common with a large number of other finches, spends a great deal of its daily life on the ground worms are a major hazard, so a very good worming routine for them must be adhered to. This should include treatments for both roundworms (nematode) and tapeworms. Another problem with this bird is that they are prone to egg binding. A very good diet filled with essential vitamins and oils should also be adhered to plus the addition of an old favourite, cod liver oil and wheat germ oil, just in case.


A beautiful bird for an aviary as long as you take into account their inquisitive nature and in-built need to ‘own’ whatever aviary that you put them into! They will soon settle in and hop down to see what you are doing in their territory. Keep them as one pair to an aviary and all should be well and remember to keep an eye on their dietary intake as they can become a little obese in smaller flights when lots of supplements are fed. In common with their cousin the Longtail they have the same tame and confiding nature. My bet is that they will be the first birds down to check out the morning offerings when you arrive with food bowls in hand!