Adult Diamond Firetail Finch. Photo: Jim Clark

Article kindly provided by Doug Hill & Marcus Pollard

 

Availability

Diamond Firetail Finches are available at most times of the year whether they are sold from bird outlets or from private breeders.

 

Sexing

Sexing Diamond Firetail Finches can at times be a bit difficult – especially if you encounter a well-bred hen and a poorly bred male. Some of the methods that I use are the size and shape of the head – where the male’s head is squarer than the females and is also broader across the top. The tail is another indicator of the sexes with the male’s tail being black and the hens tail having a brownish appearance to it. Some say that the hens have browner lores (area between the beak and the eye) while that  of the male is darker. During the breeding season the hens will develop a pinker beak but usually when the bird is around 3-4 years of age! 

So beware of this method! My friend has, what he calls, a flawless method of sexing them – simply put 6 young birds into an aviary and hope you have 2 hens!! Bit flippant, oh well! However, all these theories have been tried by various people with widely varying results. Like the 5 birds 'tail sexed' as 5 cocks that had 2 nests of eggs when they were caught up for sale!! If you are really troubled by sexing these you might like to try the following: place the birds you want sexed into cabinets where they can't see each other but can still hear each other. Within 30 minutes you should be able to sex them by their voices as they will call to each other making your job easier. How do you tell? If you have ever heard male Diamonds call then you will be in no doubt but for the novice the females call is a scratchy version of the males call. If still confused pick the two birds that sound the most 'different'!

 

Mutations

Two of the mutations that I have had in Diamond finches are the Yellow Diamond and the Pied Diamond. There are also White Diamonds and Fawn Diamonds, but I personally do not know anyone with White or Fawn birds in their aviaries at present. The White Diamond was not a long-lived bird. With the Yellow mutation, the areas of red on the normal bird are replaced by a yellowy orange colour. It is nonetheless a very pretty bird. The Pied Diamond is where random splashes of white replace the normal colour of the bird, again a pretty bird.

 

Distribution

Diamonds can be found from just south of Adelaide throughout Victoria, eastern and New South Wales to just over the Great Dividing Range as far west as Yeoval and north to lower central Queensland.

Adult Diamond. Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Adult Diamond.
Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Compatibility

Diamonds can at times be a real pain in the aviary and at other times they can be real sweethearts. The aggressive Diamonds should be housed with birds of equal size such as the Chestnuts, Java’s, Aberdeen’s, Golden Song Sparrows and Cutthroat’s. If they are put with the smaller waxbills and seedeaters then it is a case of watching them very closely as they will drive the smaller birds to total distraction and at times stress them to the point of, if not kept from breeding, they harass them to the point, in some cases, of dying. Fortunately such birds are rare! After having said that, I have kept Diamonds with Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu’s, Strawberry’s, Orangebreasts, Red-faced Pytilia’s and St Helena’s without any type of problem at all. In this instances the Diamonds were kept to one pair per aviary. I do know people who have had Diamonds and never had a problem and basically I would say I haven’t had a problem that I couldn’t get on top of almost as soon as it arose without any detrimental affects to any of the other inhabitants of that particular aviary. So are they compatible? Well, I would say yes, with some reservations! Be alert to problems!

 

Ease of breeding (1 easy-10 difficult)

When fed a diet that consists of plenty of fresh green seeding grasses and a splattering of live food I think that your chances of breeding the Diamond is very good. I would say not a bird for the novice but someone with a bit of experience. I would rate the Diamond as a 5 out of 10.

 

Purchasing your bird

These days you can come across Diamonds in bird outlets but you may have to travel far and wide to find them. You would be much better off finding a specialist breeder and obtaining your birds from them. Try to always buy younger birds to start your collection.

 

Good points to look for

Diamonds are birds that are very neat and tidy and appear that way just about all of the time, if the bird you are looking at does not appear that way then, don’t buy it! The feathers must be clean and tight. It is important that the vent is clean and not wet if it is get outta there quick! 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. Remember a sick Diamond is easy to spot.

Juvenile Diamond. Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Juvenile Diamond.
Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

The call and courtship dance of the male Diamond Firetail Finch are unforgettable and his bobbing antics with a blade of grass are a riot.

Faults to look for

Like I say a sick Diamond is easy to spot so if you see a bird that is not in good tight feather. If the bird is at all fluffed up on the perch or floor with its eyes closed, not bothering to open them when you touch the cage consider it to be one that won’t make it. Scaly legs, beak and overgrown toenails are a definite no, no. Watery eyes and a soiled vent also would be a problem – these birds stress very easily when moved and MOST birds with soiled vents will recover rapidly when treated with a good electrolyte mix and vitamins. However, if the feathers around the vent are matted then you have a real problem. A bird with its eyes closed, not bothering to open them when you touch the cage = not long for this world!

 

Aviary or breeding cabinet

I would not recommend keeping Diamonds in breeding cabinets or small aviaries. They tend to stress out when in confined spaces and that is when you get all types of problems with your birds. They also have a tendency to over eat and will get very fat very fast if allowed to overindulge in soft foods and plain canary seeds.

 

Breeding season

I found that the Diamonds will regulate themselves for breeding and that their season ranges from, here in Sydney, September to the end of April or just before the cold weather starts again. However, because of their large warm nests they will often successfully rear young even in the Tasmanian winter if kept in fully enclosed aviaries. I have also found that they generally do not breed in the hottest months of January and February, I also try to actively discourage them from breeding in those particular months if they are prone to going to nest at that time of year.

 

Off-season feeding

A Diamond that sits all day is going to get fatter! Along with the Parson finch, the Diamond is prone to obesity if one does not look after their birds in the right order. Always watch that they do not hog the soft food and that the off-season diet is made up of all of the right ingredients to avoid the obesity problems.

Should I feed soft foods?

The feeding of soft food is entirely up to the whims of the breeder/keeper. Although I do not feed a soft type mix to my Diamonds, I have not found that they need a soft food mix when they are supplied with loads of fresh seeding grasses. In fact the supply of fresh greens is usually all that they require to produce healthy young.

 

What green feed?

Green feed plays an important part in the breeding of the Diamond. Some of the grasses that I feed my Diamonds are; chickweed, endive, summer grass, winter grass, Guinea grass, Newcastle grass, Kale, milk thistles, shepherds purse and clover pulled from the ground with the earth still attached.

 

What live food?

I have fed; termites, gentles (maggots) small crickets, aphids and just about any other small crawly insects that I could find. Other live-food you can feed are the meal-worms and the vinegar fly (fruit fly).

 

Breeding season feeding

The above diet seems to do the Diamonds whenever they are breeding or not. That diet has not done mine any harm over the years. However, I do strive to limit their access to mealworms over the non-breeding season.

 

What age do they breed?

Diamonds will readily breed at an early age of around 5/6 months if they are allowed to. I have never let them breed until they have reached maturity of between 10/12 months of age. This also helps avoid egg binding problems in young hens.

Diamond Firetail Finches have a tendency to over eat and will get very fat very fast if allowed to overindulge in soft foods and plain canary seeds!

What if I lose a mate?

If a male is lost then it is important to introduce a couple of new hens into his aviary as soon as possible. Most commonly the male may not take a new partner for a long period of time but some will accept a newcomer almost immediately. When introducing a new mate it is a good idea to keep a close watch to see if the new bird is attacked - as sexing is difficult the reaction of the resident bird to the newcomer should make your job easier!

 

Nesting receptacles

Usually Diamonds prefer to build their own nests in the brush, but at times you do find the ones that tend to use nesting boxes, gourds, wire cylinders and logs. I don’t think that I have seen Diamonds nest in any other receptacle other than the ones mentioned.

 

Nesting materials

Lengths of grass about 8 to 10 inches long are ideal for the Diamond to use for nesting material. I have used mainly Couch, Rye and Kikuyu for this purpose and November or Pampas Grass for the inside lining. I always give a large amount of white feathers for the final lining of the nesting chamber. If you cannot obtain any of the aforementioned grasses then any long pliable type of green grasses would be useful. They also love Emu feathers for the internal lining of the nest. Some breeders give their birds shredded tissue paper.

 

The nest

The nest of the Diamond that is built in the brush attached to the side of your aviary is a sight in itself at times! They are a huge affair compared to say, the Star finch. The nest can be some 10 inches round with an entrance tunnel of some 8 to 10 inches in length. The nesting chamber is built in the middle of the huge nest and is lined with white feathers. The nest always shows the attempt at an entrance tunnel except, maybe, if your Diamonds were fostered!

Diamond Firetail, Cooleman Ridge NR.
Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Mating behaviour

The mating dance of the Diamond is pretty much the same as most of the grass finches with the cock holding an extra long piece of grass in the beak he begins to bob up and down. Whirring all of the time with his head tucked into his chest the bobbing can become so earnest that the bird starts to jump rather than bob. When the hen is ready to copulate she will show that she is ready by turning her tail towards the dancing male and crouching down.

 

Eggs

The usual clutch consists of around 4 to 6 eggs.

 

Brooding time

Brooding time can last as long as 14 to 15 days with Diamonds, mostly depending on the time of year your birds are breeding. I t is not uncommon for both of the parents to be in the nest at the same time during the brooding of the eggs.

 

Fledging time

The young fledge anywhere from 23 to 25 days.

 

Independence from the Parents

Although the young appear to be fully independent from the parents at 21 days I have found that the parents can feed them up to at least 30 days.

I have found Diamond Firetail Finches to be a good mixed aviary bird with their brilliant scarlet red, black and the white of their overall colour they tend to stand out in an aviary. With their extroverted behaviour they will soon form as one of your all time favourite finches.

 

How long do the young stay with the parents?

The young can be left with the parents without too many mishaps. I have had young Diamonds from previous nests invade the nests of their siblings. That is why I take the young from the parent’s aviary.

 

What do I feed the fledged young?

The Young birds may be fed the same diet as the parents.

 

When do I ring the young?

Young Diamonds are a difficult bird to ring if they are being parent raised. If you take the young from the nest to ring then the parents will almost every time desert the nest and leave the young to perish. Besides, to fully extract the young you would have to just about destroy the nest! It is better to ring your Diamonds with plastic split rings. I found that if you want to close ring your Diamonds then rear them under the Bengalese.

 

Separating the pairs

I have never separated my Diamonds during the course of the year as I have found that they will breed when they are good and ready and cease just as regularly! The sleep nest that they build will insulate them from the worst of the winter weather as long as you ensure that the nest is not against the tin of your aviaries – this causes a build up in condensation in the nest which can cause pneumonia in your birds.

 

Showing your bird

The Diamond is a very good show bird frequently taking the top honours at many shows. The judges will look for: Size and shape of the bird. Clean mandibles and legs. Tightness of the feathers and a lack of pinfeathers. The size and evenness of the chest band and the dots on the flanks. The evenness of the overall colouring of the bird.

Left: Rump Closeup.
Right: Closeup showing red in tail.

Gene pool

The gene pool of the Diamond in Australian aviaries is very secure at the time of writing.

 

Life expectancy

You can expect your Diamonds to live up to 8/10 years if kept in good draught free aviaries and fed the correct diet.

 

Common ailments

They are prone to fungal infections. A strict worming and coccidial program would always be essential to your Diamonds as they spend long periods searching about on the ground.

 

Summary

The Diamond is one of the earliest birds that I can remember handling along with the Zebra finch and the Chestnut finch. I used to trap them when I was a boy with my older brother out the back of St Mary's NSW when there were hundreds of them about and have always had a sort of special feeling towards them. I have found them to be a good mixed aviary bird with their brilliant scarlet red, black and the white of their overall colour they tend to stand out in an aviary. With their extroverted behaviour they will soon form as one of your all time favourite finches.

 

A Mugs View!

Here I go again, but I have had a fixation for these finches ever since I was a wee tacker and saw them in a bird shop in Tassy. All my breeding then became a way of obtaining a pair of these magnificent birds. When the day came and I exchanged my 90 Zebra finches for a pair of Diamonds I was ecstatic and set about installing them in their new aviary. Should both the Diamonds have pieces of grass and dance to each other? Obviously not, so I found I had two males and the bird people had no idea how to sex them either! I'll put in my two dollars worth and say that I like the 'out of sight but in earshot' method of sexing them but I am also the author of the "throw 6 in a cage and hope for 2 hens " line too!

Here is another sexing method - although by the time you observe this it may be too late! - if you have a number of Diamonds in your aviary count the number of nests and that should tell you how many males that you have. How do I know? Well, I purchased two more Diamonds and introduced them to the first two - "guaranteed 2 hens mate, trust me!" - and , after a week there were four huge nests that would have done justice to Birds of Prey!! Well, after this fantastic start I was determined to succeed. Birds were swapped and traded and, finally, 4 birds but only 3 nests! This pair was very prolific and produced 15 youngsters in no short time with very little input apart from heaps of green seeding grasses and soaked seed.

Diamond Firetail, Cooleman Ridge NR. Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Diamond Firetail, Cooleman Ridge NR.
Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Aviaries

In small flights it is best to limit your birds to a single pair as they can be disruptive to other finches and, if you have more than 1 pair of Diamonds, you will often find that only 1 pair actually breeds. I have seen this on several occasions in several different aviaries. Aviaries of about 3-5 metres long and around a metre in width would be best suited to a single pair. However, I have bred a single pair in a mixed collection of Orange Breasts, Cordon Bleus and Red Strawberries and all birds raised young and the Diamonds were no problem.  As I am rather taken with them I maintain my Diamonds on a colony basis. The aviary they occupy is 4.5 metres wide and 4 metres deep and there are 12 birds in this group. They are housed with Heck's Longtails, Chaffinches and Golden Song Sparrows - all birds well able to hold their own in mixed company. I am not sure exactly what it is but most birds appear to loathe Golden Song Sparrows and Diamonds are certainly no exception to this rule! There are numerous areas for the Diamonds to get away from each other should they wish to but most prefer to nest close to each other, for reasons only they know!

 

Nests

Footballs. That is the best description I can offer of the average Diamond Sparrow nest!! The structure has an outer shell of green grasses with a small woven funnel at the front. My birds have shown a preference for green Rye grass for the outer part over the years. The inner nest is usually composed of copious amounts of feathers, dog fur (German Shepherd preferred!!), Pampas grass and/or white tissue paper. As they are avid collectors of nesting material you must ensure that you provide heaps of different materials so they are not tempted to demolish the nests of other finches. I have only had them use nesting boxes on one occasion and these were birds fostered under Bengalese, needless to say they were useless for breeding purposes! In the colony system they will nest in close proximity to each other with minimal fighting and interference provided plenty of nesting materials are supplied.

 

Moving

These are one bird that will scour at the drop of a hat and this problem, unless treated immediately, can lead to the death of your bird. The scour is easy to see around the vent area and, if you watch closely, the birds droppings are very watery and sticky. We have found that by using the various electrolyte mixes available today (Glucodin, Vita Stress, Vita-B, Spark, to name but a few) most problems can be avoided. Before moving birds we put them onto one of these 'cocktails' for several days to build them up and repeat for a similar time once they arrive at their new home. If the symptoms persist then you may have a worm or coccidia problem - buy a microscope or see your vet!! 

The Diamond will spend long periods on the floor of the aviary and is, therefore, at risk of parasitic worms and, if there are wet areas in your flights, coccidia. For this reason I never keep them in anything with an open roof and I know of one breeder in northern NSW that keeps his Diamonds in exactly the same way - despite the average temperature there being around 35 degrees Celsius!! He experienced losses when they were kept in open flights and allowed to forage around wet floors.

A final word. The call and courtship dance of the male Diamond are unforgettable and his bobbing antics with that blade of grass are a riot. I have seen male Diamonds get so wound up with their 'bobbing' that other birds sharing their perch have been bounced off into space! I must admit I have been lucky in that I have never had any 'rogue Diamonds' but I must confess a number of my friends will no longer keep them because of their aggression to other smaller finches. A friend had a pair that used to delight in sneaking along and grabbing unsuspecting Double Bars and flicking them off the perch with extreme force! Purchase a pair with this in mind or simply keep them with birds that are well able to hold their own in mixed collections and you should be fine.

Diamond Firetail. Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography

Diamond Firetail.
Photo: Tobias Hayashi Photography


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