Painted Firetail Finch. Photo: Mark Helle

Painted Firetail Finch. Photo: Mark Helle

Article kindly provided by Glenn Johnson

This beautiful Australian native would nearly have more local names than any other finch that I can think of. Depending on what part of the country you’re in. Emblas, Emblema Pictas, Painteds, True Paints are all names that I have heard this species being referred as.

Obviously, one name would be preferable; however, everyone seems to want to name him. Whatever these birds are called, it’s very hard to find another bird that is as confining and tame in your aviary.

In The Wild

Painteds inhabit a wide area through Western Queensland, Northern South Australia, Central Australia into Central Western Australia. They live in rather harsh areas usually Spinifex covered and fairly rocky. I remember watching a video put out by G.E.O. on Australian Grass Finches, and in this video it showed excellent footage of how these species uses it rather long pointed beak in probing for seeds and insects amongst the Spinifex rocks.

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Sexing

Painted Firetails have the huge advantage for aviculturists being sexually dimorphic. The cocks have much brighter red faces, bellies and rumps, some individual cocks can sport red that carries down the face through the chest and into the belly, these individuals are quiet spectacular and are highly sort after. Hens have less red over their bodies, and although they have more spots, they are a little duller. The young, when they fledge are quiet drab, and show no hints to what sex they will be. The colours they will eventually posses are there but very dull and take some months before it blossoms out.

Housing

Painteds can, and will breed in a variety of situations. I have a friend who regularly breeds them successfully in a large breeding cabinet in a bird room. At the other end of the scale, I have seen them kept in large planted flights as big as tennis courts. These birds adapt to their given environment very easily.

There are a few points that they do need to keep them in good health. These natives do need a dry and warm aviary, if this cannot be provided you will be well and truly behind the eight ball. They seek out sunshine, and are often seen sitting in a sunny spot in your aviary during cold winter mornings. Aviaries that become wet and do not dry out, particularly during winter are like a death sentence to them. Planted aviary’s are fine, but make sure they are in sunny spots, so that they can soak up the sun. A well-drained and dry aviary floor is a must, as well as a good warm shelter that they can retreat to if needed.

A beautiful, confiding species, that breeds well given the right conditions. They have a delightful call, which adds to their personality. They truly are a must have species.

Feeding

My Painteds receive a standard Finch mix during the non-breeding season. At this time they receive live food twice a week (mealworms, maggots and termites) green food three times a week. Grit, charcoal, cuttlebone and crushed fowl shells are available all year round.

As the weather warms and breeding season starts, I boost the seed with niger, maw, extra red millet and black and white lettuce seed. I also supply an extra dish with Peppers, greens and grains. Live food is supplied daily as well as the green food. Chickweed, thistles, millet sprays, summer grass and African velt grass are all accepted. I personally stopped feeding egg and biscuit a few years back, however, if your birds take it great.

 Painted Firetail Finches. Photo: Jim Bendon

Painted Firetail Finches. Photo: Jim Bendon

Mixing

This species is non-aggressive and will mix very well with nearly all species. I do however prefer to mix them with quieter birds. They mix well with most of the smaller waxbills Cordons, Ruddies, Orange Breasts, St Helena’s etc. when mixed with larger, more flighty birds they could become nervous. Diamonds, Longtails, Parsons, Cutthroats, and Melbas are such species, which can make Painteds nervous.

My Painteds are housed in single pairs mixed with other species. I have tried colonies and have had mixed results. I found that they bred more successfully when housed singularly.

Breeding

Painteds are not a difficult species to breed, once settled into their aviary they soon check it out thoroughly. They are an inquisitive bird and like to check out the lie of the land.

Once mating takes place, I boost up the quality and variety of their seed and live food, at the same time nesting material of November grass (swamp grass, feathers, coconut fibre, Pampas grass flowers and various lengths of coarse grasses. Painteds will build their nests in a variety of areas. Some build in live growing shrubs in the aviary, tea tree branches lining the shelter, nest boxes, cane nests and wire cylinders. I have twelve pairs and all of mine nest from low to medium height, I have never had them nest in a high position.

In the wild this species will use small sticks and pebbles to build a platform to build their nest on; this is believed to give some protection from the sharp Spinifex they build their nests in. This trait can be carried on by certain pairs in captivity; I have pairs that use crushed tile I have on the flight floor and other pairs who do not. In all my aviaries I have baskets hung on the walls of my shelter, which I place nesting material and everyone is used by my Painteds to build in.

Fertility is fairly good with the average nest being four; my birds allow some nest inspection but don’t over do it. On an average most Painted chicks will stay in the nest for the full period, and when they fledge can fly fairly well. They incubate 14 days with both parents taking turns, however only the hen sits at night. The chicks fledge at around 21 days. It is not uncommon for the cocks to feed the fledglings whilst the hen tidies up the old nest and commence nesting again. It is important not to be too quick in removing the young from the parents, as they can stress and go backwards so leave them in with the parents as they don’t cause any drama with future breeding.

Painteds are not a difficult species to breed, once settled into their aviary they soon check it out thoroughly. They are an inquisitive bird and like to check out the lie of the land.

Health

The main problems that this species get is sores on feet, legs, beaks and eyes from mosquito bites, the only other species of birds that I personally have heard about having the same problem was Scarlet Chested Parrots.

So, if you live on the coast or in a high mosquito area, be aware of this potential problem.

Treatment for worms and Coccidia should be carried out on a regular basis. They are a ground bird, so keep your aviaries clean and especially DRY. If your aviaries don’t receive sunshine especially during the winter and trend to stay wet during cold days, forget this species.

 Painted Firetail Finch, yellow colour mutation. Photo: Roy Peake

Painted Firetail Finch, yellow colour mutation. Photo: Roy Peake

Mutations

The most common mutation available is the Yellow. The red areas on a normal bird are replaced by yellow. This particular colour is a favourite of mine and I have quite a few of them.

There are reports of Fawns and Pieds however I haven’t personally seen any as yet. Pieds sound very intriguing however, some years ago I was fortunate to see some mutations come into Alan Parmenters Bird Shop in Fairfield (Sydney).

Those birds, six in total, where normal in every way except for the back being replaced by a beautiful Silver Blue much the same as a Blue King Quail.

 Painted Firetail Finch. Photo: Mark Helle

Painted Firetail Finch. Photo: Mark Helle

Conclusion

A beautiful, confiding species, that breeds well given the right conditions. They have a delightful call, which adds to their personality. They truly are a must have species.