Article kindly provided by Glenn Johnson

The first time I saw a pair of Saffron finches, other than in books, was in the aviary complex of Mr. John Albert at Yerrinbool in the Southern Highland south-west of Sydney. At first glance, they look like a canary, much the same as many of the Siskin species. They appealed to me straight away so the search for a pair started. John didn’t have any at the time, however he did warn me about their reputation for being aggressive – so be careful.

Some three years later, I happened to be taking some photos at “Oxley Aviaries” at Wauchope on the mid-north coast of NSW. Apart from some beautiful Pin-tailed Whydah, Red-shouldered Whydah and a variety of native and foreign finches, low and behold some Saffron Finches. So after a little bit of bargaining and a hell of a lot of begging I acquired a pair. What puzzled me was that he had his Saffron’s in a mixed collection and claimed to have no fighting problems.

Saffron finches come from South America and range from Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. According to Russell Kingston’s excellent book “Keeping and Breeding Finches and Seed-Eaters”, they live in lightly forested areas and open grass country.

The good thing about Saffron Finches in that they are sexually dimorphic, so sexing isn’t a problem. The cock birds are slightly larger than the hens and also carry the green and yellow plumage, unlike the hen’s streaky grey colouring. The cock birds’ colour intensifies during the breeding season as well as becoming richer in colour each year.

The aviary I keep my Saffron’s in housed a pair of Parsons, Cordons, Parrot finches, Painteds and Gouldians. This aviary measures seven foot high, six foot wide and 16 foot deep with a well inclosed shelter, the flight is planted with various potted shrubs and grasses.

Saffron finches are not particularly fussy eaters; in fact they will usually take to most foods. I supply a good quality finch mix with a few extra seed varieties during the breeding season. Black and white lettuce seed as well as a bit of niger is added to the finch mix when nesting starts. I supply a soft food which is plain sponge cake, Polenta and “Wombarroo” soft food mix; they receive this mix three times a week when not nesting and daily when nesting and I supply Bush fly maggots and mealworms. Termites are a favourite if you can keep up the supply.

Greenfood is given every second day and comprises of various seeding grasses as well as vegetable including corn on the cob, Lebanese cucumber, endives and silverbeet. I supply apples to some soft bills I keep and the Saffron’s do have a pick over it. I have a supply of cuttlebone and mix grits available all the time.

Nesting can be anywhere between September to April. The courtship usually commences with the cock birds chasing the hen around the aviary until she gives up trying to escape his advances, when she finally settles down he will sit down beside her and start dancing and flapping his wings whilst singing. They will build their own nest in shrubbery however show a real liking for nest boxes. Most people that I have talked to believe they have had their best results in nest boxes placed high in the aviary. November grass, feathers and coconut fibre as well as teased Hessian are supplied. Five to seven eggs can be laid, however I have only experience two nests of four. They have white eggs covered in brownish red spots similar to Song Sparrows and Cubans. Incubation is done by the hen alone with cock birds guarding nearby. After thirteen days the chicks hatch and grow quickly, fledging at around three weeks. Nest inspection at this time is not recommended as the chicks will abandon the nest easily and won’t stay put when placed back in the nest. The chicks are able to look after themselves not long after fledging; it’s advisable to move them shortly after as some cock birds will kill their chicks. Once the young are removed, most hens will go back to nest.

Saffron’s do have a few problems; some cocks are overly aggressive to their own mates and young. Some pairs bond so strongly that if you lose one it’s hard to get the remaining bird to accept a new mate. They do live a long life so be sure when you are purchasing them that you can trust the supplier as to how old they are; otherwise you may be purchasing Senior Citizens. Apart from these few points normal husbandry practises regarding worming and coccidia treatments should take place.

In conclusion, although they can be hard to purchase and some individuals have a reputation to being a little stroppy, they have a fascinating personality and hold a reputation as a challenging species, so why not give them a go.

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.