The Green Singing Finch, Serinus mozambicus is the most popular member of the Fringillidae family in Australian aviculture. Green Singers, as they are affectionately known, have the very unique combination of strikingly attractive predominantly yellow plumage and a beautifully melodic song which has ensured their ongoing popularity in finch breeders’ aviaries. Their alternate common name, Yellow-fronted Canary although not used in Australia is an apt description both in terms of the bird’s appearance and the fact that they are a part of the same genus as the domestic canary, Serinus canaria.

For many years there has been considerable conjecture and uncertainty as to exactly which of the 11 recognised subspecies we have in captivity in Australia. Over this period of conjecture our captive Green Singers have continued to ‘evolve’ as the features of the original few subspecies merged through interbreeding into the bird we have today. The species has a natural range encompassing a large portion of the sub-Saharan African continent which includes a diversity of habitat types and climatic influences. I wish to examine in some detail the taxonomic origins of our current captive stocks of Green Singers in order to firmly ascertain exactly which form(s) of a varied species we are dealing with in our care.

In order to adequately address the correct taxonomy of our current aviary stocks of the Green Singing Finch we must look back at the history of this species in Australian aviculture. When I first encountered this species in the mid 1970s there were two clearly discernable races available at the time. These were readily identified as the Little Green Singer and the Large or Mozambique Singer. I have been told by older finch breeders that before the 1970s the Large Singer was the more commonly kept of the two forms. From about the mid 1970s onwards there was a significant inverse relationship emerge as the Little Singer grew in numbers whilst the Large Singer showed a corresponding decline. In those early days Green Singers of either form were never common. As the Little Singer population expanded, they did so at such a rate that the Green Singing Finch became quite a common sight in finch breeders’ aviaries.

The larger race is now effectively extinct from captivity in it’s pure form. The unique features of the Large Singer are a pale tip on the tail which is yellow on males and a paler cream colour on females. Female Large Singers lacked any necklace spots which characterises females of the smaller form. The brightness of the yellow frontal areas on the larger race was also much paler and less intense than the Little Singer. This paleness of yellow areas was especially noticeable on males where the grey-green ground colour would partially encroach well into the yellow area, particularly along the flanks. Apart from this paleness of yellow areas, the Large Singer perfectly matches the features of the nominate subspecies of the Green Singing Finch, S.m.mozambicus. S.m.mozambicus covers a far larger natural range than any of the other recognized subspecies, so it is a distinct possibility that there may be some natural geographic variation within the subspecies resulting in some wild populations of this form exhibiting paler yellow colouration. Bearing this possibility in mind, it is fair to say that the Large Green Singer was either a paler (and taxonomically unrecognised) form of S.m.mozambicus or a different subspecies altogether with very similar features to mozambicus.

The various subspecies of the Green singer vary in size from 105mm (such as S.m.caniceps) to 130mm (such as S.m.mozambicus). By far the most strikingly attractive Green Singers I have ever seen were the particularly small birds (about the size of a Strawberry Finch) which were available in captivity up to around 20 years ago. In hindsight, these were almost certainly purer examples of the subspecies S.m.caniceps. S.m.caniceps and S.m.punctigula are the only two subspecies which exhibit the characteristic necklace of darker spots on hens as seen on Australian captive stocks. This necklace can vary from an unconnected row of pale grey spots to quite an intensely defined thicker band of blackish markings up to about 5mm thick on some especially well marked hens. This degree of variation is partly due to some remnants of Large Singer genes within the current captive population which has the effect of diluting the extent of the necklace. There is also some natural variation within the caniceps and punctigula subspecies for this trait. These factors combined with multi-generational selective breeding for or against stronger necklace features by various finch breeders have all contributed to the variation in the necklace we see today.

Since caniceps and punctigula are the only two of the recognized subspecies to naturally exhibit the hen’s necklace, this confirms that one or both of these forms are the original source for Australian captive stocks of the Little Singer. Other distinguishing features of these subspecies confirm that we have genetic input from both caniceps and puntigula. Caniceps is the smallest subspecies, has grey between the nape and crown and has yellow extending right up to the base of the lower mandible. These plumage features match my current Green Singer breeding stock. Punctigula is slightly larger and is uniquely characterised by a small white area on the chin which I have observed in some captive specimens in other breeders’ aviaries. Both of these subspecies originate in the extreme North-western parts of the species’ natural range. This part of Africa is the most tropical part of the entire African continent experiencing a moist tropical wet season in Summer. This explains why our Green Singers are Winter breeders. In their wild range, Winter temperatures are not cold and the peak in growth of seeding grasses coincides with the end of the Summer wet season which best facilitates breeding activity from then onwards as is the case with many of our other finches from tropical latitudes.

The seasonality of breeding activities for the Little and Large Singers was a clear contrast when both forms were well established. Little Singers were strict seasonal ‘Winter’ breeders from April to October, whereas Large Singers had a Spring to early Summer breeding season lasting from August to December. This points to the Large form being of a more southern (temperate climate zone) natural range compared to the above-mentioned northern (tropical climate zone) Little Singer where breeding for most birds is concentrated after the tropical wet season which lasts until late Summer. As the captive population for the Large Singer shrank and some of their dwindling numbers were ‘incorporated’ into the Little Singer stocks, the breeding season for the Little Singer curiously expanded to start from as early as February and extend to as late as December.

As the relative fortunes of the Large and Little races ebbed and flowed over time their partial integration of genes saw the residual stocks not only change in the seasonality of their breeding efforts but also in their physical proportions and plumage features. Very few birds now show prominent Large Singer features, however subtle influences of their genes remain. The average size of Green Singers in our aviaries today is definitely larger than the Little Singer of 40, 30 or even 20 years ago. This is due partly to the influence of Large Singer blood and also that of S.m.punctigula, being the larger of the spotted necklaced hen subspecies, becoming further mixed with the smaller S.m.caniceps stock. This growth in size is also partly attributable to the widespread obsession by many aviculturists that extra size is a universally desirable feature in all species of birds kept and bred. This belief influences decisions when selecting breeding stock which in turn translates to larger offspring. It doesn’t take too many generations for this selective breeding influence to have a widespread effect on the features of the captive population as a whole. Whilst I also admire and enjoy the sight of good quality birds which exhibit impressive body size in certain species, I feel it is overwhelmingly vital to preserve the most desirable natural features of any species. In some species it is their small size which is a very large part of their overall appeal, particularly where the mixing of subspecies or hybrids with other related species has slurred the purity of the captive gene pool. When this is the case, the key to maintaining quality stocks is to attempt to restore and maintain smaller sized stock when making selection decisions for prospective future breeding birds. For this reason Green Singers are one species which I like to see smaller sized birds rather than large. Other species which constantly require moderating their body size for the same reason are Red Siskins, Orange-breasted Waxbills, Tri-coloured Parrotfinches and Lesser Redbrows. I appeal to you to please consider this when selecting breeding stock for Green Singers and these other few species and I strongly urge you to pick the best quality smaller birds to breed from.

Our captive Green Singer stocks are now quite domesticated, which leads to them being able to comfortably adapt to a wide range of cage and aviary environments. In fact, they can be productively housed in anything from a conventional breeding cabinet up to the very largest of outdoor aviaries. My firm belief is that they are at their absolute best when housed in larger outdoor aviaries in which they can demonstrate the full extent of their graceful undulating flight and beautiful whistle in fresh air and natural sunshine. As always warmth, dryness and mouse-proofing are the over-riding considerations when siting, designing and constructing an ideal finch aviary. Singers enjoy the additional foraging opportunities and nest site options afforded by a planted aviary but aviary plants are certainly not a necessity for success. A well planted aviary is also a very useful consideration in providing extra escape and hiding options for other finches occupying the aviary should the adult male Singer become over-zealous in enforcing his nesting territory.

The territorial instincts of adult male Singers are thankfully confined solely to their breeding season. The aggression levels displayed will vary widely between individivual birds from totally placid and undetectable to extreme dominance of the perceived nest territory creating an absolutely miserable day to day existence for any other bird sharing the enclosure. In managing these worst case aggressive males I often resort to removing several flight feathers from one wing of the aggressor to allow the other aviary occupants a chance to comfortably feed and breed. The most common instances of this nesting territoriality are a swift expulsion of any finch which approaches the immediate vicinity of the nest. As a result of this variable aggressive behaviour by Singer males, as a precaution I only house the more boisterous and domesticated other finch species with Singers in a breeding aviary. Particular species I avoid housing with Singers are Cubans (aggression risk), Siskins (hybrid risk) and any totally placid species which absolutely require a totally uncompetitive environment in which to breed well. Examples of ideal species to mix with Singers are any of the Parrotfinches and Munias, Melbas and the larger native Grassfinches. Any other cup-nesting fringillid finches (including canaries) pose a real risk of hybrids being produced if sharing a breeding enclosure with Green Singers.

Aviary fit out to suit Green Singers should take into account that like many fringillid species they prefer to feed, roost and nest well above the ground. Bunches of densely vegetated branches fixed to the walls in the upper half of the aviary are preferred nest sites. They will also use open canary nest cup receptacles where the vegetation in the aviary is not to their liking. Separate ‘islands’ of branches can be spaced around the enclosed part of the aviary so that the Singers’ nesting territory can hopefully be confined to one of these allowing other species sufficient unencumbered nest sites in the other bunches. Raised shelf or table style feeding platforms are much preferred by the birds to ground based feeding. Green grass seed heads, broadleaf greens, Lebanese cucumber pieces, etc can be simply pegged or skewed at perch height for easy elevated access.

Breeding pairs are best housed as a single pair per aviary for optimum breeding results. If housed in adjoining aviaries they may distract each other and act aggressively to their neighbouring pairs albeit rarely resulting in any actual physical harm to either party. Notwithstanding this, the ideal situation is to avoid the obvious distraction and competition which this situation can produce and not house pairs side by side. I know of some instances where colonies of several pairs of Green Singers have been housed in the same large planted aviary however, I have not heard of any such situation resulting in especially good breeding outcomes. It is also possible for several females to be mated to one male, but there again I don’t know of any great success with such a mating arrangement for Singers. I have tried trios of two females housed in a breeding aviary with one male a couple of times in the past and each time the result was significant competitive aggression between the hens to such an extent that serious breeding was completely overlooked until one hen was removed.

At the commencement of the breeding season the male will regularly sing his beautiful canary-like whistling trill. Although not generally quite as impressive as a domestic canary song it is nonetheless very pleasing to hear - certainly far more impressive than the courtship song of most other finch species. The male will generally alight directly in front of and facing the hen to deliver his song. If at this stage she is sufficiently impressed she will sometimes reciprocate with a far less musical yet pleasant whistle of her own and point her beak upwards to solicit courtship feeding by the male who then feeds regurgitated food to her in the same manner as they would later feed their own young. The courtship singing and feeding ritual can take place many times prior to actual mating taking place. In fact most times I see the courtship ritual it takes place on the wire mesh wall of the aviary where mating is not possible. Only when the ritual is performed on a perch will the pair mate at its conclusion.

The commencement of nest building is usually heralded by the male carrying nesting material as if to encourage the female to do so. The female alone carries out the real nest building process with material bundled tightly in the bill rather than the usual estrildid finch method of one piece at a time held by one end of the material. Although Green Singers highly favour soft fluffy nesting materials such as cottonwool, kapok, etc. and will gladly construct the whole nest out of this cosy stuff, it is very important for breeding success that they first shape the nest cup with firmer and more structurally sound fibrous material such as coconut fibre, fine grasses and teased pieces of stringy eucalyptus bark. Once the initial shape is formed by these materials it is then safe for them to use short pieces of teased hessian, cottonwool, cotton waste and plumber’s hemp. If the birds are allowed to use the softer materials alone, a common outcome is a failed breeding attempt as the nest shape distorts during incubation and brooding to a flatter or tilted position which very often results in eggs and/or young falling from the nest. Therefore it is a key essential that adequate quantities of the firmer structural materials are made available to them. It should also be noted that synthetic cottonwools, due to their superior filament strength, pose a danger to the legs and feet of adult birds and a choking or tangling hazard to nest-bound young. Only natural cottonwool is recommended as a nesting material - Woolworths Home Brand is a good one.

Once the nest is complete the hen will usually lay a clutch of 3 or 4 eggs which she incubates alone for 13 days. Good breeding males will regularly feed the hen regurgitated food as she incubates but still allow her to leave the nest for brief feeds herself throughout the day. Some particularly aggressive males will physically chase the hen relentlessly until she returns to the nest. These males are more likely to aggressively evict other finches from the perceived nest territory and hence pose a significant potential hazard to other species sharing a mixed species breeding aviary.

Dependent young are fed by both parents. They usually leave the nest at around 18 to 20 days after hatching and are fed by the parents for further 2 to 3 weeks. Independent young Green Singers are generally passive occupants of a breeding aviary and do not pose any obvious intrusive threat to the parents or other breeding finches that I have noticed. However, I have consistently found that subsequent renesting by the parents is delayed when independent young Singers are left in the breeding aviary well beyond their rearing phase. Within the breeding season, removal of independent young to holding aviaries nearly always results in a virtually immediate commencement of the following nesting attempt by my breeding pairs.

Green Singers are generally a fairly long-lived finch species which from a breeding perspective usually results in their most productive breeding efforts occurring from their second breeding season onwards. Young bred early in the season can breed themselves from the start of the following breeding season however those birds produced from later rounds may not be sufficiently mature to breed until the latter half of the following season. Either way, young Green Singer breeding pairs which experience a relatively unproductive first breeding season should be persevered with as in most instances the following year will bring more consistent breeding outcomes.

Green Singers enjoy a varied breeding diet. They will readily take the usual dry finch seed mixes of the various millets and canary seed but will also readily enjoy additional oilseeds such as niger, rape, maw, and sunflower kernels. Despite the higher fat content of the oilseeds, like other fringillid finch species, Green Singers rarely suffer from obesity if housed in aviaries so these foods are entirely beneficial if fed in moderation.

I regard Singers as being avid green food eaters and will eagerly consume any seeding grasses, various weeds (such as chickweed, dandelion and milk thistle), vegetables (eg. Lebanese cucumber, broccoli, peas, sweet corn, and any green leafy types like bok choy, chicory, etc), sprouted seeds, and fruits (Apple, pear, capsicum cores).

Singers will keenly consume various softfood options such as egg & biscuit mixes, madiera cake, and finch softfood powders combined into various recipes. Live insect food is also readily taken especially immediately prior to egg-laying and even more keenly throughout the entire rearing period once young have hatched. They will readily take to either termites, mealworms or maggots or any combination of these. Livefood is not essential for breeding success with Green Singers especially if they are given a dependable regular supply of various green foods with some softfood as a protein source. However, it is usually the case that slightly larger clutches of young are reared and with far greater consistency when some regular insect food is available to breeding pairs.

Given their reluctance to spend much time on the ground, they have a slightly reduced incidence of internal worm parasites, coccidia and some bacterial infections compared to most of the typical estrildid finches. I still recommend preventative worming at least twice a year especially given their propensity to eat live insects which are a possible host source for certain parasites. Mine are wormed more regularly than this as the species they share their enclosures with are more prone to these infestations so it’s a case of one in all in. Fringillid species such as Green Singers do seem to be more likely to be affected by scaly mite and mosquito bites. Both of these are most evident around the legs, feet and face. Scaly mite results in obvious flaky scaliness of the feet and legs sometimes associated with inflamed skin irritation around the face and eyes. This is effectively treated with Ivomectin (sheep & goat strength) which can be diluted into drinking water at 12ml/litre or spotted directly onto the skin on the back of the bird &/or on the affected legs themselves. I have found that mosquito bites can sometimes be prevented from becoming infected with a light application of Savlon antiseptic cream.

Another notable physical welfare issue for Singers is that when they are to be held in the hand out of a catching net or cage, extreme caution is required. They will often try to squirm out your grip by retracting their head using leverage from their shoulders. Their attempts to do this can result in wing dislocation if you do not carefully ensure that their wings are held securely to their body with no room to lever out of position. Any mobility injury such as this on a bird with such a graceful flight like a Green Singer is a grossly disappointing sight - a bit like seeing a cheetah with a limp.

A recessive (possibly sex-linked) cinnamon mutation has existed for quite a few years in captivity in Australia without yet reaching establishment point.

If you are considering a new finch species for your collection which doesn’t require any particularly complex aviary needs and is a little bit different in many ways to the more common estrildid finches which we usually start off with, I can highly recommend the Green Singing Finch. A beautiful bird which offers a unique combination of behaviour, breeding biology and song to any finch aviary.

The Green Singing Finch (Serinus mozambicus)

Taxonomy and Aviculture