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The Orange-Breasted Waxbill -  Amandava subflava

     

This is the ideal finch for beginners, but also one which I will always keep as long as I breed finches. Orangebreasts are truly beautiful little birds. The smallest estrildid finch in the world and one of the most colourful. Well-coloured specimens never fail to impress the observer. Add to this their placid nature and willingness to breed freely and you have the ideal little aviary bird.

Although never referred to as an Avadavat, Orangebreasts clearly are the African Avadavat. They share a close genetic relationship with the true avadavats, particularly the red one (Strawberry Finch). They will readily cross with Red Strawberries so to house them together in a breeding aviary is a big no-no.

There are two natural subspecies. A.s. subflava is the northern form with slightly smaller body size and greater intensity and area of orange on the underparts of the male. A.s clarkei are more yellow-fronted and are a fraction larger than the nominate form. Australian aviary stocks are no longer kept true to sub-species form, however the high degree of natural variation within the species, allows us to selectively mate individuals strong in our most desired traits. I have a clear preference for the smaller body size and strong frontal orange colour on cocks and more intense yellow frontal colour on hens. I endeavour to constantly improve on these traits with my Orangebreasts.

The natural range of the species covers an enormous area within tropical and southern Africa. This indicates that they are reasonably adaptable to various aviary microclimates, however the ideal aviary situation ,as always, is warm and dry.

Within a typical mixed species aviary, Orangebreasts are a very placid species. They are an ideal common species to mix with rarer and more delicate species, as they seldom display any aggressive behaviour beyond bluff. Their lack of physical stature hardly equips them to be the dominant member of a mixed collection. They do well either as single pairs or in a colony.

                            

The dietary requirements of Orangebreasts are not too demanding, however they are capable of providing truly outstanding breeding results when their every whim is catered for. The basics of a good seed mix, grits, water and regular greens are required for base level sustenance. Of these the Pannicums are definitely their key preference, especially Red Pannicum. Live food is required for dependable breeding results, but for best output of young a regular supply of termites is the optimum. Other rearing foods mine consume are green seeds, Lebanese cucumber, sprouted seed, tonic seed and a few mealworms. If you only have the time or resources for a couple of these, I recommend the live termites and green seed for best breeding results. Other breeders also use artificial softfoods, however, Orangebreasts are generally not big softfood eaters.

I allow my pairs to breed between early March and late November. They will breed outside this period if allowed, however, they normally undergo a heavy moult around December-January and very little breeding occurs during this hot time of year.

They build a small fist-sized nest structure preferring finer grasses such as November grass for the main structure and a white feather lining. Due to the fine nature of the materials used, the nest is generally and fairly weak structure. For this reason, I prefer mine to use the smallest sized enclosed cane nest baskets, which they readily choose anyway. They also like to build their nests in tea-tree which I place at various heights in the covered section of the aviary.

The courtship ritual is the typical Avadavat one, usually performed entirely on the ground. Without a nest token the male will utter his delicate song whilst dancing around the hen with triangulated head and puffed out belly feathers. Mating immediately follows, often with the hen moving along the ground with the male riding her like a rodeo rider.

Clutch size varies from 3-6 with 4 or 5 most common. Australian aviary stocks are robust and genetically varied, which translates to high fertility and excellent ability to self-rear their young. Within the March to November breeding season my pairs normally rear at least four clutches. When young emerge from the nest they are tiny and dark with a tuft of white down on top of their head. At this stage they are small enough to poke their head through the normal half-inch wire mesh which may pose a risk of predation depending on aviary structure. For at least a few days the young are led back to roost in the nest at night. Whilst begging to be fed by the parents, the young raise the wing on the opposite side of their body from the parent. This, too is a typical Avadavat habit.

Provided they are treated regularly for worms and coccidia, Orangebreasts are generally a hardy species. I worm my birds every three months as a preventative measure. In doing so, I alternate between several different wormers to avoid any resistance to the chosen wormer. I treat for coccidia immediately following any rainy periods.

Given that such a beautiful bird is so common and relatively inexpensive they represent outstanding value when considering a finch to keep and breed. Little wonder they are so popular.

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GRAHAM AND LEONIE BULL l COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA