The African Silverbill Finch

African Silverbill8,10,11,12,13,21,23
Lonchura cantans
African Silverbill
Hardiness:Fairly hardy
Singing ability:Somewhat pleasant
Compatibility:Passive, mixes well with other passive species
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:4.25" (11 cm)
Approx. cost:$15-$20 (US) per bird

Other common names

Silverbill, Warbling Silverbill, Black-rumped Silverbill


Africa and the Middle East

Area of distribution

In the northern parts of tropical Africa just south of the Sahara, east Africa from Somalia to central Tanzania, and southwestern Arabia.



Peaceful, highly social, active.

Physical descriptions

The head and back are a yellowish brown, while the rump and upper tail coverts are black; the rest of the tail is blackish brown as are the wings (which have barring on the secondary wing feathers); the breast, sides, and belly are a pale yellow brown; the beak and eyelids are silver. Note: the Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabarica, also known as the Common Silverbill, White-rumped Silverbill, White throated Munia, or White-throated Silverbill) looks nearly identical to the African Silverbill, but its rump is white instead of black and it lacks the barring on its secondaries. Both the Indian and African Silverbill require similar care.

The African Silverbill comes in several mutations (mostly available outside of the US), including: Chocolate (darker solid brown version of the bird), Fawn (light brown version), Red-brown or Cinnamon (a richer, brighter reddish brown version), and Ino (white).


Sexes look similar, but only cock birds will sing.


The male African Silverbill's song is a rising then falling pattern of rapidly repeated notes which forms a sweet trill. Songs vary noticeably among individual males. The Indian Silverbill's song sounds different as it is shorter and more abrupt.

African Silverbill cock singing (.mp3, .2 MB)


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Juvenile African Silverbills.

Photo by Håkan Gabrielsson
African Silverbills - photo by Håkan Gabrielsson.

African Silverbill by Julie Dewilde
African Silverbill - photo by Julie Dewilde.

Photo by Philippe Boissel
African Silverbill with nesting material - photo by Philippe Boissel.

Photo by Per Lindquist
African Silverbills allo-preening - photo by Per Lindquist.

Photo by Robert Le Corre
African Silverbill - photo by Robert Le Corre.

Photo by Thom Haslam
African Silverbills - photo by Thom Haslam.

Photo by Isidro Vila Verde
African Silverbill in the wild - photo by Isidro Vila Verde.

Photo by Thom Haslam
African Silverbill - photo by Thom Haslam.

Photo by Keith Alderman
African Silverbills in Hawaii (where they have been introduced) - photo by Keith Alderman.

Pictures of Indian Silverbills:
Indian Silverbill
Indian Silverbill - notice the white rump.

Indian Silverbill

Photo by Shrikant Rao
Photo by Shrikant Rao

Favorite foods

Green food, millet (large and small grained), egg food. The Indian Silverbill may also eat some small insects and soaked seeds.

Natural habitat

In semi-desert country near water, arid country with thorn bushes, grassy areas with acacias, dry savannahs, and in cultivated and inhabited areas. African Silverbills have also been introduced into Hawaii and Puerto Rico and are breeding there. (Indian Silverbills, however, tend to live near fields, semi-desert, secondary jungle, open woodland, on steppes, or in grass thickets or gardens in India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.)


Outside of the mating season, African Silverbills live in large flocks with communal roosting. While breeding, they form loose colonies. The pair bond is often strong enough that the birds will continue to raise broods together year after year. Flock members often mutually allo-preen each other, and engage in "peering" at singing individuals. They may take a few days to fully accept new additions to their flock.

Special considerations

Although they are nest sleepers, providing Silverbills with a nest for roosting is optional. These birds enjoy climbing, so consider providing them with a "thicket" of nontoxic branches if their enclosure is large enough to accommodate it (while still leaving ample room for flying). Hybrids have occurred between the two species of Silverbills (African and Indian, producing fertile birds with pink-edged feathers on their rumps), as well as between Silverbills with other closely related species of munias (Lonchura bicolor, L. maja, L. fringilloides, L. cucullata, L. castaneothorax, and society finches), Zebra finches, Pin-tailed Parrotfinches, Strawberry finches, Common waxbills, Gold-breasted waxbills, Black-rumped waxbills, Red-browed Firetail finches (Aegintha temporalis), and Cherry finches (Neochmia modesta), so be careful not to allow interbreeding if housing these species in the same enclosure. The Indian Silverbill has reportedly hybridized with L. cantans, L. atricapilla, L. castaneothorax, Cut-throat finches, Shaft-tail finches, and Zebra finches.

Breeding season

In the wild, African Silverbills start breeding during the second half of the rainy season, though they may also breed during the dry season.

Breeding tips

Silverbills can be bred in either a cage or aviary setting. A male will court a female by holding nesting material in his beak, thrusting up and down, and singing to her with his head and tail angled toward her. He may drop the nesting material and begin to sway to and fro, as well. If the female is receptive, she may respond with a similar display (she does not sing, however) and/or crouch and quiver her tail to solicit copulation. (An eager, unpaired hen may initiate the courtship display towards a male by flying to him with grass in her beak, thrusting up-and-down, and then crouching and quivering her tail.) After copulation, pairs may beak-fence leading to allo-preening. Pairs may choose to build a nest with a side entrance in a natural site or, if available, preferentially make use of a nesting box, basket, or another species' nest (such as an old weaver nest). Interestingly, when building their own nest, some silverbills will make the entrance hole face a wall or the back of their nest box so that it is not as easily accessible. Provide coconut fiber, dried grass, and feathers for nesting materials. Usually only the male will gather the materials. Egg food should be given to pairs for chick rearing; live food may uncommonly be appreciated but is not necessary. Pairs do not tend to tolerate nest checks while they are incubating eggs or brooding their young. Newly hatched chicks are dark-skinned and naked and have waxy yellow gape swellings. The chicks may remain fairly quiet in the nest until the parents stop brooding them at around 10 days of age. For several days after the young fledge, the parents will often lead them back to the nest for roosting at night. The juvenile's beak is dark but gradually lightens over the first few weeks.

Life Cycle

Clutch size:3-6 eggs
Incubation date:After the third egg is laid. Both birds sleep in the nest at night.
Hatch date:After 11-13 days of incubation
Fledge date:At 21 days of age
Wean date:5-6 weeks of age
First molt:3 months of age

Related Article(s)

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African Silverbills

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