The African Silverbill Finch

African Silverbill8,10,11,12,13,21,23,31,34,35,37,40, 41
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)
Weight:9.5-10.5 grams
Approx. cost:$15-$20 (US) per bird

Other common names

African Silverbill: Silverbill, Warbling Silverbill, Black-rumped Silverbill

Subspecies L. c. orientalis is also known as the East African Silverbill, Common Silverbill

The Indian Silverbill (L. malabarica) is known as the White-rumped Silverbill or White-throated Munia


African Silverbill: Africa and the Middle East

Indian Silverbill: India and the Middle East

Area of distribution

African Silverbill (see map): In the northern parts of tropical Africa just south of the Sahara, east Africa from Somalia to central Tanzania, and southwestern Arabia.


The Indian Silverbill is distributed from Eastern Saudi Arabia east to Bangladesh and is present in most of India and Sri Lanka.


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. Subspecies L. c. orientalis is slightly darker above with more pronounced barring, and paler below. Juveniles are similar to adults but their underparts are paler.

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)
  • Dark-bellied (undersides are deep chocolate brown) - autosomal recessive
  • Fawn (light brown version)
  • Red-brown or Cinnamon (a richer, lighter reddish brown version) - sex-linked recessive
  • Ino (white) - sex-linked recessive

The Indian Silverbill comes in several mutations including:
  • Opal (bird becomes pale grey overall) - autosomal recessive
  • Cinnamon (a lighter reddish brown version) - sex-linked recessive
  • Pastel - autosomal recessive
  • White


Sexes look similar, but only cock birds will sing. Cocks may have a marginally bolder/broader head with broader and less pointed bill; in the sunlight, the male's tail is black whereas the hen's has a brownish tint.


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 Hakan 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 Gisela Braun
African Silverbill - photo by Gisela Braun.

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 Harjeet Singh
Indian Silverbill - photo by Harjeet Singh.

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 and may mix with grey-headed silverbills. They feed mostly on the ground and take small insects. 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.

While breeding, African silverbills form loose colonies. The pair bond is often strong enough that the birds will continue to raise broods together year after year. Pairs build domed nests in thorn bushes, long grasses, and may use the old nests of other birds. Indian silverbill pairs may share nests and hens may combine up to 25 eggs in a single nest.

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). Silverbills enjoy taking dust baths and can be provided with a tray of clean, "virgin" soil occasionally. This species does well in a mixed community, however, they may try to take over other birds' occupied nests and disrupt their breeding. Hailing from warm and arid regions, Silverbills should not be exposed to temperatures below 41°F (5°C) for prolonged periods of time.

Common health concerns include: overgrown nails which may require more frequent trimming, egg-binding (particularly first-year and older hens; most commonly seen in cooler months), scours/wet vent (possible causes include: stress, poor diet, toxins, bacterial enteritis, intestinal parasites), obesity (if housed in too-small a flight or fed too-rich a diet year-round), and intestinal parasites (may need regular deworming due to their ground-feeding habits).

Hybrids have occurred between the two species of Silverbills (African and Indian, producing fertile birds with mottled black-and-white or pink-edged feathers on their rumps), as well as between African Silverbills and a large number of other species including: cut-throat finch (Amadina fasciata), zebra waxbill (A. subflava), pin-tailed parrotfinch (Erythrura prasina), common waxbill (Estrilda astrild), black-rumped waxbill (E. troglodytes), pictorella munia (Heteromunia pectoralis), Madagascar munia (Lemuresthes nana), Bengalese munia (Lonchura acuticauda), southern black-headed munia (L. atricapilla), black-and-white munia (L. bicolor), chestnut-breasted munia (L. castaneothorax), bronze munias (L. cucullata), society finch (L. domestica), chestnut munia (L. ferruginosa), yellow-rumped munia (L. flaviprymna), magpie munia (L. fringilloides), grey-headed silverbill (L. griseicapilla), white-headed munia (L. maja), Indian black-headed munia (L. malacca), brown-backed munia (L. nigriceps), scaly-breasted munia (L. punctulata), white-rumped munia (L. striata), plum-headed or cherry finch (Neochmia modesta), star finch (N. ruficauda), red-browed firetail (N. temporalis), Java sparrow (Padda oryzivora), long-tailed finch (Poephila acuticauda), canary (Serinus domesticus), owl finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii), zebra finch (T. guttata), and yellow-faced grassquit (Tiaris olivacea). Be careful not to allow interbreeding if housing these species in the same enclosure.

The Indian Silverbill has reportedly hybridized with the: red avadavat (Amandava amandava), cut-throat (A. fasciata), zebra waxbill (A. subflava), black-cheeked waxbill (Estrilda erythronotos), Madagascar munia (Lemuresthes nana), Bengalese munia (Lonchura acuticauda), southern black-headed munia (L. atricapilla), African silverbill (L. cantans), chestnut-breasted munia (L. castaneothorax), bronze munias (L. cucullata), society finch (L. domestica), scaly-breasted munia (L. punctulata), white-rumped munia (L. striata), plum-headed or cherry finch (Neochmia modesta), Java sparrow (Padda oryzivora), long-tailed finch (Poephila acuticauda), and zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata).

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. In captivity, Silverbills may be able to breed at any time of year provided the right conditions; spring-summer (warmer month) breeding is recommended for birds housed outdoors.

Breeding tips

Silverbills can be bred in either a cage or aviary setting. Birds aged 1 through 4 years are best suited for breeding.

Although they can be bred in colony fashion, housing a single pair per enclosure will result in better productivity. Pairs housed in a colony fashion may share nests and additionally partake in extra-pair copulation, confounding parentage. 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, wire cylinder, 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 may not 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. Parents exercise nest hygiene and carry feces from the chicks out of the nest. The chicks may remain fairly quiet in the nest until the parents stop brooding them at around 10 days of age. It is important to keep the enclosure sufficiently warm at this time to prevent chicks from becoming chilled at night.

Parents may withhold food and call from outside of the nest to encourage fledging. If premature fledging occurs, do not attempt to replace the birds in the nest, but rather ensure the chicks stay warm at night by bringing them indoors or providing a brooder on the aviary floor. 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. If space limitations require removing the young to their own enclosure, wait until 4 weeks after they fledged to assure independence.

Life Cycle

Clutch size:3-6 eggs
Incubation date:After the 3rd-4th 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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