The Common (St. Helena) Waxbill

Common (St. Helena) Waxbill8,11,12,13,23,30,31, 34,35,37,40,41
Estrilda astrild, numerous subspecies
Hardiness:Somewhat hardy once acclimated; captive lifespan approximately 6 years
Reproduction:Prolific under the right conditions
Singing ability:Not very melodious
Compatibility:Passive, mixes well with other passive species
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:4.5" (11.5 cm)
Weight:Around 19 grams
Approx. cost:$40 (US) per bird

Other common names

Common Waxbill, St. Helena Waxbill, Saint Helena, Red-bellied Waxbill, Barred Waxbill, Brown Waxbill, Pheasant Finch;
additioanlly, subspecies have been assigned the following common names: Cameroon Waxbill (E.a. occidentalia), Cape Verde Islands Waxbill (E.a. jagoensis), Gaboon Waxbill (E.a. rubriventris), Kemp's Sierra Leone Waxbill (E.a. kempi)



Area of distribution

Tropical and southern Africa.



Generally peaceful, but can be defensive of the nest; active, lively, gregarious.

Physical descriptions

Red beak, red eye stripe, grey-brown plumage which is distinctly barred with dark lines on the back, wings, and body, a brown rump, a dark brown tail, a black undertail, and a rose-to-crimson stripe extending down the abdomen. The juvenile is more buff colored with less distinct cross-barring on the feathers, a black bill, and fainter markings (the crimson stripe extending down the abdomen and the black undertail are only faintly indicated).

Mutations include:
  • Fawn (body becomes fawn, black markings become brown, red markings remain)
  • White (red colors remain but the remainder of the bird becomes white)
  • Pied (white splashes throughout)
  • Yellow-billed (red colors become yellow)

Note: The Black-rumped (Red-eared) Waxbill (Estrilda troglodytes) is often confused with the Common Waxbill due to their similar appearances. Both species have red beaks, a similar overall body coloration, and the red eye stripe. They can be differentiated, however, since the Black-rumped (Red-eared) Waxbill lacks the distinct dark cross-barring on its feathers, has a black rump, an off-white undertail, and has white lining around its tail.

Comparing the Black-rumped and Common Waxbills


The cock's abdomen is a darker, more extensive pink, while the hen's markings are slightly paler in comparison. The hen's undertail coverts are also blackish brown instead of black like the cock's, and the hen's brown ventral/undertail coverts patch may appear broken. Only the cock sings.


Two low, harsh notes followed by a "throaty bubbling" note with a rising inflection. Songs may vary between individuals.


If you keep this species and have a photo of your birds to share, please submit your photo for possible inclusion on this site! Credit will be given to you.

Photo by Lim Chaikok
Photo by Lim Chaikok.

Common Waxbill

Photo by Ian White
Photo by Ian White

Photo by Ian White
Photo by Ian White

Common Waxbill

Common Waxbill juveniles

Favorite foods

Small-grained millets, small insects (ant pupae, green aphids, termites, fruit flies), soaked seed, sprouted seed, greens (cucumber, chickweed, dandelion, etc.).

Natural habitat

Marshes, swamp, open country with tall grasses, forest and woodland, bushes, and in tall grasses and reeds along rivers in savannahs and steppes, gardens, and sugar cane plantations.


Usually found in small to large flocks outside of the breeding season. Social birds; will engage in allopreening. Smaller flocks come together at night to roost communally in large numbers in reed beds, thick bushes, and papyrus swamps, but do not make use of roosting nests. Nests in clumps of grass, thornbush, and vine tangles. Breeds in loose colonies in nests built close to or on the ground. Feeds on grass stems and on the ground. Can catch insects in flight.

Special considerations

These birds must be kept warm during colder months; temperatures in the enclosure should not be permitted to drop below 54°F (12°C). In outdoor enclosures, adequate shelter should be provided to protect from driving rain, cold winds, and excessive heat.

Hens have a tendency to become egg bound (particularly first-year and old hens), especially if breeding in cold weather, so provide your pairs with adequate heat and a source of calcium. In captivity, the nails of this species tend to become overgrown and will need periodic clipping (in the wild, their tendency to perch on abrasive reed and grass stems prevent claw overgrowth). Common waxbills may suffer from intestinal parasites such as: gizzardworms (Acuaria spp.) and coccidiosis, and may benefit from a regular deworming program. Air sac mites are uncommon but can occur. Birds which are overcrowded, malnourished, or otherwise stressed may be prone to suffer from feather-plucking. Obesity may plague birds which are offered inadequate space to exercise and fed too rich a diet year-round. Candida (fungal) infections are common especially for birds fed maggots or which have access to damp flooring. Due to the fine materials utilized in nest construction, common waxbills may suffer from foreign body constrictive necrosis of the toes or legs if material becomes wound around the limb.

Common Waxbills are parasitized by the Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura). Common Waxbills have been reported to hybridize with the following species: Black-rumped Waxbill (E. troglodytes), Goldbreasted Waxbill (Amandava subflava), Orange-cheeked waxbill (E. melpoda), Fawn-breasted waxbill (E. paludicola), Crimson-rumped waxbill (E. rhodopyga), Black-tailed (Grey) waxbill (E. perreini), African Silverbill (Lonchura cantans), Bronze Munia (Lonchura cucullata), Red-browed firetail (Neochmia temporalis), Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), Green-winged pytilia (Pytilia melba), and Red-cheeked cordon bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus), so take care not to allow these species to interbreed.

Breeding season

In the wild, Common Waxbills breed during the African rainy season.
  • Cape Province: September-January
  • South Africa: November-April
  • Zimbabwe: November-April
  • Mozambique: February-April
  • Malawi: January-April
  • Kenya: November-January and March-July
  • Uganda: March-May
  • Ethiopia: May-June
  • North-eastern Congo: March, June, October
  • Cameroon: November
  • Sierra Leone: September-October
  • Cape Verde Islands: late August

Breeding tips

A breeding diet should be introduced about 1 month prior to breeding. Common waxbills do not seem to require live food to the extent that most other waxbills do, although it should be offered for optimal results. Soaked and sprouted seed, green food, and egg food should also be offered. Birds aged 1 to 3 years yeild the best breeding results. Only one pair of Common Waxbills should be housed per enclosure, unless the enclosure is very large. Productivity is increased in the one-pair-per-enclosure breeding scenario compared with colony breeding. Avoid placing any nosey species (such as zebra finches and society finches) or large, aggressive species in the breeding enclosure.

Although pairs can breed in cages, better success comes from aviary breeding. Aviaries should be planted with plenty of dense bushes. The cock performs his courtship dance by jumping up and down while holding a piece of straw or a feather in his beak, then sings with his tail pointed toward the hen. A willing female will flick her tail and approach the male, crouching and vibrating her wings. Copulation usually occurs in the nest.

Common Waxbills in captivity may make use of a nest box, or may build a spherical nest close to the ground in a bush, clump of grass, shrub, tree, or creeper. Both sexes participate in nest construction. Nests built "from scratch" have a side entrance and a bowl-shaped roosting nest ("cock nest") on top. The cock nest is thought to act as a decoy since the birds will fuss noisily around the cock nest, carrying objects into it, when the pair becomes alarmed or suspicious. They make use of coconut fiber and grasses to build the nest, and occasionally use soft, white feathers to line the inside.

Each chick hatches with white nodules at the base of its beak which aids the parents in finding the hungry mouths in the dark recesses of the nest. Begging becomes audible around day 6. Brooding is ceased at 9 days of age, so it is important to ensure that the enclosure does not become chilled at this time. Fledging occurs at 21 days; parent birds may withhold food and call loudly from the nest entrance to encourage young to fledge. The birds may or may not tolerate nest checks; nest checks performed when the chicks are approaching fledging age may come with the risk of causing premature fledging. If premature fledging occurs, do not attempt to replace the fledged bird to the nest as this may result in the siblings fledging prematurely; instead, fit the enclosure with a small brooder under which the fledges can huddle to stay warm at night, or bring chicks indoors (to keep them warm) overnight and release them back into the aviary in the morning.

Juveniles emerge from the nest with blackish beaks and do not return to the nest to roost at night. They are fed by the parents for an additional 10 days, but should be left in the enclosure with the parents for a minimum of 4 weeks to ensure independence. After weaning, juveniles can be removed from the breeding enclosure or left in with the parents.

Most waxbills have poor nest hygiene, so spent nests should be removed, allowing the parents to build a fresh nest for the next brood. When not breeding, sexes should be housed separately and fed an austerity diet.

Life Cycle

Clutch size:3-7 eggs
Incubation date:Starting when the 4th egg is laid
Incubation:both parents incubate
Hatch date:After 12-13 days of incubation
Fledge date:At 21 days of age
Wean date:5 weeks of age
First molt:2 months of age

Related Article(s)

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Common (St. Helena) Waxbills

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