The Green-winged Pytilia or Melba Finch

Green-winged Pytilia13,23,31,32,34,37,40,41
Pytilia melba, up to 13 races
Hardiness:Fairly delicate
Reproduction:Medium difficulty
Singing ability:Somewhat pleasant
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:5" (13 cm)
Approx. cost:$ (US) per pair

Other common names

Crimson-faced Waxbill, Common Melba Finch, Melba Waxbill, Red-faced Weaver Finch, Uganda Melba Finch (P.m. grotei), Sudan Melba Finch (P.m. soudanesis), Senegambian Melba Finch (P.m. citerior)



Area of distribution

Dry regions of tropical Africa and part of south Africa (but not in the western and central African rain forest regions).



Aggressive, shy.

Physical descriptions

P. melba (From lower Congo, western Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, parts of South Africa):
Male: Red beak, gray head and lores with red forehead and throat down to upper chest, olive green back, wings, and chest, red rump and tail, off-white belly and vent, white spots starting at upper chest which converge into white and grey barring covering flanks, flesh colored legs.
Female: red beak, grey head and chest, green back and wings, hint of green on the chest, grey and white spots on the upper chest that converge to grey and white barring on the flanks, off white belly and vent, red rump and tail, flesh colored legs.
Juvenile: is brown-grey bird with black beak, olive green on the wings with a hint of green on the head and throat; slight barring on the underparts, red suffusion on the rump and tail; greyish legs.

Grey-lored races include: P.m. damarensis, P.m. thamnophila, P.m. grotei, P.m. percivali, P.m. jessei, P.m. belli. Red-lored races include: P.m. citerior, P.m. clanceyi, P.m. soudanensis, P.m. affinis, P.m. jubaensis, P.m. kirki

Races are distinguished by the amount of red on the face (including whether the lores are red or grey), the amount of red on the upper breast, the tone of the underparts, the strength of the barring. Examples:

P.m. citerior cock - also had red lores so entire face is red; red on throat vignettes into yellow on upper chest; barring on the underparts is very pale. From Senegal/Guinea east to Bahr el Ghazal / Sudan.
P.m. belli cock - red on throat vignettes into orange-yellow on upper chest; barring on underparts is darker and bolder; wing coverts may be suffused with red. From western Uganda south through Rwanda to western Tanzania, and on the islands in Lake Victoria.
P.m. grotei cock - the red on the throat spreads over much of the breast; more gold tinge to the back; wing coverts may be suffused with red. From north east Tanzania south to Mosambique.
P.m. percivali cock - red and gold colors are paler; no spots on the breast, only barring. From south-west Kenya and northern Tanzania.
P.m. soudanesis cock - red lores, red throat vignettes gold on the breast and wing coverts may be suffused with red; beak sometimes pink; white area on bely more extensive; under tail coverts have faint barring. From south east Sudan through north eastern Kenya and southern Ethiopia to Somalia.


The hen lacks the red on the face and throat; the red of her tail and rump is less intense; her barring is less distinct; she only has a hint of green on her chest.


May have substantial geographical variation. The song is long (each strophe lasts up to 15 seconds) beginning with the sound of a water drop followed by long and short whistled note then gurgling and trilling sounds, ending with three fluting notes. In the race citerior, a single 'veet' note followed by a short series of whistling and croaking notes comprises the song. The hen can also sing but her song is quieter and shorter.


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Green-winged Pytilias
Suspected to be P.m. soudanesis cock. Notice the red lore.

Green-winged Pytilia

Green-winged Pytilia

Green-winged Pytilia

Green-winged Pytilia

Green-winged Pytilia

Green-winged Pytilia
Juvenile beginning to molt into adult plumage. Photo by Frik Erasmus.

Favorite foods

Live food namely termites (very insectivorous), grass seeds.

Natural habitat

Hot and semi-arid. Thickets and thorn scrub, dry acacia thornland, dry and open wooded areas, semi desert, cultivated areas; stays near surface water.


Green-winged pytilias feed on the ground taking seeds and termites. This species has adapted to its arid environment, and can get moisture from ingesting insects; if insects are plentiful, wild green-winged pytilias can go months without drinking. Birds stay in territorial pairs unless they also have still-dependent young; they do not flock in groups, but may be seen in aggregations at neutral feeding and watering places. They have nocturnal calls. Courtship usually takes place on the ground where both cock and hen turn tails toward each other and hop around each other while bowing; the cock carries nesting material in his beak and sings while dancing. A receptive hen crouches and quivers her tail. When a male wants to entice a hen to a nesting site, he raises and quivers his tail and utters a soft version of his song. An oval nest with side entrance is constructed in a thorn bush or a small tree using grass with feathers for lining.

Special considerations

This species serves as a brood host for the Broad-tailed, Northern, or Sahel Paradise Whydah (Vidua orientalis, which parasitizes the red-lored races specifically) and the Eastern or Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (Vidua paradisaea, which parasitizes the gray-lored races). Even outside of the breeding season, green-winged pytilias tend to become aggressive and very territorial, especially when being introduced into a new aviary, being introduced to a new mate, or in defense of their nest. They may also target other pytilia species as well as unrelated species that have red mask plumage (such as the Star Finch), and should not be housed with such birds. Allegedly they may tolerate being housed with Lagonosticta firefinches and Estrilda waxbills. Care should still be taken to closely monitor birds in a mixed aviary setting as well as to provide plenty of hiding space and visual barriers to allow birds to escape each other. Due to their aggression, they can become habitual feather-pluckers. Once a bird has developed a habit of plucking feathers, it will likely continue to do so, and should therefore be culled from the aviary. The best way to introduce a green-winged pytilia to a new mate (in the event of mate loss or previous incompatibility) is to place both birds into a new (small, neutral) cage with a wire divider separating them so that they may become acquainted without having direct access to each other. If they seem to get along for a week, both birds should then be released into the breeding enclosure simultaneously and monitored for aggression. For transport, males and females should be caged separately. Prone to intestinal parasites and may require frequent (every 3 months) deworming. Egg binding may be a problem, so it is advised not to breed hens younger than 9 months or older than 4 years. May be prone to obesity; maximizing flight space and providing an austerity diet during non-breeding periods is recommended. Cold intolerant; recently imported birds particularly so; do not house below 68°F. The green-winged pytilia has reportedly hybridized with the tri-colored munia (Lonchura malacca), spice finch (Lonchura punctulata), orange-winged pytilia (P. afra), and red-cheeked cordon bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus).

Breeding season

From the latter part of the rainy season into the start of the dry season. Typically November to June in South Africa (peaking in February & March after the heaviest rains), January to April in Zambia, February to June in Malawi & Mosambique, April in Tanzania, August and September in Nigeria, October-November, February, and May-July in Sudan, May and June in Ethiopia, March-May in Uganda and Kenya. In the UK, captive birds commence nesting in April.

Breeding tips

Green-winged pytilias are monogamous and should be housed one pair per enclosure. They must be fed termites while breeding and may refuse to do so or toss their chicks if they are not provided sufficient live food to their liking. Planted aviaries are ideal for breeding. Will rarely accept half-open nest boxes or baskets, but typically prefer to build their own nests in shrubbery. Additional nesting sites can be provided by affixing clumps of dried brush to the wall or suspending a wire basket containing dried brush from the ceiling of the enclosure. Provided nest materials should include pliable dried grass, hay, coconut fiber, and small soft white feathers for lining. Nest inspections may not be well tolerated. Pairs cease brooding chicks at night at 10 days of age, so it is important to make sure the enclosure does not become chilly or the chicks may be lost to exposure. Chicks should be removed from the enclosure after weaning since green-winged pytilia cocks may attack their own young. The old, soiled nest should be removed before the next clutch is started, however, so a fresh one can be built.

Life Cycle

Clutch size:3-6 eggs
Incubation:Shared by both parents; both birds may roost in the nest at night
Hatch date:After 12-13 days of incubation
Fledge date:At 20-21 days of age
Wean date:14-16 days after fledging

Related Article(s)

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Green-winged Pytilia (Melba Finch)

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