The Owl (Bicheno) Finch
(Previously Poephila bichenovii), 2 subspecies
Other common namesOwl Finch, Owl-faced Finch, Bicheno Finch, Bicheno's Finch, Double-bar Finch, Double-barred Finch
- T. b. bichenovii: White-rumped Owl, Ringed Finch, Banded Finch
- T. b. annulosa: Black-rumped Owl, Black-ringed Finch, Black-winged Finch
Area of distributionNorthern and eastern Australia: starting as far west as Roebuck Bay and encompassing approximately the northern third of Northern Territory to Cape York Peninsula and coastal Queensland, and extending south to northern New South Wales. The white rumped race is found in eastern Australia, the black-rumped race is found in the Top End and Kimberley regions, and hybrid (interbreeding) populations are found south of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
DispositionSocial, friendly, active, peaceful.
Physical descriptionsBlueish-grey beak, white face encircled by a thin black band starting from the forehead (directly above the beak), continuing around the cheeks, and meeting under the chin; a second black band runs accross the lower breast. The top of the head, nape of the neck, and back are brown with small dark bars, the wing feathers are dark brown-black with white dots, it has a silvery chest, creamy off-yellow underparts, and a black tail. The legs and feet are greyish blue to dark grey. The rump (upper tail coverts) are white. One "mutation" (actually a separate race) which exists is the black-rumped variety, which looks nearly identical to the white-rumped race, except that the birds have a black rump. Crossing the two races may produce hybrids which have a combination of the two rump colors. Juveniles look like dull versions of the parents, being browner above with less pronounced markings. A fawn mutation is now available, as is a pied mutation.
SexingHens may have slightly narrower breast bands and less pure white on the face. Only cocks sing. Often separating the birds into an empty cage one at a time, out of sight of other birds, will induce males to sing.
SongAudio clips were obtained from my personal breeding pairs. Songs vary among individual males.
Cock singing (.mp3, .6 MB)
Hen's calling noises (.mp3, .2 MB)
Audio clips from other sites:
Cock's song from the Finch Stuff
Calling noises from the Finch Stuff
PicturesIf 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.
Wild owl finches.
Photo by Julian Robinson.
Owl finch hatchling.
Owl finch nestlings.
Soon to be fledgling.
Fawn owl finch nestling. Photo by Matthew Morrison.
Fawn owl finch. Photo by Ornitologia Lodato.
Favorite foodsSmall millet, boiled egg, green food, occasionally small mealworms and other live foods.
Natural habitatSemi-arid and sub-humid areas; areas with pandanus palms or long grass near adjacent to streams and lagoons, near surface water in dry plains with small trees (e.g. eucalypts) and bushes (e.g. acacia, bauhinia), gardens and cultivated areas (e.g. sugarcane fields), open woodland and forest edge.
Photo by Nathalie.
HabitsOwl finches are highly social and will engage in clumping and allopreening. Wild flocks often consist of 4 to 20 individuals, but may be larger during the dry season. Feeds on the ground or among grasses and small plants. They roost in nests, either those built for the purpose of roosting, or in old breeding nests of their own or of other species; several individuals may roost together in one nest. Pair bonds are very strong and pairs may remain together throughout the year, even when not breeding. Males usually only sing during the breeding season.
Owl finches have a special method of drinking. Contrary to popular belief, this is not accomplished by "sucking" the water. Rather, the way an owl finch drinks is by tipping its bill down into water, then while the bill is immersed, using the tongue to 'scoop' water into the pharynx where the front of the larynx then immediately forces the water into the esophagus; peristalsis of the esophagus then transports the water to the crop. Using this method, they imbibe water quickly and spend less time being vulnerable to predators at water holes; additionally, their method allows them to exploit small volumes of water such as dew drops as well as draw water up vertically from otherwise difficult to access sources.
Special considerationsOwl finches may do poorly if housed in the cold; therefore, do not keep birds at a temperature below 68-72°F (20-22°C). Wintering birds indoors or providing a heated shelter is advised. Studies have shown that banding an owl finch with a light blue leg band will increase its attractiveness to prospective mates, while banding the bird with a red leg band will decrease its attractiveness.
Hybrids have occurred between owl finches and the following species: Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata), Long-tailed Grass Finches (Poephila acuticauda), Black-throated or Parson's Finches (P. cincta), Masked Finches (P. personata), Star Finches (Neochmia ruficauda), Plum-headed Finches (Neochmia modesta), Diamond Firetails (Stagonopleura guttata), White-headed Munias (Lonchura maja), Bengalese Finches (L. striata domestica), Pictorella Mannkikins (L. pectoralis), African Silverbills (L. cantans), Chestnut-breasted Munias (L. castaneothorax), and Yellow-rumped Finches (L. flaviprymna), so take care not to interbreed these species if housing them together.
Health problems in owl finches can include intestinal parasites (since these birds tend to feed on the ground), enteritis (if fed stale or excessive green foods), egg-binding (particularly in young or old birds, especially in cold/wet weather), feather mites, and fungal infections (especially in enclosures with wet or damp floors). The owl finch is one of only a few passerine species which molts its wing feathers very slowly.
Breeding seasonIn northern Australia, owls breed during the second half of the wet season, but may breed later. In eastern Australia, breeding occurs mainly in the spring and autumn.
Breeding tipsA breeding diet should commence about 1 month prior to breeding. Place several individuals together to allow birds to choose their own mates. A male will court a hen by fluffing his feathers and hopping toward her, turning 180° with each hop. In a crouched posture, with head turned toward the hen, he will sing while frequently wiping his beak. Once bonded, members of a pair often remain together for life and should not be separated. If constructing a nest from scratch, pairs will build in the peripheral branches of bushes or trees using grass stems and other plant materials. They may also use the old nests of other species, holes in trees, or niches in the aviary, such as under the roof. Nests in the wild are often located near wasps' nests. If colony breeding in a well-planted aviary, several pairs may build nests close together. Owl finches can also breed successfully in a cage (housed one pair per cage), and may accept a half-open nest box or wicker nest basket to build in. Provide pairs with coconut fiber and fine grasses for nesting material. Wild populations differ in their desire to line the nest with feathers: birds from the north and north-west did not use feathers, but birds from the east did. Both sexes incubate the eggs and both will roost in the nest at night. Provide the pair with plenty of privacy and do not perform any nest checks until chicks are of banding age (around 8-9 days of age) to prevent tossing of the chicks from the nest. Hatchlings emerge with down and light skin which darkens with age to nearly black by day 4. For rearing food, the parents should be provided with egg food and soaked seed in addition to their regular diet. They may also appreciate live food such as small mealworms, though this is not necessary. Chicks are brooded by the parents until they are 9 days old, but the parents will continue to sleep in the nest at night. Young may assume a begging posture which includes lifting one wing straight into the air. Once fledged, young will return to the nest to roost at night. If left in the enclosure during subsequent broods, older siblings may assist with feeding new fledgelings.
|3-6 eggs (4-5 most common)
|After the 3rd or 4th egg is laid
|After 12 days of incubation
|At 22-26 days of age
|5-6 weeks of age
|Within 10 weeks of age
|3 months of age
|Although young may become sexually mature around the time they attain adult plumage, they should not be allowed to breed until they are at least 9 months old.