The Shaft-tail Finch

Shaft-tail Finch 8, 11, 13, 14, 22, 23
Poephila acuticauda
Singing ability:Somewhat pleasant
Compatibility:Pushy, mixes well with other pushy species
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:5-6" (12.7-15 cm)
Approx. cost:$120-180 (US) per pair

Other common names

Shafttail, Black-heart Finch, Black-heart
  • P. a. acuticauda (yellow-billed variety): Long-tailed Grassfinch, Long-tailed Finch
  • P. a. hecki (red-billed subspecies): Heck's Grassfinch, Heck's Grass-finch, Heck's Shaft-tail Finch



Area of distribution

Northern Australia from the Kimberley region in Western Australia, across the Northern Territory to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and east to the Leichardt River in western North Queensland. The nominate (yellow-billed) race occurs in the western part of the range, whereas the subspecies (red-beaked P. a. hecki) occurs in the eastern areas. There is a blending of the two forms where their territories overlap, where birds' beaks occur in shades of orange.



Active, comical, nosy. Breeding birds may become aggressive towards more passive species.

Physical descriptions

Grey head, black "bib" extending from chin to the throat, black markings extending from each side of the beak to the eye, brown back and wings, pinkish-brown colored breast and belly, black thighs, white rump, black tail with long tail wires, orange legs. The Long-tailed grassfinch has a yellow beak, and the Heck's grassfinch (which is considered the subspecies) has a red beak (although sometimes it is more orange, probably due to indiscriminate mating of the subspecies to the nominate form). Juveniles emerge from the nest with a black beak, flesh-colored legs and feet, a smaller bib than the adult, and with duller plumage overall.

Parsons Finch Several mutations exist including: fawn (which is a paler, more tawny brown version overall, where even the black of the throat eyes and thighs becomes more of a dark brown), cream (the entire bird becomes shades of off-white, with the exceptions of the black areas on the normal bird which are more of a light brown color), white (the entire bird is white and the normally black markings are hardly visible), and pied.

The Shaft-tail finch looks very similar to a separate species called the Parson's Finch (P. cincta), but can be differentiated from the Parson's by the color of the bill. The Shaft-tail will have a yellow, orange, or red bill, whereas the Parson's Finch has a black bill. The Parson's Finch also has a shorter tail.


Only the cock sings. Cocks may be induced to sing by temporarily placing them in a cage by themselves, out of sight of other finches. When compared to males, hens may have a slightly smaller bib, less pronounced thigh band, smaller bill, and/or the bill may be a shade lighter than the cock's, but these visual sexing methods may be unreliable.


The song consists of a series of soft notes, some of which are flute-like, and ends in a long mournful note. Individual songs may vary.

Cock's songExternal Site from the Finch Vocalisations Guide
Calling noisesExternal Site from the Finch Vocalisations Guide


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Shaf-tail Finches
Normal Shaft-tails.

Fawn Shaft-tail
Fawn Shaft-tail.

Shaf-tail Finch
Normal Shaft-tail.

Shaf-tail Finches
Shaft-tails eating a mix of broccoli, carrot, and almond.

Shaf-tail Finch
Eating mealworms.

Shaf-tail Finch
Shaft-tail brooding her hatchlings.

Shaf-tail Finches
Chicks, 10 days old.

Shaf-tail Finches
Chicks, 14 days old.

Shaf-tail Finches
Normal juveniles.

Shaf-tail Finches
Juveniles allopreening.

Favorite foods

Live food (small mealworms, termites, ant pupae), millet, green food, egg food.

Natural habitat

Sparsely timbered eucalypt woodland, arid savanna grassland bordering watercourses, open Pandanus plains near the coast.


When landing on a perch, a Shaft-tail finch will bob its head up and down in a comical manner. Head-bobbing may also be used to greet each other. Clumping and allopreening occur commonly between members of a flock. Shaft-tails live in groups year-round. They love to sun bathe, but shaded areas should always be available to them within their enclosure. They may roost in a nest at night; wild Shaft-tails often build roosting nests outside of the breeding season for this purpose. Shaft-tails drink water by sucking.

Special considerations

Because they are prone to becoming obese if housed in too small of an enclosure, Shaft-tail Finches should be kept in flights which are at least 3 feet (1 meter) long. Although they are generally peaceful, pairs housed in close confinement may become aggressive towards other pairs of shaft-tails or other closely related finches such as the Masked Grassfinch and the Parson's Finch. Because they may not fair well in the cold (at temperatures below 59°F [15°C]), they may need to be wintered indoors or provided with a heated shelter if housed outdoors. The Shaft-tail has reportedly hybridized with the following species: Parson's Finch (P. cincta)--this mating creates a fertile hybrid!, Masked Grassfinch (P. personata)--this mating creates a fertile hybrid!, Owl Finch (P. bichenovii), Zebra Finch (P. guttata), Diamond Firetail ( Emblema guttata), Spice Finch ( Lonchura punctulata), Chestnut-breasted Finch (L. castaneothorax), Bengalese Finch (L. striata domestica), Crimson Finch ( Neochmia phaeton), Plum-headed Finch (Aidemosyne modesta), so take care not to allow these species to breed together.

Breeding season

In Australia, wild Shaft-tails breed during the middle of the rainy season into the dry season, from January to May.

Breeding tips

Shaft-tail Finches may breed in a cage or aviary. Because they are picky, individuals should be allowed to select their own mate from a group of at least 8-10 birds. A cock will court a hen by hopping toward her, bowing, and bobbing his head; hey may or may not sing at this time. A receptive hen may return the bowing and head-bobbing movements; she solicits copulation by quivering her tail. They will often accept nest boxes placed high in the enclosure or natural sites (such as dense shrubbery) for nesting; giving pairs several nesting options is best. In the wild, pairs build their nests in topmost branches of eucalyptus trees or in the tops of pandanus palms using grass stalks, plant silks, and white feathers. Provide pairs with coconut fiber, long stalks of grass, strips of bast, and white feathers for nest construction. Both sexes will take turns incubating the eggs, and both may roost in the nest at night. Live food and egg food should be provided for chick rearing purposes. Young hatch with flesh-colored skin, white down, and a pale beak which begins to darken around day 8. Nestlings begin to open their eyes around day 8-10, and their first feathers begin to emerge around day 7-8. Brooding ceases when the chicks reach 9 days of age. Close-banding chicks is recommended when they are about 12 days old.

Although shaft-tails form a strong pair bond, pairs which are reluctant to breed may be stimulated by swapping their partners out for new mates.

Life Cycle

Clutch size:4-6 eggs
Incubation date:After the last egg is laid
Hatch date:After 12-14 days of incubation
Fledge date:At 21 days of age
Wean date:Around 6 weeks of age
Begin molt:Within 8 weeks of age
Complete molt:3-4 months of age
Sexual maturity: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.

Related Article(s)

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Shaft-tail (Heck's Grass) Finches

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