The Star Finch
|Star Finch8,11,13,14,22,23,31, 32,34,35,37,40,41|
Other common namesRufous-tailed finch, Red-tailed finch, Red-faced finch, Ruficauda finch, Queensland star finch (N. ruficauda), Western Australian star finch (N. r. clarescens)
Area of distributionNorthern Australia: from the Pilbara region in Western Australia through the Kimberley range and the Northern Territory and across Arnham Land to Cape York.
DispositionRelatively calm, quiet, and independent. Usually peaceful, but may become defensive of their nest during the breeding season.
Physical descriptionsForehead, sides of head, chin and beak: bright red; neck and upper back: grey-green to olive green; wings: grey-brown; belly: yellowish green; rump and central tail feathers: crimson. Red eyes, yellow legs and feet. Spots located on mask, chest and along the sides of the belly. Older birds tend to have more intense coloration and a greater number of spots. Race N. r. clarescens males have more extensive red on the head, brighter yellowish-green upperparts, yellowish breast and flanks. Juveniles are very similar to Crimson Finch juveniles; they are a dull olive-brown with their underparts being a lighter shade than their back, have a blackish bill, and have brown legs and feet.
- pied (but pied feathers only tend to show on the head, wings, and tail)
- yellow-faced or orange-headed (where the mask is yellow instead of red)
- isabel (a lighter, more fawn version of the bird with the same markings, just in a lighter, browner tone) present in Europe, similar to the Australian cinnamon - sex-linked mutation
- cinnamon (in Australia; green-brown upperparts, underparts paler and more green-buff, rump and uppertail coverts pink-mauve, but red face mask retained)
- fawn (in Australia; upperparts pale fawn/cream, underparts pale buff-yellow, rump and uppertail coverts pale pink, eyes red, red face mask remains)
- yellow-bodied (in Australia, upperparts and underparts yellow, red areas retained, eyes red)
- silver (in South Africa; upperparts silver green-grey, underparts pale grey-green, red areas become pale orange-yellow while yellow is reduced in intensity in yellow-faced forms)
- clear-head (total lack of red on the head, sexing must be done by DNA)
SexingThe hen's mask covers a smaller area of her face and is less bright than the cock's. In addition, the spots adorning her mask, breast, and sides are often less distinct than those of the cock bird. Although both cocks and hens can make simple shrill calling noises, ONLY cocks can sing.
SongThe song is high-pitched and can only be heard from a short distance.
Song Clip at eFinch.com
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.
Left: red faced isabel star finch cock. Right: yellow faced normal star finch cock.
Red faced normal star finch cock.
Yellow faced star finch hen.
From front to back: Red faced male, yellow faced hen, red faced hen.
Yellow faced hen with some red faced star finches.
Red faced normal star finch.
Red faced normal star finch cock. Photo by Roger Smith.
Red faced normal star finch cock. Photo by Roger Smith.
Red faced normal star finch hen. Photo by Michelle Bartsch.
Red faced normal star finch pair. Hen on left. Photo by Hans.
Favorite foodsMillet, green food, and insects: flies, flying ants, moths, ant pupae, small mealworms, and termites.
Natural habitatTall grasses, reeds, and rushes alongside rivers, creeks, and swamps. May also be found in irrigated rice fields and sugarcane fields. The birds prefer areas with some bushes and low trees. Avoids human habitation.
HabitsWild star finches live in medium-to-large flocks outside of the breeding season. Feeds in low vegetation, taking growing seeds from stems, but will feed from fallen seeds on the ground during the dry season; can catch insects in flight. Tends to breed in loose communities. The courtship ritual includes a display flight by the hen and a dance by the cock. The hen may carry a blade of grass in her bill during her flight, as she flutters in circles around a perched male. When the male courts a hen, he carries a long piece of grass in his bill and puffs out his head, breast, and flank feathers, turning his tail towards the hen. The male stands tall, bobs up and down, and bows while singing his song for the hen. The hen quivers her tail to invite copulation by the cock bird. Once paired, the partners may allopreen each other during the breeding season. Bonded pairs may stay together even outside of the breeding season. They do not roost in nests at night like zebra finches; they only build nests for breeding purposes. The male does most of the nest construction while the hen tends to lining the chamber. They may engage in peering behavior at singing conspecifics.
Star Finches have a special method of drinking. Contrary to popular belief, this is not accomplished by "sucking" the water. Rather, the way a star 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 considerationsHybrids have been reported between star finches and: bichenos (owl finches, Taeniopygia bichenovii), zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), crimson finches (Neochmia phaeton), plum-headed finches (Neochmia modesta), long-tailed finches (Poephila acuticauda), black-throated finches (Poephila cincta), society finches (Lonchura domestica), African silverbills (Lonchura cantans), red-cheeked cordon bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus), red-billed firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala), and the red-browed firetail (Neochmia temporalis). Therefore, when breeding stars, do not mix them with these species.
Although star finches are characteristically hardy birds that are relatively long-lived (often surviving over 10 years in captivity), they do not do as well in colder climates and should not be kept in temperatures below 54-60° F (12-15°C). Egg-binding can plague young and old hens. Inbreeding certain color mutations can lead to defective (misshapen) flight feathers, rendering the bird unable to fly. An austerity diet is recommended when star finches are not breeding.
Star finches enjoy climbing, so if housing them in a planted aviary, provide small bamboos, tall seeding grasses, and other dense shrubbery. If overcrowded, star finches can become very destructive of plants in their enclosure.
Breeding seasonAustralia is in the southern hemisphere, so its seasons are out of synch with those of North America and Europe. In Australia, wild star finches begin breeding during the second half of the wet season; their breeding season is quite prolonged. In the Kimberleys, breeding may begin in late December; in West Australia, breeding has been observed in March, May, and August. Captive star finches have lost their seasonal breeding instincts and can be stimulated to breed at any time of year provided the right conditions.
Breeding tipsPairs seem most fertile during their second and third years of life. A breeding diet should be introduced about 1 month prior to breeding. Separating males and females when not breeding may help trigger a breeding response when a pair is introduced together to the breeding enclosure. If the enclosure is large enough (i.e. a planted aviary), star finches can be bred in mixed company or in a colony setting. They may also breed when housed as a single pair per cage. Pair bonds are strong, and bonded pairs should be reunited for subsequent breeding seasons. In a planted aviary, star finches often prefer to build their own nest in a shrub, bush, or tall-growing clump of grass, but in a cage they will accept a nest box or a cylinder made of ½" wire mesh which they can build their nest within. Star finches build a domed nest with a side entrance. The nest may be constructed out of dry coarse grasses and/or green stems. They prefer to line the inside of their nest with feathers. If you are providing your stars with an artificial nesting receptacle, you may need to place some nesting material in it to start them off. Provide plenty of nesting material even after the nest appears to be complete. While breeding, the pair will become very defensive of the immediate area surrounding their nest. Both sexes will incubate the eggs during the day, and the hen incubates at night. Both parents feed the hatchlings but stop brooding the nestlings around 10 days of age. Therefore, cold temperatures in the aviary around this time can result in loss of chicks. Although pairs tend to relish live food especially when breeding, pairs can breed successfully without live food as long as egg food is available for chick rearing. If large quantities of insects (or egg food) are not available to them, the pair will often toss their chicks. Newly fledged young tend to be sensitive to cold and damp conditions, and will not return to the nest to roost after they fledge. Once the brood is fledged, remove the old nest so the pair can create a fresh nest for the next clutch.
Because star finches tend to be "light sitters," you should avoid nest checks whenever possible! If you are going to close band the chicks, wait until they are 9-10 days of age.
|Clutch size:||3-6 eggs|
|Incubation date:||After the third, fourth, or last egg is laid (the hen usually incubates alone at night)|
|Hatch date:||After 12-14 days of incubation|
|Fledge date:||At 20-21 days of age|
|Wean date:||5-6 weeks of age|
|Complete molt:||4-6 months of age|
|Sexual maturity:||Although Star finches may become sexually mature before they obtain their adult plumage, many breeders recommend waiting until the birds are at least 6-9 months of age before breeding them|