The "Resurrection" of the Javan Munia!!

My initial introduction to this wonderful little former resident of the mystic Orient was many, many years ago when they were very expensive chaps indeed!

Now I can picture the readers rolling their eyes and thinking "what is it with this guy and drab coloured finches – first Grey singers and now this!!"

Well, guilty as charged I’m afraid!
I managed to get some of these for a guy I knew and was fascinated by their drab colours and expressive eyes! Eyes like owls I thought!
I was there as he introduced these guys from the quarantine cage and out into this magnificent planted aviary. Out of the cage they flew and I was amazed by the butterfly like flight that they exhibited, briefly flitting about……….eeeerrr……..and then proceeded to watch them vanish from sight into the Tea-tree!! Great!
At least I knew why they had eyes like owls for!!

Some months later I was summoned to assist him in catching these "blasted Javan munias" because he never saw them and they’d never bred for him. Well, catch them we did but for the 4 we put in we took 14 out!!

Where I hear you say is he going with this? Guess this is where I throw myself head-first into an "avicultural minefield" when I say that what we have now ain’t what we had then!! However, I shall first try and give you an outline of exactly what I am talking about!!

Not wishing to ignite the fire too early I shall try to be as tactful and diplomatic (stop laughing!) as possible at least with their classification!! The bird is known as the Javan Munia, Lonchura leucogastroides, and is a denizen of Indonesia and Malaysia and been introduced to a few other areas throughout Asia. Now there were also some schools of thought that suggested it was the White-bellied Munia, Lonchura leucogastra, that we had here but with the aid of my computer I’d say what we have at present is more akin to the Javan munia in appearance than the White-bellied munia. Given the similarity of both species in both looks and Latin names then maybe we did once have both species in Australia but that the Javan munia won in the "long-term inheritable characteristics" stakes!

This may also be why we still have it today given the recent "gene-pool mix" that it has undertaken – but to that much later!

However, I digress slightly, so back to the history lesson. The poor old Javan munia was popular when it was high priced but as more were produced the "infatuation" with them became les and less and, like all drab coloured birds, they proceeded to vanish from our aviaries. From around $800 down to around $40 a pair in no time short and when they plateaued out no-one wanted them – heard that one before have you?! Grey singers do spring to mind once again!!

At the time they were cheap and freely available I was fooling about with Rufous-backed mannikins so, as I couldn’t mix the two I passed on getting some to my lasting regret.

Anyway, time passes and they almost vanish and I receive a call from a mate in Queensland asking me about Javan munias and where we could get some from. As a collector of weird and wonderful mutations in anything from sparrows to Kakariki’s how could I refuse Bernie’s invitation to join the "quest" for the Javan munia! Irresistible!
So I asked none other than Doug Hill, the then president of the Finch Society of Australia for his assistance. A few days later the call came back "Mate. Found you a few Munias but they ain't pretty and they ain't cheap. Do you still want them?" After recovering from the price I said what the heck and Doug went off on a "rescue mission" to retrieve the Munias. Doug has never been one to exaggerate much but these poor birds were in terrible condition! Great long toe-nails, no tails, and very few feathers in numerous places!!
Fast-forward a few months and a healthier bunch of Munias one could not wish to see – funny about the tails though!! Doug had transformed a rabble into the start of a breeding program.

So once they made the big flight here they produced a few youngsters with which to start breeding and were matched to a number that Bernie had "found" in Queensland.

However, there was something "odd" about these Munias. They appeared to be roughly the same shape as I remembered, roughly the same colour as I remembered although the white chest appeared a tad too "variable" but still there was something not quite right about them.
The flight! These guys flew like real plodders and in a straight line to boot!
So what, and before commitment proceeding are initiated I should travel back to when we let these guys go in my aforementioned friends aviary. As I stated when the left they box they flitted through the air like mini-butterflies and this undulating flight was amazing to watch – mind you they only flew until they found somewhere to hide but the spectacle left a lasting impression.

The Javan munia of 2009 does not fly this way in fact it flies much more like some of their closer relatives shall we say!!
Now, I know as much about evolution/Natural selection as the next person but to suggest that the Javan munia either "evolved" a new mode of flight to escape from an avian predator – eeerrr…that would have to be a net waving human would it not? Or even that the evolution of straight flight was in response to the aviary confines that saw the "flitters" die out would be stretching the time scale at least by a few hundred years maybe!

The Javan munia we have now is a mix with the common Bengalese and, if others are correct, then maybe with the Spice finch as well. There, I’ve said it!
Proof? Well, you have the flight for starters and the variable colouration of males and females throughout any given sample plus the size range is far too variable also for my liking.

Those are just my own findings but if we then take into account the huge numbers of "mutations" that suddenly appeared for sale on the web – pieds of all colours, fawns and whites one must surely had to question why so many so quickly!

I can appreciate that once a gene-pool begins to shrink then mutations may be expressed more frequently but this was ridiculous! Mind you I was stupid enough once to express this opinion and was howled down by a breeder of the mutated forms but my research has concluded that the Javan munia is a "reconstitution" of the original pure species – especially given the honest explanation of one breeder and the subsequent look at where some of the "action" took place!!

However, in reality, who cares! By their actions they have saved a beautiful little drab finch from extinction in our aviaries and for that they have my eternal thanks! What a tragedy it would have been to see these guys vanish completely – another one to an ever increasing list.
These guys are brilliant in the mixed collection for they are placid (unlike their ‘cousin’ the Rufous-back!), easy to cater for and are extremely free-breeders so what more could we ask for. Given the prices being bandied around for the costs of importation who in their right mind is even going to consider pure strains of this guy so what chance did they stand without some fancy cross-stitching!

Keeping and Breeding:
The Javan munia can be kept and bred in cages and in any sized flight. To illustrate this I once managed to track some down elsewhere in Queensland and selected four for myself and placed them in one of those large black wire bird cages so cheap and popular these days. As long-time readers of Australian Birdkeeper will be no doubt aware I try to adhere to a fairly rigorous quarantine schedule so I set about giving these 4 finches the "once over".

However, half-way through the process I fancied I heard squeaks coming from the bare wooden nest box on the side of their cage. On opening the lid I was stunned to see 6 healthy little mouths pointing upwards for a feed. This whilst on a very austere diet and medications!

Yes, all survived and they went on to rear 16 youngsters in total before seeing the great outdoors in an aviary albeit on a slightly better diet!!

With your average finch seed mix and a little extra red panicum added they should thrive. They also love green seeding grasses of any sort, Lebanese & Continental cucumber and Endive & Cos lettuce.

A good shellgrit/calcium mix is a must and these guys appear to also take live food when offered. We present ours with maggots mostly but they will also take the occasional mealworm when feeding chicks. Obviously they do not require live food to raise young as mine demonstrated in the black cages which should enhance their desirability as an aviary bird among those not eager to delve into the Mystique of the Fly Box or the Brotherhood of the Mealworm Beetle!!

Nesting sites are usually very basic structures indeed. In common with many of the other Mannikins and Munias the nest is composed of any sort of dried grass and very little else. Swamp or November grass is a popular building material but if not available anything will do! Very few feathers go into the finished product although the occasional long Emu feather may be woven into the outer structure. There is no set favoured location for the nest as they are just as happy in a wicker finch basket, a wooden nest box, building their own in the aviary Tea-tree or simply renovating another finch’s left-over nest.

They also appear to be very hardy and if subjected to a regular worming and coccidia program they seem to suffer from few ailments. As with all members of the group their toenails can become overgrown if kept in small cages or if not supplied with adequate exercise materials.

If kept in cages for extended periods some have a tendency towards obesity but they are quick to lose this once introduced into an aviary. Such obese birds are slower to commence breeding than healthier specimens as would be expected.

So if you want a species that is a free breeder and easy to cater for then maybe the Javan munia is for you! Plus you can "do your bit" to ensure that a drab avicultural species maintains its position in Australian aviculture rather then disappearing like so many before it.
Another compelling reason for this guy to be amongst the finches you include in your breeding aviaries relates to another positive aspect of its mixed parentage - but that dear reader is another story!!

As Published in Australian Birdkeeper Magazine.