What Makes A Finch Rare or Common in Aviculture?


I was posed this question recently and I must admit it was a thought provoking one!!
The quick and easy answer is two-fold: if they are brightly coloured and/or if they are not under any form of legislation then they are possibly more likely to be common.

If we take the case of the Red-faced parrotfinch we see a brightly coloured bird in red and green that displays itself to great effect by its boisterous nature. Dare I say that it will always be with us in aviculture because of these traits alone! Despite it being difficult to establish in the "old days" due to its perceived softness (especially with regard to hens) and high price (around $300-400) when I first saw them breeders strove to breed them based on their colour alone - I know of several that stated that this was their major reason for putting aside the initial frustration and plodding on.
The result is a relatively cheap (~$60/pair in Australia) bird that complements any finch collection. The Red-face is now a "common" aviary species.

However, if we contrast that with the poor old African Silverbill we see what a dramatic effect colour can have! No-one could accuse the Silverbill of being gaudy or showy and this has had a dramatic effect on their popularity.

I remember getting hold of 3 pair and producing 80 odd birds by the end of the first season. I found them characterless and uninteresting behaviourally and this coupled with their lack of colour would seem to spell avicultural disaster for any species!!
When selling my Silverbills I was offered $10 a pair - contrast that with the $250-300 a pair that people wanted for them a few short years later. Why? Simple answer to that is the fact that they weren't brightly coloured therefore were deemed as less attractive than other "brighter" species. Too simplistic? I think not in reality! Everyone knows that red sports cars always go faster now don't they!!


Male Red-wing Pytilias Aurora "pair"!! Male Yellow-wing Pytilia


I should point out at this stage that I have left out of this discussion the breeders that look to breed something that is rare because it is rare - they would tend to skew our "research"!
The breeders that "hunt" a species based on perceived monetary returns should they 'crack it' with that species - an integral part of aviculture but outside our present discussion me thinks!

Think they don't exist? Well, as soon as a finch census is mentioned out they come redoubling their efforts to obtain that "rare, trophy" finch. Yes, I'm sure some are dedicated breeders but history has shown us that many aren't!!!!

This trend is repeated for many species under our care as can be seen from the Grey singing finch, the Rufous-backed manikin and the Yellow-rump manikin.

For example I have always kept Rufous-backs even when we could only get $10 a pair for them - I simply like them!! Homicidal maniacs though they can tend to be at times to their own kind!
Their price and availability have fluctuated between huge highs and lows and when the price increases everyone seems to want them for that factor alone! Unfortunately price has not always been a great defining factor for breeding success as just because you can afford a species does not guarantee that you will breed them - too often the direct opposite!!

The same is true for the Grey singer and so on ad-infinitum so we must conclude that colour DOES influence the status of finches in captivity to some degree.


Male Napoleon weaver Golden song sparrows Male Red Bishop weaver

As a final mitigating argument I point to the Red-cheeked cordon Bleu and the Orange-breasted waxbill which are entrenched in Australian aviculture and are bright coloured and have disarming behavioural traits. Both are common in most collections and command reasonable prices and, because of this, are available to all tiers of the finch breeding game.


Curses! I have backed myself into a corner by re-reading what I have written and am now forced to add "behaviour" into my list of what makes an aviary bird common!!
Red-face parrotfinches are boisterous finches and Doug's old joke about Red-face behaviour springs to mind. Question:  "What do you call a Red-face sitting still? Answer: Dead!!"
So maybe if the Red-face sat around like the poor-old Silverbill it may not be so "common"? Hhhhhhhmmmm....................the Painted firetail is renowned for its confiding nature and friendly disposition. It also is a common aviary species. However, it DOES have bright colours!

Now for the crunch species - the good old Blue-capped waxbill! As stunning a species as is available to us in aviculture bar none yet it remains an uncommon species in our aviaries. Get's an A+ for colour but an E- for behaviour as this would be one of the most difficult species to maintain and propagate on a regular basis. Before there is uproar please try and remember that in the seasons when Blue-caps are available it is a hand full of breeders that produce large numbers while most with them do not produce young at all - and as we all know success one year does not guarantee a similar on-going success - boy don't we know it!!
Without going into details ad-nauseum let us use the Blue-cap as the epiphany of the beautiful finch with the demanding behaviours!!
So a critical behavioural selection criterion is the ability of the species to have a free-breeding nature, this coupled with bright plumage is a must for "commonness"! Contrast the Blue-cap to the Red-cheeked cordon here!

Himalayan greenfinch Orange-cheeked waxbill Oriental greenfinch


Research coupled with blood, sweat & tears, plus a dash of bloody-mindedness has made the Red-faced a common species yet the failure as yet to turn the similarly stunning Blue-cap into a free-breeder or common species suggest that behavioural mastery is as critical factor as colour alone.

Whew! Hope I got out of that intact!!


Now the topical one and best left to last in light of the bun-fight that was "the year of EBAGing Dangerously" (Exotic Bird Advisory Group) last year - legislation.

As any mainland breeder will tell you the paperwork involved with keeping registered finches is demanding and time consuming.
This alone means that many breeders prefer the exotic finches where they may keep, trade and breed them with impunity. Hence that means that Saints, Fires, Cordons, Cut-throats and Bengalese - really, any currently common exotic species should remain that way - common!!
So a
laissez-faire (free trade) situation will tend to keep a finch common and if it is brightly coloured its home free!!

For anyone that pondered the intensity of the Finch Society of Australia's stance over no legislation for any exotic finches during the EBAG/EBRKS (Exotic Bird Record Keeping Scheme) then we must delve deeper into the historical effects of placing birds onto such legislation.

For those struggling there were basically two prior excursions down this particular road - one around 1982 (Vertebrates Pest Act) and another around 1999 with the NEBRS (National Exotic Bird Registration Scheme).


Again, in order to preserve my email box from complaints I am sticking to the effects of legislation alone and not going near why finch importation didn't happen and why parrot importation did with monotonous regularity, what place perceived smuggling attractability had to do with anything or the pro's and con's of why finch people chose not to keep birds that went onto NEBRS - just the effects that this had!!


In 1982 there was much speculation as to what finches would be targeted for legislation and which would be banned such that species were traded at a fraction of their market price and many earmarked for legal export overseas - never to return!! I actually saw a cage with 30 plus Cardinals in a NSW bird-dealership awaiting export! Such was the hysteria that many species disappeared from our aviaries and, alas, it was well before the computer age made contact more widespread.
However, during this period innuendo and fiction ruled to the detriment of the species list and many finches did disappear forever - we once had three species of Euplectes whydahs way back then!!

Now for the NEBRS finch-fiasco! This saw a number of species placed into a high interest category for which book keeping was a required law for keeping these species. The fact that some fincho's were prepared to support this we shall deem as a moment of lunacy and certainly not the feeling of the "normal" finch keeper – if anyone that keeps finches could be called "normal"!!

To illustrate the effect on the "common" I have chosen the Chaffinch - although, sadly, it could just as easily been the Rose finch, the Redpoll or.............the list goes on!
The Chaffy was a common bird selling for around $150-200 a pair and freely available in most states. However, because of its perceived pest potential it became a listed species - why perceived - well, there were several releases of this bird into the wild in Victoria which failed dismally so you may ask why all the fuss!
This bird is a big, robust and hardy species with a beautiful call come breeding season. Usually inoffensive to anything but its own kind - I bred mine with Orange-breast and Red strawbs - it possessed an attractive colouration but required a goodly deal of live food to breed successfully.

Once it was listed it became an "undesirable" species based upon the paperwork associated with it and the fact that it was, at that time a "common" species, such that it now commands ~$600 a pair if you can find them.
Another classic example is that of the Golden Song Sparrow which somehow found its way onto the NEBRS.

Despite the vocal outcry from many, including our own Russell Kingston, that they should not be included they were and they too suffered a radical decline in numbers - from common to un-common in around two years!

The Songie is a bright "colourful" bird (well, the male is at any rate!!), tough and hardy. Easy to breed if live food is supplied ad-libitum it declined solely due to it being placed on the NEBRS books. To those that had manfully toiled to bring this species back from the brink of avicultural oblivion (without the benefits of imported new bloodlines I add) it was a huge slap in the face.

Therefore, even its bright colours couldn't save a species with "demanding breeding habits" placed on legislation from becoming uncommon (or in many cases a worse fate) in our aviaries.  As much as the decay/decline of NEBRS is lamented by some factions within aviculture it may well have saved the Songie (and a few other species dare I say!!) from the long drop.

Incidentally it is now legislation free (as are all finches) and staging a comeback towards its common status once again. Therefore colour plus lack of legislation but still with a demanding breeding biology can allow a species to recover. Care to think what might have been should it have been placed into Class 1 of the EBRKS - better not to now that Neurofen is going off the free list!!


Now what did inclusion under legislation do to others on that list? Unfortunately the story is not a good one as most have disappeared from our aviaries altogether. Admittedly some were in tenuous numbers before hand and this registration simply pushed them over the edge - the list reads with illustrious names like the Dybowski twinspot, the Green Strawberry, the Purple/Rose finch, the European siskin, the Redpoll.................it goes on and on.

It is interesting to note that the Red siskin survived this period and is now a common species in collections all over Australia. Mind you with all that bright Red in it's plumage it was a natural for "becoming common"!!
However, despite its present status, several Red siskin breeders did say that during the time that NEBRS operated the demand for Siskin's was much decreased - thank goodness for its vivid colour or it may have ended up like the Grey singer!
So it is clear, for a variety of reasons, that placing finches under any sort of legislation will affect their status in aviculture - from native finch legislation to the EBKRS-type exotic regulations.

Sort of makes you wonder what finches we would be including in our discussion "some years hence" if some had been allowed to concoct a list of 10 finches for inclusion into Class 1 - once again thank goodness for the Finch Society of Australia and those exotic finch breeders out there that did realise the potential for further disaster should this come to fruition and toiled to ensure that it never happened.



So what have we hypothesized to date?

If you are a bright coloured finch that has a flamboyant nature and a free breeder then you status of common can be assured in the short to long term.
However, if you are drab coloured and not extroverted in your behaviour then you could be in trouble or at least subject to wild fluctuations in price and availability over the years. The classic example of this is the Grey singer that has now reached such a trough that 'up' might, sadly, this time be only a pipe-dream.

Throw legislation into the equation and you have yet another significant defining factor and it is again the 'drab bird syndrome' that decides who stays and who goes.

Thus saying now that the FSA has helped to ensure that no finches are currently in Class 1 of the EBRKS then it is up to all of us to ensure that no more finches disappear from our aviaries - be they exotic or native. We are now out of excuses so let us all strive together to put another 10 uncommon finch species into the common basket in rapid time.
Oh, and if you haven’t picked it as yet make sure you include a few drab species in your collection - just to be on the safe side - you just never know now do you!!


Now, just in case you think the boy has finally "lost it" I have left my final, strongest "proof" until last. It is just quite possible that there are more Gouldian finches in Tasmanian aviaries than remain in the wild. Why? Well, maybe it has something to do with the Gouldian being rated as the most beautiful finch in the world - dare I say it the most "colourful" finch!!
It seems that every bird breeder is besotted with the colours of the Gouldian to such an extent that breeders in Tasmania go to any lengths to keep and breed them possibly as far from the Kimberley as you can get!!

Your honour, the case for the defense rests and let the common finch rule!!


Mind you this all counts for nothing if we enter in the demand from overseas for exotic finches and the huge number of these heading out of Australia every year and remember kiddies this is one-way traffic for the vast majority of these species as the law stands. However, as they say in the classics, that is another story!!