The Painted Finch

Herschel Frey


I was tempted to entitle this article "The Return of the Painted Finch." I wanted what I would write to reflect my practically boundless enthusiasm for this finch (Emblema picta), in the hope that it will never again disappear from American aviculture. But, then, I realized that prior to the Australian animal export ban in the late 1950s, even among finch cognoscenti, the painted was relatively unknown, and mostly absent from the collections of breeders who kept the other Australian finches. Given the traits of this truly ideal aviary specimen (including good breeding habits), the lacuna remains a puzzlement for me.

If the painted finch is to make the permanent comeback that I predict, we have the enterprising Dutch and some other European fanciers to thank, since our recent source of this bird is these countries. Now that we have a limited number of these finches to work with, we will have to take care to pair unrelated birds, for we cannot count on the future availability of wildcaught stock.

In many ways the painted finch, which belongs to the firetail family, shares characteristics of many of its nineteen Australian cousins, known around the world as the most ideal finch group for those who would keep and breed these birds. It seems to me, though, after some five years of working with the painted, that it is, for many reasons, at the very top of this list in its desirability, for it is a composite of all things likable, and with few, if any, drawbacks.

The painted is pleasantly dimorphic, male, contains larger white dots. Both sexes have a crimson rump and brown back and head. Juveniles that have not yet gone through their first molt look like a toned-down version of the adult female.


One reason the painted finch is so ideal as a cage or aviary bird is the relative ease with which one can maintain it in good health. While it is not quite as "picky" an eater as, say, the Gould, it thrives on a relatively simple, readily available assortment of foods. These birds need a good finch mix, with sufficient canary seed. But since they relish the small panicum millet, I offer this also, separately. Like most finches (the society finch being the rare exception), they like millet sprays, which 1 keep before them when they are breeding, and feed periodically when they are not. Some will take eggfood, which you don't want to overdo when the hen is sitting on eggs or not nesting. And most will eat small or medium-sized mealworms, waxworms, and the like. A greater amount of these disappear when there are young in the nest. I provide something green every day, mostly romaine lettuce. And I am careful to keep before them ample calcium sources: different grits, cuttlebone, chicken eggshell, along with charcoal. On the advice of several Australian breeders, I include a sandy area in one corner of the aviary, which they visit frequently.

Since painteds love to bathe, but aren't too fond of a rather sticky vitamin-laden water, at one point I made the mistake of discontinuing vitamins (one of the commercial liquid varieties). At this time all but one of the nesting hens-apparently in excellent breeding condition-began to have difficulty producing eggs with shells. There was no outright eggbinding; the female would simply pass a shell-less egg. l even added liquid calcium to the water, but to no avail. I soon realized that calcium deficiency was not the problem, that instead the hen simply needed vitamins to enable her to metabolize the calcium needed to produce eggshells. This problem immediately and completely disappeared when I restored the vitamins to the drinking water. Since that time, I have provided fresh water, without the vitamins, first thing in the morning for bathing, and later change the water, adding vitamins.


While the painted finch can be successfully kept and bred in a good-size cage, it tends to do somewhat better in a larger enclosure. This is because they are a bit shy, and not as likely to readily settle down as, say, a Gould or zebra in a small cage. I have bred them in my 28" Gouldian cages, but their full personality comes out if they are given a larger area.

I went to the totally unappreciated trouble of outfitting a large room with some of my prized tropical greenery (not easily kept alive in Pittsburgh ... ), forgetfully not anticipating that since the painted comes from an arid area he would, therefore, ignore this lush setting. Instead, he prefers dead branches or logs, or, on the floor (ground), rock or sandy earth. For the most part, the finch seems to want to be in the open, with a view of what is around him.

An admirable characteristic of the painted is that he is not at all quarrelsome and will mix well with his own kind or with other birds. He does not even seem to be very territorial when nesting. Thus the fancier should only be concerned lest a larger, more aggressive bird harm the peaceable painted. And when the aviary seemingly becomes crowded, with many fledged young, these are not bothered by the adults, nor vice versa.

Here in the East, few of us bother with outdoor facilities, even in the summer months. But the painted will predictably thrive outdoors, since by all accounts it is less vulnerable to low temperatures than any of the Australian finches. And it deserves a sunbath as much as we might enjoy seeing its scarlet patches gleam, reflecting the light. If kept indoors, I recommend a bright room, with at least 12-14 hours of light during the months when the finches are breeding. I suggest about 80° temperature during the breeding period; thereafter it can fall gradually. And painteds seem to do best in a relatively low humidity environment.


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