Strawberry Finch

The tiny male STRAWBERRY FINCH, natty in red vest with white polka dots, seasonally assumes a drab garb (bird at extreme left, above) resembling, though darker than, the plumage of the female (perched, right wing extended, and flying). The domesticated BENGALEE, of uncertain origin, has been bred in three forms-dark brown and white, fawn and white, and pure white. The first two are shown here (center, perched and flying). A native of the Netherlands Indies and the Malay Peninsula, the JAVA SPARROW (lowest pair, normal and white forms) is a large and hardy breed.

By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine

This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004

Next to the canary, the weaver birds, or weaver finches (Family Ploceidae), are among the most popular of aviary birds, though here we deal with a great variety instead of a single kind. This is an Old World family of many species that are handled easily in captivity. Weavers range in size from small to tiny, and are often of beautiful and striking plumage. Like the sparrow tribe, they live on seeds and so are easily maintained.

Enter the birdhouse in any extensive zoological garden, and soon you are certain to find an aviary with a swarm of little birds that fly continually from food trays to perches or from place to place about the enclosure in vivacious activity. These are weaver finches, the group ordinarily consisting of several kinds confined in company. In separate aviaries, where they are not too much disturbed, they often nest and rear young. The species in this group, in the wild state, are most abundant in Africa and in the Indian and Malayan regions.

Many years ago I saw in a bird store a pair of handsome but tiny birds that the dealer told me were strawberry finches (Color Plate IV). They so intrigued my fancy that they soon were mine.

The birds were sent home in the usual little wicker cage wrapped carefully in paper. A peep through the wrappings showed them rest-ing quietly, and a spare canary cage was soon ready for their reception.

Great was our consternation when the tiny strawberry finches in an instant darted into the cage and out between the wires on the other side, to take refuge like two little mice beneath a table.

With some maneuvering they were captured and placed again in the cage more carefully, then left undisturbed for a time. Before long they adopted the new home and from then on made no attempt to leave. In fact, when startled, they usually took refuge in the bottom, where they seemed to feel secure in the shelter of the muslin screen around the lower section of the wires.

Until the death of the female from some obscure cause a few months later, the two were tractable but timid; from that time on the male seemed to enjoy human attention and remained a household pet for years. His beautiful warbling song. heard when all was still about him, was unusually attractive, the more so, perhaps, because it was not repeated constantly.

In aviaries scores of strawberry finches may live together, perching in pairs or little groups and nestling against one another contentedly. Sometimes they fill a foot or more of a branch or perch, chattering and preening, or resting quietly. Newcomers to the line often light on the backs of their companions and push and crowd their way down to the perch.

The females remain plain in color always, but the males change plumage twice a year, the white-spotted, red feathers of the nesting period being replaced for several months by a plain, dull dress much like that of the female.

In its native home, from India to Java, the strawberry finch, or amadavat (Amandava amandava), ranges in thickets and grasslands as well as about villages. The nests are small, neatly made balls of fine grass suspended in grass and bushes. The families are surprisingly large, each nest containing from five to ten white eggs. The species is naturalized about Pearl Harbor on Oahu. in the Hawaiian Islands.

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