THE MASKED GRASSFINCH

The Masked Grassfinch (Poephila personata) is a pleasantly attractive Australian finch. The name derives from the prominent black mask, reminiscent of the bandit mask of the raccoon. The tail and thighs are also black. The rest of the bird is colored in shades of brown and grey. There is a great deal of variation possible with respect to exact hues. Anything from fawn to charcoal is possible. The most attractive birds are almost blue. Juveniles lack the black mask.

The gender may be determined from the extent of the black on the face and thighs. The black mask of the male goes beyond the eye. The black of the thigh feathers is also more extensive in the male. This is a matter of degree and works best by comparing several birds.

The Masked Grassfinch is very similar to the Shaftail Finch (Poephila acuticauda) in appearance. Curiously enough, while the Shaftail is an easy bird for even the beginner to breed in cage or aviary, the Masked Grassfinch is not quick to go to nest. Experts have thrown up their hands in frustration with this species.

Feeding is no problem at all. As in most Australian finches, any of the many good vitamin, mineral, and protein enriched seed mixes may serve as the backbone of the diet. Spray millet and fresh greens should be offered as often as possible. A nestling food and mealworms are also necessary, especially when (if!) young are in the nest. Health grit and cuttlebone are musts for calcium. Vitamins and minerals may also be supplied in the drinking water.

The Masked Grassfinch does better in flights than in cages. Problems arise in breeding for, though of a highly social nature, they will argue with each other over nest sites. This constant squabbling will limit, or preclude, breeding success. One ingenious breeder worked around this by housing his pairs individually in small flights. Close enough to see the other pairs, the birds social needs were met. Housed one pair to the flight, they could not interfere with each other.

Either the wooden finch nest box or a wicker basket nest will be accepted. Since this finch feed and nest near the ground in the wild, the nest should be placed at a height of about three feet.

As with some other Australian Finches, these birds use charcoal in building the nest. This material may help in putting the birds in the proper mood to start a family. Charcoal should be kept before them in a clean dish. Provide a wide variety of materials for the nest. Moss and small feathers are especially good.

Five eggs is the average for each nest.

Individual pairs may settle on a different food to feed the babies in the nest. For breeding success, it is important to offer as wide a variety of foods as possible. It is also important to be consistent. The failure to offer a single item for one day may mean a nest full of dead youngsters. If all else fails, the always reliable Society Finches may be called upon as foster parents.

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