Breed: Long-tail finch
Temperament: inquisitive and sociable
Cost: $80 – $120
Lifespan: 5-8 years
Recommended for: beginner to experienced bird enthusiasts
Of all of the Australian finches certainly one of the most stylish is the Long-tailed grass finch. Also called the Blackheart finch and more commonly just the Long-tail finch, they are an elegant looking bird naturally distributed in northern parts of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.
Australian finches are a popular pet amongst bird lovers. The level of care and experience required to maintain finches can depend on the variety, however the Long-tail finch is ideally suited to the beginner.
Not as ‘flashy’ as other finches, the Long-tail is an elegant bird with subtle colouration. It is predominantly grey, with a white ear patch and black ‘bib’ evident on the throat (hence the name ‘Blackheart’). The rump and underparts are white with a black flank-mark. A bar across the rump and a black stripe through the eye further provides a very sleek appearance. And with hardly an obvious feather to be seen, the observer’s eye could be fooled into thinking the bird is covered in satin.
There are two varieties of Long-tail finch. The Western Australian variety is yellow-billed with red feet, whilst the Northern Territory and Queensland variety is red-billed with redder feet. This form is commonly called the Hecks variety. The Heck’s beak colour can range from bright orange to deep red.
There is little difference in appearance between the sexes and usually only the trained eye can tell. The male’s throat-patch will usually appear wider than the female’s and the male’s beak may also be slightly larger, whilst the female’s head may be darker.
Like most finches, the Long-tail is not really a cage bird. Too active for a small space, an aviary is the preferred method of housing. They are graceful, fast fliers which thrive in either small colonies or mixed flights with other suitable species. The aviary should be planted out, providing some greenery and habitat for the birds to collect nesting material and search for insects on the wing. And here’s a handy tip; Paint the wire black. This will make it less obtrusive and allow the birds to become the focus of attention.
A variety of perch sizes, shapes and diameters will help exercise the bird’s feet and toes. Place perches strategically to prevent droppings from contaminating water and food dishes and to prevent the tail from hanging in dishes or on the floor.
Feeding is easy. Long-tails can be fed standard finch mix, cuttlebone, grit, seeding grasses such as millet spray and treats such as madeira cake and fresh fruit and vegetables. Live food – small grubs, worms and insects are a necessary part of the diet during breeding.
Nor are Long-tails regarded as a difficult species to breed. They’ve got two seasons; from around January through to May, then again around October to December, when another nest may appear. Either provide nest boxes or, for a more natural effect, provide a supply of natural brush and grasses of varying lengths and coarseness. This allows the birds to build their own elaborate nests. They have quite a large nest, around 18cm with a long 10cm tunnel. So it is preferable to provide long, fine pieces of grass. The long-tail also likes to line its nest with feathers. Use an old onion bag full of white feathers and they can just pick the feathers through the bag.
Clutch sizes range from four to six and incubation is usually 13 to 17 days. Sexual maturity is reached at about six months but it is best to wait until they are nine to 12 months old before breeding.
Like most finches, the Long-tail is not much of a singer and wont provide much in the way of audible entertainment.
These little birds have a lovely personality. Unlike many finch varieties, they are very inquisitive and sociable and will always come and inspect any new addition to the aviary. Long-tails also have the unusual habit of bobbing their head up and down quickly, especially after landing and during courtship. Unlike most grass finches, Long-tails don’t have any tail movement.
Finches are not typically a bird that can be handled and are better as pets to be watched. One must be careful when mixing varieties, as all breeds do not get along. Although Long-tails are not aggressive, their inquisitive nature can upset other varieties of birds. Finches in general are social birds and do prefer to be kept in a colony setting.
Health and lifespan
Finches will average five to eight years if properly cared for. The Long-tails do not suffer any other diseases than which may normally afflict birds. A regular worming program, about three times a year is most important. The birds do not appreciate damp and should be kept in a dry environment.
Long-tails require daily fresh water and greens. Seed should be replaced regularly.
A pretty hardy species although does best in NSW and areas north. It is most important to ensure the aviary is kept in a dry and draft-proof environment.
Around $80 -$120 a pair. Where once the Hecks was more difficult to obtain it is now the more popular of the two long-tail varieties.
Either one of the varieties can be found at most good bird shops. They’re great for beginners, particularly kids and there are many aviculture clubs situated all around Australia. These bird societies are always willing to share information, provide handy tips and advise on breeding. Generally it is also cheaper buying birds from members than commercial pet stores. The Long-tail Is also a particular favourite amongst experienced breeders who are attracted to the elegant lines of the species.
We filmed this segment in Sydney with Ivan Cindric and his family. For further assistance and advice on Long-tail finches, contact either a reputable bird and pet shop or the Finch Society of Australia.
Postal address: PO Box 9, St Marys, NSW 1790