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The Gold Breast Waxbills

Whenever I am asked to recommend a species of Waxbill to a beginner the first to come to mind is the Goldbreast (Amandava subflava), from Africa. At 9-10 cm (3½-4 in) it is the smallest Waxbill of all but, once settled, it quickly becomes apparent that its size belies its tremendous robust nature.

The sexes are very easily determined, with the male having the top of the head and neck of a rather dark olive brown, shading to a slightly darker and less olivaceous tone on the back, upper rump and wings. The rump is a deep scarlet as is the superciliary or eyebrow stripe and this latter characteristic, along with a vivid orange-scarlet splash on the underparts, is a distinguishing feature. The female lacks the eyebrow stripe and is mainly pale yellow below.

Also in the male, the sides of the breast and flanks are greenish grey with yellowish white or pale buff barring, while those of the female are noticeably more muted. The bill coloration in both sexes is red with a narrow black culmen ridge and blackish underside of the lower mandible. The irides are reddish and the legs and feet are pale or flesh brown.

Being such a diminutive bird, one could be mistaken into believing that the Goldbreast will easily breed in a cage. However, while cage-breeding can prove productive, I have never failed to breed it in a spacious free-flying birdroom and so have continued to use this method of housing.

The temperature should never be allowed to fall below 15 deg C (60 deg F), the room must be completely draught-free, a minimum of 12 hours (preferably 14) of lighting should be available at all times, and a good amount of half open-fronted wooden nest-boxes or wicker nesting baskets should be hung up high. Being a nest-rooster the Goldbreast should not be left to just roost on a perch.

The staple diet should consist of a mixture of plain Canary seed and yellow, white and panicum millet. These seeds ought to be fed throughout the non-breeding season, but augmented with wild meadow-grass seeds, chickweed, dandelion, eggfood and tiny livefood, such as fruit fly larvae, aphids, very young waxworms and the smallest of , preferably, white-skinned mini-mealworms just prior to and then throughout the breeding period. Fresh water should be available daily, as should crushed baked poultry eggshells, oystershell, limestone and grated cuttlefish, which can all be mixed together and provided by way of a stainless steel dog-type bowl.

Once a pair have become accustomed to their surroundings it won’t be long before they are using the nesting receptacles for more than just roosting in! For this reason it is imperative to have filled the boxes or baskets with a handful of coconut fibre, which the birds will turn into a cozy nest, and sometimes line with a few small white chicken feathers, if available.

4-6 tiny eggs will be laid and incubated by both birds alternately for around 12 days. On hatching, the young are at first fleshy-pink with tufts of white down. After a few days, however, they become dark brown, have black beaks, and fledge at 18-21 days.

I have never known any other Waxbill so keen to start a family but success is very much dependent on livefood. There is an instinctive desire on the part of the parents to search out tiny insects as seed alone is not enough. Even insects the size of a standard mini-mealworm are likely to be overlooked through being considered too large. My greatest successes have always occurred when I have plenty of fruit flies breeding. The flies themselves provide little interest, it is their larvae they are after. In the early stages of the nestlings’ growth, particularly, I should say this livefood is sought-out over all others.

Once independent, the young can be left to flock with their parents as the species is very tolerant of its own kind. This only applies to those bred in a spacious birdroom, however. Birds bred in a cage must be separated as the adult male will view other males, once they have come into color, as potential rivals and fighting will ensue.

The Goldbreast always commands a good price and, in view of the potential ban on birds trapped in Senegal, from whence many have previously been exported, it is vital that a concerted effort is undertaken to perpetuate captive-bred stock. Of the three subspecies, A. s. subflava, A. s. niethammeri and A.s. clarkei, it is the first, the nominate, that is from Senegal and potentially the most currently at risk. Nevertheless, as more and more pressure is brought to bear on African and Asian countries to cease the export of their wildlife no race is safe.

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