The Orange Cheeked Waxbills
by Orlando Bonnici
In my opinion this tiny African bird (3 inches in length) is one of the most wonderful and energetic birds in our local aviculture. These relatively inexpensive birds (Lm3 per bird) are ideal for any aviary and they go well with other small waxbills and peaceful finches. They will enlighten any cage or aviary in which they are placed with their vivid colours and beautiful chirping.
A disadvantage with these birds is that they are not easily sexed. The male and the females have equal beautiful colours which makes it difficult to distinguish between them when buying a pair. Many breeders argue that males have more red/salmon colour near their vents but it is not common to find hens with large amounts of coloured feathers near their vents too. The easiest and safest way to distinguish between the sexes is to observe the birds directly. The only definite indicator, bearing in mind that the hens will sometimes carry a blade of grass and display hopping up and down on a perch. Hens will also sing a little but this song is very weak and somewhat disjointed, nowhere near the pure and melodious song of a cock.
Breeding can occur at any time of year but is usually in spring when it is starting to get warmer. With an indoor flight and sufficient heating our pair made their first attempt in late winter. The usual preference for nesting sites seems to be below one metre high. Provide long grass stems, coconut fibre or other nesting material for these birds to build their nest with. I have always used hanging wicker baskets with these birds and they always seemed to like these nests. However many other breeders use different nests including both canary baskets and also budgie boxes. The cocks of this species have a very strange yet wonderful habit. Apart from building a nest for the female to brood her eggs, the males build another smaller nest far away from the one in which females and eggs are. They usually stay in this nest themselves. Studies have show that this behaviour is done to deviate the attention of a potential predator on this empty nest rather than the nest with the eggs. It is a simple yet ingenious technique which is instinctual in these little birds and which has always fascinated me.
The hens will mainly incubate for between 12 and 14 days with the cock taking his turn sitting the eggs in the daytime only, the hen sleeps on the nest at night-time. Chicks fledge for the first time anywhere between 16 and 22 days, much depending on how well they are fed, temperature and their own hunger. The parents require live food during their breeding period, fruit flies and mini mealworms being the aviculturalists choice, they will take a wide variety of live food types and especially like small spiders. Soaked and germinated seed is taken in large amounts and fed to the chicks, grated cuttlefish bone and possibly some iodised minerals.
Orange Cheeked Waxbills should be fed small green and ripe millets form the primary seed diet. They usually harvest these directly from the ripening heads; placing bundles of gathered seeding grasses in the enclosure not only adds to the enjoyment of the keeper but helps provide variety in the diet as well.
Although these small birds are very easy to keep, they may require ideal environments and settings in order to breed. They will definitely not breed in small cages but need a considerable amount of space to build their nests. These birds need to feel safe in order to breed so it is better to leave their cage in a particular environment which they are accustomed to. I do recommend this bird to any breeder and it is ideal for beginners who want to get used to breed waxbills. Other African waxbills require much more attention than this bird so having a pair of Orange Cheekeds will be helpful to you. Although this species is not very keen on fruit take extra care to give them a balance and nutritional diet.
If properly managed, they are consistently good breeders. Although Orange Cheeks do well in planted aviaries, there are certain aspects of their breeding biology which make them more successfully bred indoors. Orange Cheeks are generally excellent parents once they've had time to settle down. I've never had an Orange Cheek chick thrown out of the nest or neglected by it's parents. Time is running out for the Orange Cheek Waxbill. In Africa this bird is slowly decreasing in number due to lack of attention by governing bodies and natural authorities. We have been very slow and neglectful in getting this and other species established in aviculture for many years. It would be a terrible tragedy to lose such a pleasant species, but it could happen. Through correct and effective aviculture we can make sure that this bird is saved and carried on for future generations to admire and enjoy.
Donated by Orlando Bonnici