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The Java Sparrow

by Arlette Spiteri

They are hardy, colorful, easy to breed and relatively inexpensive. The Javas are well known for their impeccable, slick plumage. The Java Sparrow originates from Southern Asia, where it can be found in Java, Bali, and Sumatra. There they are regarded as a serious agricultural pest in rice fields and many thousands of them are killed each year by local farmers.

The Java Sparrow must certainly be regarded as a large finch. The typical Java Rice Bird is five and a half inches in length (including the tail which is more than an inch long). They are heavy-bodied finches with exceptionally massive beaks, giving the bird a distinctive appearance. However, unlike many truly aggressive finches, the Java is not a bully, and does not seek to do harm to any aviary occupant. They can be quite docile towards even the smallest of finches. I believe their reputed aggressive nature originated from observations on their behavior that have been wrongfully interpreted. However I suggest not to allow more than a pair of Javas into any aviary or cage as they tend to dominate other species just like all other Finches would do.

Javas prefer a large nest, somewhere between a standard finch nest and a parakeet nest box. They are less likely to choose a small box or wicker basket. Unlike so many other finches, their nest is quite untidy, and often poorly made. They place very little nesting material in boxes before settling down and laying a clutch of eggs. Javas prefer large, coarse nesting material such as rough hay, large grasses, and even long pine needles. Don't bother offering them soft, fine nesting material, such as you would Zebras or other exotics. The Java will always prefer coarse material. The nest is usually deep, cup shaped and often consist if little more than a small handful of nesting material. The average clutch is 5-6 eggs, often times as many as 7 and 8 are laid. Don't be surprised if all of them hatch, and if they all fledge.

The diet of Java Rice Birds in captivity is very simple. They adapt very well to the same diet preferred by Budgies (parakeets). A standard parakeet mix containing large white proso millet, plain canary seed, and oat groats is the basic requirement. The canary and millet can be in given equal proportions, or the percent of canary seed can be somewhat lower. Oat groats are relished and should comprise about five to ten percent of the mix, perhaps more in breeding seasons and winter months. A standard finch mix is also quite suitable for Javas, although I think they would prefer the larger seeds found in parakeet mix. I routinely give my Javas a soft nesting food several times per week during the breeding season and on rare occasions I offer them greens. Javas consume tremendous amounts grit and eggshell, especially during the breeding season.

The sexes of Java Sparrows are regarded as being identical in appearance, however there are several reliable ways to distinguish males from females. The male Java Sparrow stretches his neck, and legs, standing in a more vertical position and utters a warbling, squeaky song, audible for some distance. The posture and and song are unmistakable and immediately identify an individual as a male. However don't confuse singing with calling. Both sexes chirp and call frequently, but only males sing. Male Javas have a larger, darker red beak than females. This is especially evident in mature birds. A side profile of a male Javas beak reveals that where the beak going the head, the base of the beak is larger and has a pronounce higher profile or ridge. In birds which are in breeding condition, this profile is so evident that the beak appears to be swollen and bulging at its base. By contrast, female Javas have slim, less red, more pink colored beaks.

Nowadays, breeders have managed to create a wide range of colours and mutations which make this species more appealing to any aviculturist. I strongly suggest these birds to new breeders, since they are very hardy birds and if well cared for, extremely prolific. Javas are also relatively inexpensive and easily accessible by anyone. Although they lack the colours and songs of other popular finches they make an ideal addition to any aviary.

Donated by Arlette Spiteri

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