Breeding the African Finches – Breeding Orange Cheeks

by: Levin Tilghman, Philadelphia, PA
NFSS – September/October, 1995

No aviary or birdroom is complete without the beauty and charm of this delightful waxbill. Along with the Red Ear, St. Helena and Cordon Blue Waxbills, the Orange Cheek has been until very recently, one of the cheapest and most commonly imported of the smaller African Waxbills. Unfortunately, they have developed the reputation of being difficult to breed. Nothing could be further from the truth. 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.

Selective mates

Despite what I have read in many sources, the male Orange Cheek generally does not have larger and brighter orange cheek patches. There is considerable individual variation in this. I have found behavior to be the most reliable indicator of sex. During the breeding season the males sing constantly and perform their amusing courtship dance while holding a long grass stem in their beaks. Orange Cheeks are extremely selective in their choice of mates. I have a hen that formed a pair bond with a male in a shipping box. They were separated for over 6 months. But she still remembered him and refused to accept any other male for a mate. Birds of the same sex will not infrequently form pair bonds. I’ve had this happen with both cocks and hens.

Flight cages preferred

In mixed flights, Orange Cheeks will fight very bitterly amongst themselves over mates and nesting sites. They will also attack species that are much larger than themselves. I even had a pair take over a nest that was begun by a pair of Black Cheeked waxbills. I prefer to breed them indoors in flight cages, 1 pair per 3 ft. flight. At least 2 comers of the cage should be thickly planted but the center of the cage should be left open to give the birds the opportunity to forage. Ordinary finch wicker basket nests are often utilized, but most of my pairs constructed free standing nests on the bottom of the cage. These were typical waxbill nests, consisting of a large main nest and the smaller “cock nest” on top of it. The male takes great pride in his creation, adding to it both while the hen is incubating and after the eggs have hatched.

Orange Cheeks are extremely light sitters and will leave their eggs at the slightest disturbance, especially at the beginning of incubation. It is important to keep activity in the birdroom at a minimum at this time or the clutch may be abandoned. The eggs hatch in about 12-14 days. As soon as the eggs begin to hatch, the adults will begin to forage for live food on the bottom of the cage. Provide as much as possible. I have found small, newly molted mealworms and white worms to be most preferred by them. Some pairs will also accept fruit flies and waxworms. The young are fed exclusively on livefood for the first week. Then the parents start to feed them soaked seed, seeding grasses, and eggfood, while continuing to feed livefood, but less of it. They grow very rapidly and generally fledge when less than 3 weeks of age. One peculiarity that I’ve observed about Orange Cheeks is that they do not brood their young at night for very long. Most hens stop at around 4 days and a few even less than that. For the most part, the young seem able to keep themselves warm. But if the adults are nesting in an outdoor aviary, and if it becomes cool and wet, the young will not survive. Young Orange Cheeks are incredibly tiny when they first fledge but they develop very quickly and are generally self sufficient within a few weeks. When the male begins to chase them, you know it is time to remove them from their parents. Orange Cheeks, are very prolific and will rear several broods in succession.

They appear to reach sexual maturity at a fairly early age; I’ve had young males beginning to sing while still being fed by their parents. I have never had any success fostering Orange Cheeks to Society finches. Although the young are very similar to Society babies, they are so small that some of the large Societies may actually crush or suffocate them when they hatch. Orange Cheeks are easy to feed but should have a varied diet. Eggfood makes a good substitute for livefood for non-breeding birds but livefood is essential for the rearing of young. Seeding grasses are greatly relished and are also used as nesting material and for courtship displays. Make sure that they are collected from an unsprayed source.

In contrast to what I’ve read and been told, Orange Cheeks are not hard to breed. I have found them to be one of the more easily bred of the waxbills. Mine have caused me considerably less trouble than my Cordon Blues. 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. We have been very slow and neglectful in getting this and other species established in aviculture. It would be a terrible tragedy to lose such a pleasant species, but it could happen.

References:

Black, Robert, “Orange Cheeked Waxbill “, American Cage Bird Magazine, Nov. 1986, pp. 11-14.
Boosey, Edward J., Foreign Bird Keeping, London: Iliffe Books, 1962.
Buckley, Stash & Carol Anne Calvin, “Estrildid Finches in Mixed flights – the Death Blow”, AFA Watchbird, v. 21 n. 6 10-13, 1994.
Hinze, Ian, “Orange Cheek Barometer, Estrildian, v.1 n. 3, pp. 15-19, 1993.
Osbourn, Adrian, “Orange Cheeked Waxbills”, Estrildian, v.2 n. 1, pp. 30-32, 1993.
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