Old World Aviaries: About finches—

Poephila acuticauda
Long-tailed grassfinch or shafttail

Fenton Mereness
E&F Birds

Found in the wild in Northern Australia. In the northern portion of this area the yellow--beaked (acuticauda) is found. Going eastward it blends and gives way to the red--beaked variety (hecki). The bird often has been crossbred in captivity and I believe most of the birds found in collections in the U.S. are the Hecks or partially so. My plans are to breed my birds by beak color to see if I can eventually regain the two varieties. The beak color described as “coral” is the result of the cross breeding.

As I try to describe the beauty of the bird I am confronted with the realization that my command of English is sorely lacking. Therefore, from Finches and Soft--billed Birds by Henry Bates and Robert Busenbark, I quote:

The Shafttail is a perfect example of exotic pattern and contrasts which permit a bird of somber and quiet colors to achieve an ultimate in beauty... As an ideal aviary bird, the Shafttail leaves nothing to be desired... Shafttails are ideal breeders. They have helped to enhance the reputation of all Australian birds.

I can find little written on the color mutations. The bird has been bred in captivity long enough for there to be detailed genetic records, but I have not located any. If you know of some, please let me know. The Finch Breeders Handbook published by the Queensland Finch Society in 1982 briefly mentions whites, fawns, and pieds. I don't believe I have seen a pied, but I am now breeding normals, fawn, white with brown bib, and albino white. The normal has fawn--brown wings and back. Its belly and lower breast are fawn. The head is blue gray. The lores, bib, trouser stripe and the long tapering tail are black. Its rump is white. The fawn variety is a delicate brown which I find beautiful. The white is white. The difference between the sexes is subtle. The most reliable method is to observe for the males crowing and mating song. Once you have a true male, the sexing of the hen, again by observation, is relatively easy.

As you may surmise, I truly enjoy the Australian finches. To successfully breed and care for any pet you need to read, observe, and understand their needs and behavior. This is mandatory if you are to do justice to the Australians. After the Zebra finch, which we will discuss in a future article, the Long-tailed Grassfinch is one of the better with which to begin.

Suggested reading:

Finches and Soft--billed Birds -- Henry Bates and Robert Busenbark.

The New Finch Handbook -- Christa Koepff.

Finch Breeders Handbook -- Queensland Finch Society.

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