Breeding green singing finches (Crithagra mozambica)

Breeding green singing finches (Crithagra mozambica) [Yellow-fronted canary]

By: Nancy Ingram


Little Green Singers are native to most of the African continent. Prior to international endangered species listings (CITES), they were very common in pet stores in the United States. They are not endangered in Africa but their importation is now limited. This is a dimorphic species but the initial plumage of a chick is identical to that of a female. It takes 9 months for the first molt to determine the sex of a bird.

Breeding environment:

I raise my birds on a temperature-controlled sun porch (60°- 90°F). I was unable to successfully breed this species indoors in a cage and decide to try to create a more natural environment for them. I divided the space on my sun porch into two flights which measure 10’ x 15’. Each flight is heavily planted with bushes, growing vegetables (carrots, mustard, chard, etc.), and medicinal plants such as wormwood. Sprouted millet is rinsed on a timer 4 times a day and always available. There is a large compost in both flights which supports a lot of tiny insects. I also raise mealworms and fruit flies. I use no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.

Yellow-fronted canary on wormwood
On wormwood.

Nest building of green singing finches:

The Little Green Singers are the dominant species in my collection of finches. I have a single pair in both flights. These birds want to breed in the fall. The female solicits food from the male which he regurgitates to her. They prefer to nest in a somewhat secluded corner of my sun porch. I provide long pieces of green grass. They usually claim an open canary nest in a hedge but will also accept a closed split bamboo nest. Inside this, they characteristically build a small very neat nest – – every piece of grass or stem is carefully aligned. Some pairs re-use the nest they build but others don’t.

Green singing finch female
Female green singing finch (has a necklace)

Breeding behavior of green singing finches:

Most breeding behavior in birds is instinctual and the more natural the setting the better for these birds. Little Green Singers available in this country are wild caught or very close to wild-caught. This species does not relate to being bred in cages. Whereas canaries have been domestically bred since the 1500s most Little Green Singers are still wild birds. Breeding them on a planted sun porch creates an environment that insures success. These birds are characteristically good parents and eager to nest.

Eggs and chicks:

My females usually lay 2 or 3 eggs. This is about all that will fit in the small nest they build. The female incubates the eggs for 13 days. She flies off the nest with any interruption so I try not to walk into the sun porch any more than necessary during this time. The male feeds her and chases away other birds during the incubation. He will sometimes chase her back to the nest. I keep track of when the eggs are laid and hatch. I refer to a chart I made to remind myself how long this species needs for incubation, days to fledging, time dependent on parents, etc. The chicks vary in size because the eggs are incubated as they are laid.

Green singing finch chick

I sometimes look in the nest with a borescope so as not to disturb things. (A borescope is a fiber optic tool used to look inside confined spaces.) The female regurgitates food to the chicks. I band them at 6-8 days with a 2.6 mm band. The chicks are very fragile at this stage. I use a spoon to ease their move in and out of closed nests. In an open canary nest, I had a female gently remove the band from her chick’s leg. I replaced it for 2 more days until she could no longer get it off the growing chick’s leg.

Hatching of green singing finches chicks:

Hatching to fledging takes 19-20 days. Three or four days before they are due to fledge I tie the entire nest in the bottom of a tall cage. I remove the top of the cage so the parents can easily get in and feed their chicks. I do this in the morning and watch to be sure the parents know where I put the babies!

Yellow-fronted canary chick

When the chicks do fledge on their own they will be in the bottom of this cage and not on the cold cement floor of my sun porch. In the wild, they spend the first 4 days on or near the ground. A chick that is too cold can’t beg for food. In about 5 days the chicks are able to perch and are safe from the cold floor. They remain dependent on their parents for a total of 42 days after they fledge. It is important to remove the chicks following this time period because the parents will peck at them when they beg for food and can injure their toes and around their beak if not taken away.

Male behavior:

Some people describe Little Green Singers as aggressive. The male’s job during the incubation period is to chase away other birds. This might be a problem for other species in a cage but not in a large flight. It is recommended that there be 3 or 4 other species in the flight to distract the male Little Green Singer. Individuals of this species may exhibit stress-induced behavior ranging from feeding each other to slashing each other with their beaks when moved from their usual setting. This behavior can be manifest when transporting birds to shows. I put each bird in a tiny cage for a trip.

Egg binding:

A young female may lay too many eggs for her first nest. This sets up a potential problem with egg binding. I throw sterile crushed egg shells on the floor and stir a little cod liver oil into their soft food and seeds to insure some vitamin D3 gets into their diet. Vitamin D3 is necessary for calcium absorption. Birds and humans make vitamin D3 from sunlight but ultraviolet light does not pass through glass. We raise our birds indoors. I use full spectrum light bulbs for several hours a day (5 a.m.-10 a.m.).

Compatibility of pairs:

This species can live for a long time in captivity, 12-18 years. They seem to have definite mate preferences. It takes some trial and error to find compatible pairs. They seem to produce an occasional very aggressive individual. Little Green Singers are not good candidates for trying to breed in cages. Other breeders have shared their idea of separating a pair after egg laying with a divider. The male then feeds the female through the wire.

Feeding green singing finches :

Some people enrich the environment by adding gallon pots of growing vegetables. I provide soft food every other day to all my birds: 5 chopped vegetables like carrot tops, carrots, chard, cucumber, peppers, mustard, etc., mashed hardboiled egg with a little cod liver oil, crushed cooked eggshell and pulverized oyster shells, unmedicated turkey starter, millet sprouts, cracked sunflower seeds, etc. I top the soft food with some mealworms. I have fruit flies available to the birds at all times because I raise them in baskets hanging from trellises over the composts.

Air sac mites:

This species seems to be susceptible to air sac mites. For adult birds, I use a small drop of oil-based Ivomec® (for cattle) under one wing followed by a second drop under the other wing 5 or 6 days later. I use a 27 gauge needle. I treat chicks only once when I band them.

Conclusion to breeding green singing finches:

I have run into people who bred this species a long time ago. Some of these “old timers” insist that they are easy to breed. I’m sure that can be the case with some individual birds. One successful breeder said, “Oh, they are as easy to raise as canaries.” I thought about this for a while and decided that our supply of Little Green Singers wouldn’t be so dependent on imports if that was the case!

I also breed Strawberry finches and Orange-breasted waxbills.

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