Breeding Orange-breasted waxbills (Amandava subflava)

Breeding Orange-breasted waxbills (Amandava subflava) – By Nancy Ingram

Orange-breasted waxbills are native to much of sub-Saharan Africa. Other common names include Gold-breasted Waxbills, Zebra Waxbill, Golden-breasted Waxbill, and Goldbreasts. There are two subspecies of this tiny finch, Amandava subflava subflava and Amandava subflava clarkei. The subflava male has a uniform yellow/orange breast. The clarkei has a bright yellow/orange spot high on the breast. Males have a bold red stripe over the eyes from the lores to ear-coverts. The markings of the males are much darker after their second year. The female has a pale orange breast with soft shell markings on the flanks. These are the smallest of the African Estrildid finches. The lifespan in captivity is 6-10 years.

The price of this species in the bird trade is artificially kept down by imports. Gold-breasted Waxbills will be among the first finches to disappear from bird marts and shows should their importation be interrupted or stopped. Domestic breeding does not keep up with demand.

This species is not difficult to breed in captivity in a planted aviary. The 3 most common problems people have with them are egg-binding, nest abandonment, and insufficient live food. I bred this species in my sun porch for several years in a collection of other small finches. The females had trouble with egg-binding until I started stirring in a little cod liver oil into their seeds every week, all year. People who breed Gold-breasted Waxbills in cages don’t have this problem if they provide soft food which includes vitamin D3 and calcium because in a cage situation birds usually eat the soft food. Vitamin D3 allows birds to hold on to the calcium in their diet. Humans and birds make their own vitamin D3 from sunshine. We run into trouble when we breed birds indoors because ultraviolet light does not pass through glass.

Planted aviary for Orange-breasted waxbills
Planted aviary

Feeding Orange-breasted waxbills

Every other day I give soft food to all my birds. It includes mashed hard-boiled eggs, chopped greens like broccoli, carrots and carrot tops, chard, mustard, Romaine lettuce, kale, plus pulverized turkey starter, crushed oyster shells, cod liver oil, crushed sterile egg shells, etc. (I mix the greens together but put everything else in separate piles.) I add just enough to give the seeds a slight sheen. (The seeds clump if I use too much.) Cod liver oil is a commonly recommended treatment for egg-binding. Finches shell their seeds but some of the oil must be ingested during the process.

Cod liver oil in seeds for Orange-breasted waxbills
Cod liver oil in seeds.
Soft food for Orange-breasted waxbills
Soft food

I breed my birds in a temperature-controlled sun porch which I try to keep between 60º F and 90º F. This involves several heating and cooling systems in different seasons (vents, heaters, winter blankets, fans, summer screens, misters on timers, an air conditioner, etc.) I have several full spectrum lights in both flights. The ceiling and walls are translucent plastic which lets in some ultraviolet light.

Live food

This space is heavily planted with bushes, food plants, medicinal plants, and plants that host certain insects. Composts in each 10’ x 15’ flight support small moths and tiny insects. I raise fruit flies in wire-covered bowls suspended from a trellis.

Fruit fly bowls for Orange-breasted waxbills
Fruit fly bowls.

This fruit fly culture is maintained indefinitely by adding a piece of fruit and some water to each bowl every 3 or 4 days. I grow plants that support white flies – – – like collard greens, kale, tomatoes, and hibiscus. The birds hunt for tiny insects and sprouting seeds in the compost. Small mealworms are also readily eaten by these finches. I don’t have any birds throwing out babies due to a lack of protein. I have had them abandon a nest when I picked up a chick in a nest in a cage in the house before it fledged. Birds on my sun porch are more tolerant of interference.

White fly live food for Orange-breasted waxbills
White fly live food.

Breeding section for Orange-breasted waxbills

I put a variety of nesting sites around the aviary at about eye level. This species is happy in my sun porch with the extra privacy provided by some versions of my “corners” and “tubes.” These structures have closed or open bamboo nests attached. I put long blades of fresh grass out so the birds can line their own nests. The birds prefer these secluded nesting sites but will accept closed split bamboo nests in a cage.

My “tubes” are rolled ¼” wire screens about 11” square, the upper side covered with greenhouse shade cloth and artificial leaves with a short entry perch and a small open nest fastened at the far end.

Breeding Tubes for Orange-breasted waxbills

My “corners” are made of 10” square sides of ½” wire screen, wire triangle top, and bottom, rough edges smoothed with an abrasive disc, top and sides covered with shade cloth and artificial foliage. A bamboo nest is fastened high in the corner.

Breeding cage Corners for Orange-breasted waxbills

Chick development

I had 3 pairs of Gold-breasted Waxbill in a flight with other small finch species. I have observed that the female spends a little more time in the nest than the male although both parents sleep in the nest at night. The eggs are incubated for 12 days. Don’t touch the chicks until they fledge. If I absolutely have to check the nest, I will look inside with a borescope. A borescope is a fiber optic tool used to see into small spaces, used by mechanics and doctors.

I recommend banding Gold-breasted Waxbills 2 weeks after fledging so the band will be more likely to stay on. I have made a chart to keep track of how long incubation takes for these birds, days to fledge, and the length of time chicks are dependent on their parents. I write these milestones on a calendar as they occur.

10 day old Orange-breasted waxbills chicks in table spoon
10-day-old chicks in a tablespoon.

Gold-breasted Waxbills are wonderful parents if provided with sufficient live food to feed their chicks and left to do their job without interference. They are constantly feeding and grooming their chicks. The chicks fledge 21 days after they hatch but are dependent on their parents for another 28 days after they leave the nest. I keep only small compatible finch species together. These are gentle birds in a mixed collection of small finches.

21 day old newly fledged Orange-breasted waxbills
21-day old newly fledged
gold breast waxbills.

Banding Orange-breasted waxbills

For years I banded all the chicks with the smallest closed band I could find (2.1 mm NFSS, size A). Almost all of these bands fell off. I stopped breeding them for a while because I couldn’t keep track of the families without bands. Now I am colony breeding and not banding them or keeping track of bloodlines. I remove chicks as they become independent. I am careful to remove adults. Colony breeding requires 3 or more pairs of Gold-breasted Waxbills. Many commercial cages are designed for larger birds. Bar spacing for this species should be 3/8” or less. Young chicks can easily slip through these bars so extra precautions must be taken to keep them with their parents if breeding in a cage.

Male and chicks Orange-breasted waxbills
Male and chicks.
Pair Orange-breasted waxbills
Pair Orange-breasted waxbills.

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