The Nominant Australian Race
The New Guinea Race "Sharpii"
Information about the Group in General
Members of the genus Lonchura (species including the Nuns and Spice Finches) are often called Munia or Mannikins. The term Mannikin appears to be the preferred name used by aviculturist. Most are considered difficult birds to breed. In fact the entire Lonchura genus is somewhat renowned for the great difficulty in encouraging wild caught birds to go to nest in cages or aviaries. Fortunately most Mannikins, as they are often called, are hardy and many are very long lived birds, so this habit does afford the aviculturist an opportunity for experimentation. If one checks the breeding record, it seems that actually many species of Mannikins have been bred in captivity, but it goes without saying that all are considered difficult and true repetitive success is infrequent with most. Often times individual pairs of a particular species can be enticed to breed, and the obvious hope is that their offspring will behave similarly. This is seldom the case. The offspring of wild caught (F1) birds are often times just as likely to resist breeding as if they had also been wild caught.
All of this sounds quite depressing, but there is no doubt that this group of finches holds a special fascination with most finch breeders. It is not for bright, bold, or gaudy flashy coloration. Most of the members of this genus are only various shades and patterns of brown, black, white and similar colors. But that is their appeal! These various shades and patterns of brown, black, white, etc. are unparalleled in the finch world. Simply put, Mannikins are absolutely beautiful birds. Their constant sleek plumage and general appearance, their often bright silvery blue beaks, all serve to make these birds truly special to behold and enjoy. Certainly their hardiness is an asset. Even the first time finch keeper can maintain common species like the Spice Finch or the several of the various common Nuns, such as the Tri-Colored Nun, Black Headed Nun or White Headed Nun, with ease and with a confidence that they will remain healthy and live many years. You could not ask for a more interesting group of finches to keep.
The Chestnut Breasted Mannikin
The Chestnut Breasted Mannikin (Lonchura castaneothroax) is one of the few, perhaps the only dependable free breeding species in the genus Lonchura (not including the Society Finch). Frankly it is far more easy to breed Chestnut Breasted Finches than the more common Spice Finch. Why? Well, the only logical explanation is that Chestnut Breasted Finches which are available to us (those of us living outside Australia) are all descended from captive bred birds and that no recent wild caught Chestnut Breasted Finches have been available for many decades. In other words every Chestnut Breasted Finch available to us has a long lineage of captive breeding. It would not surprise anyone of us if wild caught Chestnut Breasted Finches were to become available, they probably would be as difficult to breed as any other species in the group.
Pictured above are two races of the Chestnut Breasted Finches. There are several other distinct races scattered throughout New Guinea and surrounding areas, but apparently most are not readily available and certainly not domesticated. The race which is common in captivity and free breeding is the Australian subspecies Lonchura castaneothroax sub. castaneothroax. The northern New Guinea Race Lonchura castaneothroax sub. Sharpii, is occasionally available from importers and breeders, and appears to be the only other race regularly offered for sale. In general the two races are similar in color but in real life, the "Sharpii" race is a smaller bird than the Australian race. Sharpii is also more boldly marked, with a darker face and a prominent pale crown and nape region. I had the fortunate experience years ago to have both races in my collection and they were substantially different. I was also able to breed both, but the Sharpii's were never very successful when compared to the nominant Australian race.
Recently I had the opportunity to acquire a number of pairs of Lonchura castaneothroax sub. castaneothroax, the common Australian race. I obtained 3 pair from a breeder in the US, and several months later, I purchased several additional pairs from an importer or European finches in Canada.
FEEDING CHESTNUT BREASTED FINCHES
I fed the birds a standard finch seed mixture consisting of various types of millets (white proso, small yellow, small red, Japanese millet, canary seed, and hulled oats). I also provided millet sprays and offered a dried commercial nesting-egg food mixture. Additionally I offered them mealworms (about a dozen per pair daily or every other day). These finches ate everything. They definitely had a preference for canary seed, and hulled oats. They ate lots of oats! They also readily ate mealworms and would often pounce on them as soon as I turned away from the cage. They did eat the commercial egg food, but I am uncertain as to how beneficial it was, since it was not a preferred food item. I also provided a mixture of finch mineral grit and finely crush egg shells in a separate small dish, both of which were readily accepted.
BREEDING CHESTNUT BREASTED FINCHES
I certainly am not professing to have had much success with these finches at this time, but I have bred them and here is what I did. I set the first three pairs up in small individual cages measuring about 2 feet square. A wooden nest box was placed on the out side of the cage. Initially I offered wooden nest boxes and wicker nest to the birds. None of the nest appear to be to their likening. Later, I did choose a style of box with a very large opening affording the birds a clear view of the interior of the nest. I often use these boxes for Gouldians who appear reluctant to enter nest boxes. Of the three pairs that I set up for breeding, within a couple of weeks one pair began, laying eggs in the nest, and a few weeks after that a second pair began similar nesting, producing a clutch of eggs. The third pair never nested. The clutch size varied from 3-5 eggs, and I was especially surprised at the distinctive shape of the eggs. Both breeding pairs produced noticeably long eggs, rather than rounded eggs. Fertility was high, generally all of the eggs in each clutch were fertile, occasionally a single egg was infertile. Initially I fostered the eggs to Society Finches as I felt uncomfortable leaving them to the parents. It was partly successful. The young Chestnut Breasted Finches were recognizably different in the nest immediately upon hatching, although quite similar to newly hatch Society Finches, but they were also sufficiently distinct that I could tell who was who. The newly hatched Chestnut Breasted Finches were slightly different in skin color, perhaps a slight orange/flesh tone. Their mouth opening also appeared to be distinct. These subtle differences enabled me to monitor the daily development of the young Chestnut Breasted Finches. Some individuals did not thrive after hatching and even though they were fed by their foster parents, each clutch resulted in some losses. I cannot overlook the fact that I usually fostered the eggs tot he Society Finches during the onset of hatching. I did not allow the Society Finches to incubate the eggs for the entire period no particular reasons, I just didn't do it) and for what it was worth I do not use my Society Finches as foster parents, but I assumed that fostering Chestnut Breasted Finches would not really be fostering, as they are so similar to Societies. The Societies as I expected did feed the young, but in each case, I only saved about 50-75% of each clutch. The young Mannikins appeared to grow a little more slowly than the society babies of similar age. Plus, much to my astonishment, the Society foster parents did seem to abandon some Chestnut Breasted young selectively. As the Chestnut Breasted young grew there was period when they resembled young Self Society Finches. Not until they were nearly all plumed were they easy to pick out. I did attempt to allow the Chestnut Breasted parents to raise a clutch on their own, and each time, I lost the youngsters. The Chestnut Breasted were not interested in feeding young in the small cages. They did incubate very well, but did not feed.
The young were allowed to remain with the Society foster parents until I was certain they were fully weaned (several weeks). I transferred them to small flight cages and allowed them to mature there. Chestnut Breasted young seem to take for ever to show any color. It seems I waited at least 5 months or longer before all of the young were in color.
The above was written several years ago, I no longer am breeding any CBM's, still have some but I do not make any attempt to raise enough birds to offer any for sale, sorry.
The original three pair of Chestnut Breasted Finches produced about 20 young of which I was able to save 12. After I acquired the new birds from Canada I placed all of them in two large walk in flight cages measuring 12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 7 feet tall. I "brushed" flights with natural, locally obtained native bamboo (Arundinaria species). "Brushing a flight" is the Australian term for applying natural vegetation to the aviary to entice finches and other birds to utilize them for nesting. The Bamboo was collected near my home, allowed to dry for a day or two, and 4-6 culms (stems) were selected and placed along the side of the flight. A strand of stainless steel wire about 14 inches long was used to hold the stems against the aviary wall. Since my aviaries are adjacent to each other, I simply made a small hook at the end of the wire strand and inserted the hook through the wall, pulled it around the cluster of Bamboo and inserted the other end into the aviary wire. Three strands were used per cluster of brush. The Brushed Flights with native bamboo look fantastic and the birds seem to love the natural plant material. They immediately began inspecting the vegetation. I also placed numerous wicker nest and boxed in the bamboo and I hung several large wire baskets fill with dried Bermuda hay, up in the far corner of the flights. The finches immediately inspected the large baskets too. Actually, I do not expect any sudden interest in nesting to begin as it is not quite the right season for them to be breeding. However I am optimistic.
Garrie P. Landry