Blue-breasted cordon bleu (Uraeginthus angolensis)

  • Distribution: Across a wide band of southern Africa.
  • Size: 12.5cm (5in).
  • Diet: Small seeds, with a relatively high level of insects.
  • Sexing: Hens are usually paler and duller, depending on the race concerned.
  • Compatibility: Can be difficult at breeding time.
  • Pet appeal: Colour and overall beauty.
Blue-breasted waxbill or cordon bleuThe blue-breasted or Angolan cordon bleu is a typical representative of the group of three species sometimes described collectively as the blue waxbills. These attractive finches usually feed on the ground, seeking out small grass and weed seeds, although they will also take winged insects in flight.

Their diet must therefore include regular supplies of invertebrates, such as moulting mealworms, spiders and small crickets. Live food of this type will become increasingly important during the breeding period, providing the essential animal protein to ensure that the chicks develop well. Make sure live food is gut-loaded, to maximise its nutritional value at this stage. In the absence of live food, it is highly unlikely that the parents will rear their offspring satisfactorily.

Once established in their surroundings, cordon bleus may live for a decade or more, although they can prove difficult to establish in the first instance. While being allowed into an outside aviary in temperate climates during the summer months, cordon bleus should not be regarded as being able to survive without artificial heat and light during the cold winter months. It is nevertheless cheaper, and preferable, to bring them indoors during this period.

Red-cheeled cordon bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus) maleRelated species, such as the red-cheeked cordon bleu (U. bengalus) and the blue-headed (or blue-capped) waxbill (U. cyanocephala) have similar requirements. The latter is often regarded as being more prolific under aviary conditions, but breeding results with all species are reasonably straightforward, providing care is taken with their diet.

The red-cheeked cordon bleu is most easily sexed, with only mature males showing the characteristic bright red cheek patches. Hens may be identifiable by their paler blue colouration in the case of the blue-headed waxbill.

Breeding behaviour

The nest is usually dome-shaped, with an entrance at the side, although in an aviary the birds may prefer to use a hollow log or small nestbox, filling it with suitable material. Fix the box relatively high up in the flight, under cover and in a position where the birds will be out of the line of general flight in the aviary. Otherwise, they may be disturbed and abandon the nest.

The cock executes an attractive little dance during the courting period, tripping around the hen with a piece of grass in his bill. His song is sweet and pleasant, but he is less likely to be well disposed to other blue waxbills sharing the aviary, and these birds should be housed apart for breeding purposes, although they will agree well with other waxbills.

Pair of red-cheeked cordon bleus (Uraeginthus bengalus).A clutch of between 1-6 eggs will be laid, which both members of the pair take turns at incubating for about 12 days before hatching occurs. Assuming that all goes well, the chicks will fledge around 18 days old, resembling adult hens at this stage, although their legs are brownish. It will be two or three weeks after fledging before the chicks are feeding independently. Two broods may be reared in succession during the summer months.

A strange quirk

An interesting and apparently localised variant of the red-cheeked cordon bleu is an orange-cheeked form. In this case, the red patches are replaced by yellowish-orange plumage, with the remainder of the body colouration being unaffected. Although a small number of these birds were imported to Britain during the 1980s, nothing further appears to have been recorded about them to date, including where they originated. It is likely that this characteristic was a mutation or localised variant, rather than a metabolic quirk,because of the very specific nature of this change and the fact that it was not confined to a single individual.