Java sparrow (Rice bird) - Lonchura (Padda) oryzivora

Rice bird• Distribution: Thought to have originated on the islands of Java and Bali, but has since spread over a much wider area, ranging to Malaya, the Moluccas, the Philippines and other Asian localities.
• Size: 14cm (5.5in).
• Diet: Small cereal seeds, including paddy rice plus some greenstuff and possibly livefood.
• Sexing: The sexes are alike in appearance.
• Compatibility: Keep members of this species in groups, or in the company of munias.
• Pet appeal: Invariably sleek and lively.

The Java sparrow often occurs in close proximity to agricultural areas, and, because of the damage that flocks can cause to the growing crops, it is also become known as the rice bird. These finches have been kept in Europe since the nineteenth century and possibly earlier, with the first definite breeding success taking place during 1890 in Switzerland. Java sparrows thrive in groups in indoor flights or outside aviaries, being highly social by nature. They should not be kept singly, or in the company of smaller companions, as they have powerful bills. It is possible to house and breed them in the company of cockatiels.

Pair of grey Java sparrows or rice birdsJava sparrows tend to breed better on a colony basis, where they can pair off themselves. They will adapt a budgerigar nest box for their purposes, lining it with suitable material. Up to eight eggs may be laid, although 4-6 is more usual.

Incubation is shared by the adult birds, and the chicks hatch in about two weeks. Egg food and similar softfoods, as well as soaked seed should be available to them at this stage, and within a month, the young should leave the nest.

Young rice bird or Java sparrowA further three weeks or so later, they become fully independent. At this stage, they can be distinguished from adults by their blackish beaks and the yellowish tinge to the white plumage on their heads. The youngsters will have moulted for the first time by three months of age, and it may then be possible to identify cock birds by their song.

White Java sparrowAlthough Java sparrows are not so widely bred as some finches, several mutations have emerged and are now successfully established. Indeed, the mutant forms appear to nest more readily in some cases than the native grey Java sparrow.

Different colour forms

The original mutation is believed to have occurred in China, and was then introduced to Japan several centuries ago. This is the white form, although, in some cases, there can be confusion, as other individuals have flecks of darker plumage randomly distributed on their bodies, rendering them pied. Young birds of this colour invariably fledge with grey markings on their backs.

Fawn or isabel Java sparrowAnother mutation commonly seen today is of much more recent origin. It is thought that the isabel or fawn Java sparrow was first bred in Australia in the late 1950s. It has since become quite widespread in collections worldwide.

Such birds have the grey areas replaced by a warm shade of brown, as seen left. Two distinctive forms of the fawn have evolved. The darker variant is known as the beige-brown, being also less reddish in appearance than the red-brown fawns.

A more recent colour that has been developed is the silver form, also known as the opal, shown below right. The requirements of these mutations do not differ from those of the normal grey. These mutations are all autosomal recessives in their mode of inheritance.

There are also some other mutations that are being developed. These include the sex-linked recessive form known as the pastel or dilute, which is a paler version of the normal. Then there is the agate, also known as the topas and cherry blossom, with the head being brownish, with the rest of the body being grey.
Silver Java sparrow or rice bird
One of the most distinctive forms though is the rare black-headed or cheek-less. Relatively little is known about this form at present, but as its name suggests, the head is black, lacking the white cheek patches. Often though, the white cheeks patches return once they are two or three years old.

Breeders are also concentrating on developing colour combinations using these primary mutations. These include the opal isabel, created from fawn and silver mutations and the ivory, which also has the pastel in its genes. Java sparrows are relatively hardy in temperate climates, but should be adequately and remain in immaculate plumage throughout their lives. They are quiet birds by nature, and can live for 6-8 years. 

Such is their growing popularity, both as aviary birds and for show purposes too, that a specialist club - the Java Sparrow Society UK - has been set up for these birds and the closely-related Timor sparrow (Lonchura fuscata).