Silverbills - Euodice malabarica

Indian silverbillOrigins: Found over a wide area from west and central parts of Africa as far east as the Indian subcontinent.

Length: 10cm (4in).

Appearance: Light brown upperparts, with the underparts being paler, bordering on fawn. The rump area at the base of the back is white, with traces of black sometimes evident here on the outer feathers. The tail itself and the flight feathers are black. Beak greyish, with the legs and feet being pinkish. The sexes cannot be separated by plumage differences.

Variants: The African race (E. m. cantans) of the silverbill can be distinguished from the Asian form (E. m. malabarica) (seen right) by its blackish rather than white rump. Some forms of the African silverbill also have much whiter underparts.

Related species: The pearl-headed silverbill (Lonchura  griseicapilla) from East Africa is easily recognised by the attractive white dots on the sides of its face and its reddish-brown underparts. Less commonly available, it needs similar care.  
Sociability rating: Highly social by nature. Ideal for a mixed collection comprised of waxbills and other non-aggressive birds. It is not a good idea to keep African and Asian races in the same aviary however, because they are likely to hybridise in such surroundings. The plumage of the rump of the resulting chicks then tends to be edged with red in such cases.

Suitability: Ideal for the newcomer to bird keeping, with the likelihood of successful breeding being good, once the birds have become established in their quarters. It is better to acquire a small group at the outset, to be certain of having at least one pair. Silverbills can also make good exhibition subjects, with their plumage frequently looking immaculate.

Care: Can be housed in spacious flight cages over the winter months, and released into an outdoor aviary once the risk of frost has passed. They are not fully hardy, even when acclimatised, and will require additional heat and lighting if kept outdoors over the winter period.

Indian silverbill on milletFeeding: Offer a diet based on mixed millets, plus a vitamin and mineral supplement if this is not added to the seed. Soaked millet sprays are very popular, especially during the rearing period. Silverbills may also eat softfood on occasions, as well as greenfood such as chickweed and seeding grasses. They tend to show little if any interest in insect fare (livefood), even when they have chicks. 

Young silverbill and parentBreeding: Cocks can usually be distinguished by their behaviour as the breeding season approaches, singing and displaying to their intended mates with a sprig of grass in their bills. They will adopt a small nest box or basket  as a nesting site, often narrowing the entrance hole so they can just slip in, and line the interior with feathers. Nesting quite readily, these small finches may even breed successfully in a box-type cage. 

Breeding data: Indian silverbills generally lay larger clutches, comprised of as many as 10 eggs, compared with their African relatives. Typical clutch size varies from three to six eggs. Hatching takes approximately 11 days and the chicks will fledge when they are about three weeks old. They will be independent in a further fortnight, by which stage the adult pair are likely to be nesting again. 

Potential lifespan:  Can be 8 years or so.