The Finch Weekly

To anyone who keeps foreign finches, then the term estrildid finches will be familiar because most of the birds in this family are the ones we keep in our aviaries and cages.  They tend to be termed foreign finches in the UK to separate them from the ‘British’ finch family that contains birds such as the Greenfinch and the Goldfinch but this isn’t a wholly accurate definition.

In fact, the Estrildid finches family alone covers the Old World tropical areas down to Australasia.  There are part of the suborder Passeri and the Order Passeriformes, the largest group of bird species in the world.

Estrildid basics

In general, the Estrildid finches are small, ranging from the Shelley’s Oliveback at 3.3inches (8.3cm) to the Java Sparrow at 6.7inches (17cm).  They all build large, domed nests and lay from 5-10 eggs within while some of them are hosts to brood parasites such as the indigobirds and the whydahs.  They are very different in their colours and plumages but are all seedeaters with short and thick pointed bills.  Because they are from warmer climates, they often need protecting from the heat when brought to the UK, though some species have been here for so many generations that this need is much reduced.


Studies have shown that the Estrildid finches started to evolve in the Middle Miocene Epoch, some 16.5 million years ago.  This is around the same time as the Fringillinae (‘British’) finch family began to spread and also at the same time as the Himalayan and Tibetan Plateau collided – this created the southern Asia monsoon climate and also made both the Tibetan Plateau and Chinese Deserts much dryer.  The first group to evolve included species such as the African Silverbill in Africa, the Indian Silverbill in Asia and the Diamond Firetail in Australia.

Estrildid finches
A look at the spread of the Estrildid finches – By Antonio Arnaiz-Villena, Valentin Ruiz-del-Valle (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Family tree of Estrildid Finches

This is the basic family tree of the species, showing which of the species are directly related and which are a little further removed.  This is important for bird keepers if they want to avoid crossing species, as those closest related can often breed together.  Many of these birds are found in aviculture around the world but others have either faded from the hobby or have never been kept in captivity.

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