The Finch Weekly

Like many of the common names applied to birds from around the world, the name of the Pekin Robin is more than a bit misleading.  After all, it isn’t from China but India and it isn’t a robin but one of the families classified as the laughingthrushes.  

Despite it’s confusing name, this bird does have a beautiful song, gorgeous plumage and is often recommended for those seeking to move into softbills from other types of birds.

Bird basics

The proper name of the bird we know as the Pekin robin or the Japanese nightingale is the Red-billed leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea). 

They are one of two species in their family, the other being the Silver-eared mesia which is also found sometimes in captivity in the UK, though not in as many numbers as its cousin. 

Pekin Robin

Family: Leiothricidae
Genus: Leiothrix
Conservation status (IUCN): Least Concern (LC)
Length: 15cm
Weight: 22-26 grams
Native to: southern China, Himalayas

The Pekin Robin has a bright red beak with a deep yellow eye ring.  Their throat area is a bright yellow orange and their backs are an olive green shade.  Their wing features are an array of bright shades including yellow, orange, red and black while their tail, which has a fork shape, has an olive and black tip.  It has blue-grey cheeks as well as the side of the head. 

Overall, the female bird isn’t as brightly coloured as her male and doesn’t have red patches on her wings.

Natural habitats and habits

In the wild, these birds are found across India, Nepal, Burma, Bhutan and in parts of Tibet.  Their natural habitat are the hill forests as well as the jungle areas though their preference is for pine forests that also have bushes.  They will live from sea level up to as high as 7500 feet. 

It is also an introduced species to Hawaii and France as well as unsuccessful attempts in Western Australian and in the UK.

Their normal behaviour in the wild is to live in groups of ten to thirty birds outside the breeding season but then break off into pairs when breeding.  It is then that they can become territorial.  Their breeding season is naturally from early April until September and they tend to nest around areas with good water supplies.

In captivity

One of the reasons that the Pekin Robin is recommended as a good starter bird for someone moving into softbills is that they aren’t as fussy about their diet as some species and mix well generally with others.  Some breeders have encountered birds that eat the eggs of others at breeding season, so always ask about this if you plan to have a mixed aviary. 

Otherwise, they are described as gregarious in nature, spending much of their time with their mate or within calling distance of one another.  Only one pair per enclosure is recommended due to their territorial behaviour during breeding.

These birds are generally very active so a flight or a very large flight cage is the best option.  They also tend to spend a lot of time near the floor as in the wild, they will forage along the vegetation on the ground.  This means their home should feature plenty of plants to create a natural environment.  They can be quite hardly but should always have shelter and heating in the worst of winter.

Their diet in captivity includes commercial insect food and fruit as well as live food and will also enjoy sprouted millet spray or grains.  Some birds will even take a touch of nectar if it is offered, so check with the breeder to see what kind of diet they have received.


Their natural nest is a cup shaped construction and they will often create the same style in an aviary given the right conditions.  Alternatively, supplying a bowl shaped nest will allow them to finish the job as well as coconut fibres and sisal for them to construct into this.

The birds usually lay two to four eggs, a pale blue in colour with reddish brown spots.  Both birds take turns in sitting on the eggs and feeding the chicks when they hatch after an incubation period of 12-13 days.  The chicks remain in the nest for 11-13 days at which time live food is crucial for their development.  Soft food, berries and fruit that are rich in vitamins should also be provided.

Fledglings can remain with their parents until the parents begin to nest again, at which point they will be viewed as a threat and should be removed from the enclosure.

Further reading:

4 Responses

    1. Hi! I know a lot of people keep them with finches and Gouldians are pretty tough. So as long as there is plenty of room and feeding spots, I don’t see why not. Maybe check their background and see if they have been housed with other smaller birds before and how they reacted – that’s always a good first step!

  1. would they be ok with cockatiels as they “cockatiels” are quiet birds and generally don’t attack other birds, in fact I have I have a sneaky sparrow living in their aviary right now (I have no idea how it got in )an it seems happy enough once the weather gets better I will try and catch it and release it back to the wild

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