The long-tailed finches (Poephila acuticauda) are decor exotic birds originating from Australia, from the dry steppe zone of north of the continent. These birds belong to the Passeriformes order and Estrildidae family. In Australia this species appears as two subspecies: Poephila acuticauda acuticauda (Gould) with the yellow beak, widespread in the north-western territory and Poephila acuticauda hecki Heinroth, which has the beak coral or deep red coloured, a more vivid coloured plumage and is widespread in the north-east area until Queensland.
The plumage on the neck, crown and sides of the neck is gray-blue coloured, on the cheeks appears a lighter shade, and under the beak there is a dark spot. On the back and the wings there is a brown colour and on the big feathers of the wings there is a whitish colour. From the sides towards the back there is a wide black stripe, while the abdomen and the chest are red. The eyes are brown, the beak is strong, yellow or dark red and the legs are flesh-coloured.
The male and the female have similar plumage. They distinguish only by the spot under the beak and the sharp feathers from the middle of the tail (which is slightly longer at males). Adult birds can reach a length of about 17 cm. The calling shout for the males is ‘iiiht-iiiht’ and for the female ‘iieeht-iieeht’.
During breeding adults tend to take a straw in the beak and sing. Thus, the black spot under the beak stands out as the feathers in that area are less fluffy. Also, the male makes some estrangement and nearness with the female, afterwards threshing it. Old males sing much less than the young ones.
In Europe the long-tailed finches with yellow beak were brought only in 1897. After 1900, long-tailed finches with red beak were brought. It is recommended that only specimens of the same subspecies to be used for breeding in order to preserve the geographic purity of the subspecies. The long-tailed finches are very appreciated by breeders due to the beauty of their plumage. They can be raised in large cages or aviaries. Because they reproduce without problems and grow quite easily, these birds are ideal for beginners in breeding exotic decor birds.
The temperature for these birds should not fall below 14 º C and the relative air humidity is not advisable to be too high, considering that their natural habitat is dry and warm. The long-tailed finches are birds that need a very large living space of 1 m³ for a pair. It should not be kept with other species of exotic birds because they become very aggressive, are always agitated and do not breed.
Their food consists of: a mixture of seeds (millet varieties, varnish, foxtail millet, Niger seed, wild grasses), boiled eggs, greens and worms. Every day they must be provided with clean fresh water. The bird house must have wood branches especially pine, where the long-tailed finches can their build straw, moss, wire grass, fluff and feathers nest. The nest is spherical, has quite thick walls and is made by both partners; the male carrying material in its beak and the female building it. After the nest is finished, the female lays four eggs which are cared for by both birds. After 12-13 days of sitting, the eggs hatch. The ones from the yellow beak species have light flesh-coloured skin and are covered with white fluff, whereas the red beak species have darker skin and are covered with gray fluff.
During the growth of the chicks, the long-tailed finches must be fed with chopped boiled egg, seeds, worms, ants pupae and cereals embryos. The chicks are fed by their parents very easily without complications for the breeder. After about three weeks the chicks begin to fly and after another four weeks they become independent and seek their own food. At this time the chicks are separated from their parents to avoid the risk of destroying the future egg laying.
The plumage of the chicks resembles the parents’ but is a bit washed, the beak is initially black, then it becomes dirty yellow and then yellow or red depending on each subspecies. After three or four months, the chicks shed and their plumage becomes identical with that of adults. The song of the young males is very discreet, so it barely can be heard; sometimes one can only see the movements of the maw, without hearing any sound.
It is recommended for a pair to hatch two or three rows of chicks per year, or else the partners are physiologically exhausted and cannot recover until the next season. Even though they lay more eggs, these will be clear or will hatch chicks that will die soon. Males must be separated from females and be rationally fed with the purpose to restore their power and fertility vigour. They must be placed in separate bird cages, have room to move, sun and fresh air. One must remove from the cages the pine branches that line the walls, the nests and the nesting material, because if they have a nest the females lay eggs even without the male.