The long-tailed finch is a medium-sized grassfinch that’s also known also as the Heck’s finch, Heck’s grassfinch, long-tailed grassfinch, and black heart finch. The species is native to Australia, where it’s found in the northernmost parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and north-western Queensland. The species is generally straightforward to care for and is suitable for beginner finch keepers.
There are two varieties of long-tailed finch, distinguishable by their beak colour, which can e either yellow (P.acuticauda) or red (P.a. hecki). The red beak colour seems to be dominant when the two varieties are bred together, so keepers should house only one subspecies in each aviary to prevent the yellow subspecies becoming lost.
Housing & Compatibility
Long-tailed finches can be housed successfully as single pairs, a colony, or as part of a mixed collection. They prefer a large planted aviary, but are generally tolerant of smaller aviaries or even a large flight cage. Some breeders find they perform better when housed in small groups of 2-3 pairs.
Long-tailed finches will interbreed with other birds in the Poephila genus (Black-throated finches and Masked finches) and produce worthless hybrids. These species must be housed separately.
Long-tailed finches are generally very placid in a mixed aviary situation. They can be successfully housed with most placid finches, quail, doves, and (space permitting) Neophema parrots.
Diet & Feeding
A quality seed mix including canary seed, various millets and panicum forms the basis of the long-tailed finch’s diet. Seed lacks many essential vitamins and minerals which must be compensated for by introducing other foods. Sprouted seed increases the nutritional value of seed and is a cheap way to improve your birds health. Freshly grown green seed heads should also be offered frequently.
Leafy greens such as kale, bok choy, endive and silverbeet are in important part of the long-tailed finch’s diet. Spinach can also be given, but only sparingly as it can contribute to calcium deficiency.
Live food will be consumed during the breeding season. Small mealworms, maggots, and termites are most frequently given. Commercial soft foods—such as egg and biscuit mix—are especially loved by long-tailed finches.
Do not feed anything from the list of forbidden foods.
Long-tailed finches breed best in spring and autumn, with a hen bird that is at least 12 months of age. They can be fussy about mate selection, so allowing pairs to form naturally will likely result in better breeding results. Pair bonds are strong. After the death or replacement of a mate, it may take some time for the remaining bird to accept a new partner.
They typically lay 4-6 eggs in each clutch, which are incubated by both parents for approximately 14 days. Young birds fledge the nest at three weeks of age and are usually independent a month later. Young birds can be left with their parents without issue.
A wide variety of artificial nests will be accepted, though they have a preference for a dense shrub just above ground level. They will construct a dome-shaped nest from fine strands of dry grass. Long-tailed finches will tolerate nest inspections, but they should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Long-tailed finches can be difficult to accurately sex, so DNA sexing may be required.
Experienced keepers may be able to visually sex birds with a decent level of accuracy. Hens are usually slightly smaller than males. Males also have a slightly larger black bib on their neck and their plumage is a little richer in color.
Some mutations have been developed for this species—notably white and fawn—however they are fairly uncommon.
A strict worming and parasite control regime is essential to ensure the long-term health of any finch collection. Long-tailed finches can be expected to live for 7-10 years, which is exceptionally long for a finch.
Long-tailed finches will spend a lot of time foraging on the aviary floor, making them more susceptible to parasites and diseases that spread via droppings. Regular cleaning and preventative healthcare is a must.