The Tanimbar, Tri-coloured or Forbes parrotfinch,

(Erythrura tricolor)

By Gary McCrae.


A full colour picture of an adult Tri-coloured parrotfinch in an avicultural magazine was all it ever took to promote the species to my wish list. One day they would be mine I thought, one day!

Well, that day duly arrived and still today the Tri-coloured parrotfinch holds a special place in my aviaries.
Its beauty, its hardiness and its willingness to breed all combine to make the species a must have for those aviculturists wanting to take that next step.

Description and Sexing:
Rather than subject you to my attempts at describing this species and the sexes I will allow the pictures to speak for themselves!

Fig.1. Male.

Fig.2. Pair - Male on Left.

Fig.3. Youngster.

In my aviaries the Tri-coloureds are currently housed in single pairs as part of a mixed collection. The aviaries are nominally 5 metres long by 1m wide and approximately 2 metres high. Generally the two metres at the front of the aviary is wire with the remaining three metres being a sheltered section, which remains open only at the front. The sheltered section is lined with plywood and has insulation batts wedged between the ply and the external corrugated iron walls in an attempt to overcome our stifling summer heat (>400C) and winter chills (<00C).

Nesting sites are supplied in the form of Budgerigar type nest boxes and dried brush, which is firmly fixed to the walls of the sheltered section. Natural plant growth is virtually non-existant. Floors consist of natural earth.
Aviary or cage size should not be a deterrent to anyone wishing to keep and breed this species, for significant numbers of birds are produced each year from cages as small as the standard canary breeding cabinet!

The Tri-coloureds are housed with many different species including Blue-capped cordon blues, Red-cheeked cordon blues, Orange-cheeked waxbills, Red strawberries, White-eared masked finches, Yellow-rumped munias, Double bars and Painted firetails. I have even housed them with Red-faced parrot finches at times, and have never seen the cocks of either species show the slightest interest in the hens of the opposite species.
One species I would not house with the Tri-coloured parrot finches would be the Blue-face parrotfinch for I feel crossbreeding would definitely occur. Another species I am reluctant to house them with would be Dybowski’s Twinspots. My attempt at housing these species together in an aviary of dimensions 5 metres by 5-metre square almost ended in disaster with the cock Twinspot immediately latching onto the Tri-coloured parrotfinch hen’s wing and heaving her from side to side until my timely intervention. Whether or not other pairs of Tri-coloureds and Dybowski’s Twinspots would have co-existed in harmony I do not know, but I decided that it wasn’t worth the risk!

All the finches in my aviaries are fed a premium finch seed mix supplied by a local seed merchant. Each day all birds are fed Lebanese cucumber, mealworms, maggots, and soaked seed to which is added a mix of John Alers soft food mix  and Passwell’s finch soft food. Green food in the form of Couch grass seeding heads is fed whenever available.
This diet is fed pretty much all year round but the amounts fed vary according to the goings on in the particular aviary. Aviaries with birds doing very little in terms of breeding are fed greatly reduced quantities whereas aviaries with birds feeding young are fed increased quantities.
In listing all the various feeds my birds are given, I believe the Tri-coloured would rear young on just dry seed, such is their willingness to reproduce! However, I believe that the rigours of nesting would soon take its toll on the parent birds limited to such a dry seed diet, eventually resulting in a greatly reduced willingness to nest and produce young.

The sight of the male pursuing the hen is the sign that all keepers of the Tri-coloured parrotfinch love to see. Without it the keepers will remain just that, keepers and not breeders!
In typical Parrotfinch fashion, the male commences his mating ritual by regularly pursuing the hen until, in an ideal world, he catches up with her, hangs onto the back of her head or neck and then copulates!
However, more often than not, the chase ends with the male losing interest and waiting for another opportune moment. This regular chasing is not entirely fruitless as it also serves the purpose of giving both the hen and cock birds the necessary exercise to bring the birds into prime breeding condition.
Once the male has either formed a bond or mated with the hen he commences nest building. For my birds this occurs in either a typical Budgerigar nest box or in brush, predominately in the higher areas of the aviary. The cock bird continuously carries nesting material, which in my aviaries, consists of couch grass, coconut fibre, shredded Pampas grass heads and Emu feathers, to the nest site. Here he either passes the material to the hen that sits inside the nest or places it inside the nest himself. Typically a nest is completed within two to three days.

Egg laying usually commences a couple of days after the nest is completed. One egg is laid each day for up to six days, with young and older hens tending to have clutch sizes of three to four eggs. Incubation, I believe, commences after the laying of the fourth egg and continues for approximately 13 days.
An interesting note with Tri-coloured parrotfinches is that for the three to four days preceding the hatching of the eggs, both parents sit tightly in the nest until the young hatch, with the birds then reverting to the one off one on method of most non cup shaped nest building finches. In my experience this has proven to be an excellent guide as to when the young have hatched. Fertility and hatching rates in some pairs is exceptional and on occasions all six eggs have hatched whereas other pairs regularly hatch only two or three chicks.
Nest inspection including egg and chick handling has never, to my knowledge, resulted in nest desertion.
The chicks are fed in typical finch fashion and leave the nest at between 18 and 21 days. Upon fledging the young quickly become used to their new surrounds and within a week are scooting about the aviary with the agility of adult birds.

Weaning takes approximately three weeks, during which time the parents are usually back on eggs. In some cases I have had the parents feeding two lots of young - those newly hatched and those nearing the completion of weaning. The young, once fully weaned, are removed to the holding cages where they a left to colour up to maturity.
Young birds attain adult plumage at 2 to 4 months of age and I have had them reproduce successfully at 6 months of age.
Breeding can, and does, take place at any time of the year.

                                           Tips and Hints:

The first real problem I encountered with the Tri-coloured parrotfinch was one of obesity. Being my prized gems I felt obliged to give them lots of the best of everything. A silly mistake as it turned out to be. Mature birds in the prime of their lives laying nest after nest of infertile eggs. There had to be a reason for it!
Close inspection of the cock and hen birds revealed the telltale sign of obesity – a yellow coloured fat deposit just above the vent. Whilst not posing too much of a fertility problem in the hen birds, in the cock birds it prevents the necessary cloacal contact to fertilize the eggs. In addition the obesity problem reduces the cock birds propensity to pursue the hen to submission as well as suppressing his nest building desires.

Initially the yellow coloured fat deposits proved very difficult to eliminate. Dieting, by placing the birds on a white millet and red pannicum seed mix and water, worked for the odd bird but not the majority. The problem of obesity was finally eliminated by flying all the Tri-coloureds together in a colony whilst they were maintained on the white millet and red pannicum seed mix along with some greens and, of course, fresh water. As the diet took it toll the birds became livelier and began harassing each other further accelerating their weight loss program! The birds were put back into aviaries as single pairs once the area above the vent had returned to it natural dark flesh colour.

Hatching and Rearing:
Once one comes to understand the nature of the Tri-coloured parrotfinch it can be said that they make excellent parents. Being a bird of the tropics, where nights are quite temperate, they cease to brood the chicks at night from as early as eight to ten days of age. When my first pairs commenced breeding in September and October, the nightly temperatures rarely dropped below 15 degrees. The chicks were reared successfully giving me the impression "How easy is this!"
Summer came with its hot temperatures and low humidity and away went the hatch rates of the eggs. The eggs were fertile but simply the chicks were not getting out of the eggs. After consultation with several prominent Parrotfinch breeders, it was suggested that approximately 3-4 days before the eggs were due to hatch approximately 3ml of water be placed down the side of the nest but within the nest box to increase the humidity. The results were excellent with hatch rates back up to what they were before the onset of our hot dry summers.

The next problem reared its head upon the commencement of winter. The birds continued to nest and hatch young only to lose them at 8-10 days of age. They were found dead in the nest, stone cold with full crops. Clearly the parents had done their job and reared them as their natural instincts dictated, but the Mother Nature where the birds now resided was not the Mother Nature of their ancestors! With the birds wanting to breed over winter the options were to split the pairs up or devise a reliable, easy and cheap system of providing some form of heating once the parents had ceased brooding.
After some trial and error, I found that the best method was to fit a 25W globe into a typical down-light holder and then fit this to the base of the nest box constructed from 8-9mm MDF. This light system was then hooked up to an electrical timer switch and programmed to come on as required. For nest boxes made from 15mm pine a different method was required to increase the temperatures within the nest box to one which would see the chicks survive the cold nights. This involved the construction of a box of similar dimension to the nest box, which housed two 25W globes and could be attached to the nest box in question. Again the lights were hooked up to an electrical timer switch and programmed to come on as required.
Disadvantages with such systems are that the electrical timers can lose time should the power be switched off and light globes do fail! The second system of two 25W globes alleviates this to an extent by having two globes but I am doubtful that a 25W globe would provide sufficient heat through the two layers of 12mm pine (i.e. bottom of nest box and top of "light compartment"). My recommendations would be to construct something along these lines and then enhance it as deemed appropriate for your individual situation.

Fig.4. Nest box & heat box.

Fig.5. Heat box.

Fig.6. Inside heat box -25watt.

It is generally considered that the purchase price of a hen Tri-coloured parrot-finch is approximately 80-90% of the purchase price of a pair. With cocks being relatively common a number of unscrupulous and desperate breeders have resorted to putting cock Tri-coloureds to Blue-faced parrotfinch hens resulting in worthless hybrids. These birds then often find their way onto the bird market and are purchased by newcomers to the species. Fortunately these hybrids appear sterile and so cannot pollute our pure strains of Tri-coloured parrotfinches.
When purchasing birds buy from reputable sources or involve someone who knows what they are looking at. That was the way I approached it, and not once did I acquire a bird of dubious origins.

Tri-coloured parrotfinch mutations are beginning to appear in Australian aviaries. Ones which I have been able to verify include pastel, lutino and a black-eyed yellow. Current information of the genetic inheritance of these mutations is either inconclusive or unknown.

Fig.7. Pastel Mutation.

From 'Just Finches' by NZ Birdz