Neochmia ruficauda ruficauda (Gould, 1837)

By Doug Hill

Alternate Names:
Red-faced Star Finch, Red-faced Grassfinch

Common in Australian aviaries, although a large number of 'normal Red-faced' aviary birds are now carrying the fawn and cinnamon gene in them.
Although they are a common bird in our aviaries the Star Finch is now becoming critically endangered in the wild.
I class the birds we have in our aviaries to be a hybrid mix of the 3 species and I call them the common Star as I have no other name to call them!
The southern species of the Star Finch (Neochmia ruficauda ruficauda) has disappeared completely from most of its known range of southern Queensland and northeast and western New South Wales due to trapping for the avicultural trade, habitat destruction, overgrazing and drought. It is officially listed as critically endangered. It could also be extinct in the wild.
The northern species of the Star Finch (Neochmia ruficauda clarescens). . This species of the Star is also in decline as it is officially listed as endangered.
The third species of the Star Finch is more widely known as the Kimberly star (Neochmia ruficauda subclarescens) this species is yet to be officially recognized as a separate species, by genetic studies, from the N. r. clarescens (Schodde and Mason 1999).
In the past the Star was trapped widely for the avicultural trade but that has longed ceased and now the demise of the star is mainly due to habitat destruction, overgrazing, feeding grounds being overgrown by woody weeds particularly Broad-leaved Tea-tree (Melaleuca viridiflora) at a rate of 1% per year. It is thought that the invasion is a result of altered fire regimes and grazing by cattle (Nelder et al.,1997, Crowley and Garnett,1998).
It is my belief that the Stars that are seen in Australian aviaries at present are a hybrid of all of the 3 species of the Star Finch. I have the support on this theory with some well-known breeders in Australia.
When one looks around at the Stars in Australian aviaries you will see birds that carry very little colour on the facial areas and are a little more drab in colour than the middle of the range birds with the body colouring being to some extents quiet subtle. Thus being of my opinion a throw –back to the southern species of Star (Neochmia ruficauda ruficauda).
The middle range of the birds in our aviaries is what I refer to as the northern Star (Neochmia ruficauda clarescens). This bird carries much more facial and body colouring than the southern form and not as much as the Kimberly Star.
The Kimberly Star (Neochmia ruficauda subclarescens) is the most pronounced form of the stars. The colouring is so dramatic that it is unmistakable in the 3 forms of the star.
When the throw-backs forms of the 3 species are put side by side they show marked differences.
We must be vigilant now with our aviary stock to keep the common Stars pure from the mutations and kept separate from them.
It is up to us, the aviculturist, to see that the Star Finch does not fall into the lap of extinction.
If any of these birds do become extinct, as late as this call goes out to you with the southern species, we as aviculturists and environmentalists should hang our head in shame at the decline without doing our bit to halt the trend.

Fig.1.Cock Red Star. Fig.2. Hen Red Star Fig.3. Pair of Red Stars.

The cock has much more colour on the facial area than the hen. His facial mask extends well back past his eyes, under the lower mandible and down the throat.
He also has many more spots on the chest area than the hen. His all round colouring is more vivid.
In poor quality birds this may not be the case. Those birds you are well advised to leave alone.

Fig.3. Cock Yellow Star. Fig.4. Hen Cinnamon/FawnStar. Fig.5. Hen Cinnamon/Fawn Star.

In Australia we have the Fawn, Cinnamon and Pied.
All of these mutations come in the normal Red and also in the Yellow headed form of the Star Finch.

Northern Australia from Cape York Peninsular in Northern Queensland and across the top end of Australia and down into the western coast of Western Australia as far a Port Headland and the Hamersley Ranges.

Peaceful. Can be combined with small seedeaters without too many problems.
I have had the cock Fawn Red-faced Star have some vicious territorial fights with the male and female Strawberry Finch.
Once egg-laying has started the fighting ceases. I am of the opinion that these two birds just do not like each other.

Approximate price:
$50.00 pair, the price of the mutations, is governed by the availability of the type of mutation you are seeking.

Ease of breeding (1 easy -10 difficult):
3/10 Stars are easy to breed if given the right conditions.
I am of the opinion that it is most important to give your Stars fresh seeding grasses when breeding.
If fresh seeding grasses are given when breeding, your expectations for larger and healthier broods certainly can improve.

Purchasing your bird:
Stars may be purchased from breeders or specialty bird outlets.
If you are unable to obtain birds from the bird outlets I am sure you would not do any harm in seeking out a suitable Finch Society in your area.
Always remember the one golden rule when buying birds, if in doubt don’t buy.

Good points to look for:
Look for birds in good feather.
The colours of the bird are strong, particularly the red/yellow of the face on the cock bird.
The amount of spots on the chest area and down the flanks.
A good breeding line of Stars will show plenty of spots.
Size of the bird.
Clear bright eyes.
The bird is always on the move.

Faults to look for:
Birds that are lethargic.
Soiled vent. Fluffed up with closed eyes.
Poor feather and poor colouring.
Look for cleanliness of the beak and legs.

Aviary or breeding cabinet:
Stars do not do so well in cabinets or suspended aviaries.
Stars will do well in aviaries from about 3m on and will do much better in larger well-planted aviaries. Stars can be kept as a colony or in single pairs.

Breeding season:
In the Sydney area it is best to try and breed them during the warmer months of spring, summer and into autumn, although they do breed through the winter months if given the right conditions.
Hens in their first year could be prone to egg binding older hens can also suffer from egg binding.
It is essential to give the right of oils in the diet to alleviate the egg binding problems.

Off-season feeding:
An austerity diet of mixed seeds, grits, cuttlebone and eggshells is supposedly efficient.
A fresh supply of some seeding grasses is also recommended.

Should I feed soft foods?
If you do have a good mix of egg and biscuit formula it can be fed to the birds on a daily basis.

What green feed?
Fresh grass seed can be fed daily in the breeding season.
Other green feed can consist of Lebanese cucumber, chickweed, endive and boc-choy.
You can expect better breeding results if fresh seeding grasses are fed during the breeding season.

What live food?
Stars do very well when supplied with copious amounts of termites, gentles (maggots) and mealworms.
Although live food is not fully necessary during the breeding cycle it can play an important part in their breeding - especially the Yellow headed forms for some reason!

Breeding season feeding:
When the weather starts to warm after the chills of winter is usually the time to start your breeding program.
This is when you start to slowly give your birds some extra bits in their feed tray.
Let the birds build up to the extra live food such as termites, mealworms, gentles and green seeding grasses.
Too much too soon can easily cause all types of problems including scours.
Some of the seeding grasses that may be used are, Johnston grass, African veldt grass, chickweed, winter grass, Guinea grass, milk thistle and shepherds purse.
It is best to give stars the seeding heads half ripe.

What age do they breed?
Stars are ready to breed at 9 months.

What if I lose a mate?
Although pair bonding is strong, if one loses a mate, immediately introduce another mate.
It sometimes may take a while for a surviving partner to accept a new mate.

Nesting materials:
Nesting materials can vary from November grasses for the nest lining and coarser grasses for the exterior; the nest is usually lined with white feathers. They will use nesting boxes and wire tubes and woven cane nesting utensils. Plenty of nesting material should be offered, as I have had them steal from other nests to build their own.
One of their favourite grasses to use as nesting material, are the runners of Couch.
Stars will use a lot of half dried and green grass in their nest building.

The nest:
The Stars build a nest about 150cm in diameter. It is a tightly woven dome type structure and built anywhere from 1.5m to 2m from the floor. One problem with stars is that they sometimes build their nests near the roof of the aviary, resulting in the young dying of heat exhaustion on hot days.
As most aviaries have metal roofs, it would be advisable to place some sort of covering on the roof above the nest to avoid that happening.

Mating behaviour:
The mating dance starts when the cock stretches into an upright position and starts to bob up and down in a semi slow motion movement holding a long piece of grass in his beak.
The feathers are raised on the head and chest.
When the hen is ready to accept his advances she will quiver her tail. Copulation usually takes place in the open flight area.

Between 4 and 7 white eggs are laid. NO PEEKING AND NO FINGERS. DO NOT TOUCH THE NEST. If you touch the nest they will almost certainly desert the nest.

Brooding time:
It generally takes 13/14 days to incubate the eggs with the hen doing the majority of the sitting.
It is the hen that sits the eggs at night.

Fledging time:
Fledging usually takes around 21 days. It may take a bit longer during the colder months so allow for that extra day or so before poking fingers into the nest.
Be aware that if you poke your finger into the nest and the young are not too far off fledging you are going to have young Stars jumping out of the nest at a rate of knots.

Independence from the Parents:
Independence is around 21 days.

How long do the young stay with the parents?
It is best to leave the young with the parents for at least 4 weeks.
The young may be left with the parents without any interference from them during other broods.
The young can at times, I have been told, upset subsequent broods by hopping in and out of new nests, but I have never had this problem with them.
I have had the uncoloured young of a previous brood feed their younger siblings still in the nest, when the cock became ill and had to be removed from the aviary.
When the cock was returned to the aviary he immediately took up from where he left off nine days before and the uncoloured young continued to feed the young until the time of their independence.

What do I feed the fledged young?
The young birds can be given the same diet as the parents.

When do I ring the young?
The young can be rung immediately after they have left the nest. If you leave it too long the ring will not slip over the toes.
When ringing young birds after they have left the nest be careful not to damage the toes.

Separating the pairs:
It is not necessary to separate the pairs, as they will regulate themselves for their breeding needs.

Fig.6. Normal, Cinnamon & Yellow. Fig.7. Cinnamon Cock & Yellow Hen.

Showing your bird:
Judges will look for birds in good feather, clean mandible, legs and feet.
The birds must be bright of eye, alert and moving from perch to perch in the show cage.
The density of the colour of the red or yellow, on the facial and throat area are a good indication of the standard of your bird and will impress any judge at any time.
How far the colour retreats toward the back of the head.
The judges will take into account the amount and evenness of the spotting on the flanks and chest area.

Gene pool:
The gene pool of Stars in Australian aviaries is secure, although the stock of pure Stars in our aviaries are becoming scarcer each year because of the cross breeding with the mutations.
We must be vigilant with this species and not allow too many of the pure strain to carry the Pied, Cinnamon or Fawn gene’s as this bird is already an endangered species in the wild.

Common ailments:
Stars need a good worming program as they are forever picking around the floor of the aviary.
They are not prone to any particular ailment.

The Star is a beautiful bird to have as an aviary inhabitant. Generally the Star is a peaceful bird that keeps to itself.
The colours of the Star add a good splash of colour to any aviary.
A bird that I can recommend to most anyone who has a thought of keeping a mixed collection of finches.

A Mug's View of the Star Finch!

As a young breeder during the halcyon days when many Australian grassfinches were available from the wild under the crop protection permits there were plenty of Red-star finches around and they were often a finch breeders first foray into the more 'exotic' finches. Breeding with these guys tends to be either a feast or a famine. My first experience was with 5uncoloured birds which turned out to be 3 hens and 2 cocks when mature. They produced 21 youngsters with all 3 hens producing youngsters so there was a little philanthropy going on!! These same birds then went 2 years without producing a single youngster then proceeded to breed another 17 - again with all 3 hens raising chicks.
Many other breeders have related similar stories over the years. In Australian aviaries the wild type Stars are around in large numbers or hard to find, a typical, though unfortunate, situation with many of the 'cheaper' finches.
Although generally a very peaceful bird in the mixed collection they have the tendency to out breed many of the other species to such an extent that they interfere with breeding. When nest building they are not adverse to pilfering nesting material from wherever they can find it and may disrupt other birds breeding in this pursuit of feathers and green grass. These guys love white feathers and will cram a goodly number into each nest so watch your supply of these items in the aviary.

Fig.8. A Galaxy of Stars!

Fig.9. Yellow Stars & Ring in!

Nest inspection with these guys is very much akin to playing Russian Roulette and I strongly advise against it as they will desert very easily.