The Red-headed finch is about size of a Cape sparrow; hence quite a small bird at just 14 cm in length, yet quite large as finches go. The sexes are dimorphic in plumage; the male, in particular, is quite distinctive with its bright red head, the rest of its upper parts a rather undistinguished grayish-brown, with faint barring on the rump, its lower belly white and its under tail barred with black, white and brown. The female, though, lacks the red head and is therefore somewhat less distinctive, if not quite qualifying as nondescript.
The Red-headed finch is a common resident in Southern Africa although its numbers fluctuate greatly with changing conditions. It is found mainly in open grassland with clumps of trees, and it also enjoys farmyards and cultivated fields throughout most of the region with the exception of the high rainfall areas. It is classified as a “near endemic” in the Southern African region because its range stretches into Southern Angola.
It is found in pairs or in small colonies when breeding, but at other times it is gregarious and it may be found in large flocks of up to hundreds of birds. Often associating with other seed-eating birds, the Red-headed finch forages for seeds and insects mainly on the ground and it may be found in large flocks at waterholes, where it drinks frequently.
The Red-headed-finch seldom builds its own nest and commonly nests in the old nests of one of the Ploceus weavers; in Namibia it seems to favour the Chestnut weaver, the Sociable weaver, and the Red-billed buffalo weaver. It sometimes nests in a hole in tree. The nests may be solitary or in small colonies of two or three pairs. The female usually lays between four and six white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 14 days.
Like most of the finches, the Red-headed finch is quite a common cage bird and in captivity it has been known to hybridise with the Cut-throat finch, producing fertile offspring. Its call is a chirping “chep-chep” and it also makes a variety of whirring or buzzing sounds.
Its scientific name is Amadina erythrocephala; the derivation of amadina seems to be something of a mystery and is the subject of some conjecture, but erythrocephala is clearly from the two Greek words “erythros” meaning red and “kephal” meaning head. Well, at least there can be no doubt about the red-head.