Rather sadly, the beauty of the Red-billed firefinch, and particularly the beauty of the males, has made it a very popular cage bird in large parts of the world. Sad, because I think that birds look so much more magnificent in the wild than they do in cages. In its role as a caged bird it is known by varuious other names, such as the African firefinch, the Senegal firefinch and the Ruddy.
The Red-billed firefinch is a very small bird, just about 10 cm in length, and the males and females differ in plumage colouration. The males are almost entirely scarlet, save for their wings, which are brown. They have pink bills and a yellow eye-ring. The females have brown upper parts and buff under parts, with a small red patch in front of each eye and, like the males, have pink bills.
Red-billed firefinches are gregarious and are often found in small groups, their range extending throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. In the southern African region they are found in the wetter eastern half of the region, extending to the west only along the Cunene and Orange Rivers. Although not uncommon within this range, they are quite secretive and often difficult to spot.
They spend a lot of time on the ground, feeding mainly on seeds and grain, and also on insects. The song of this little firefinch is an attractive “chick-pee-pee-pee“.
The Red-billed firefinch is monogamous and their nest is a domed construction of fine grasses, lined with soft grass or feathers, and with a side entrance. It is usually situated quite low down in a bush or shrub. The female lays a clutch of between three and six white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 12 days. The nest may be parasitized by the Village indigobird (Vidua chalybeata).
The scientific binomial for the Red-billed firefinch is Lagonostica senegala; Lagonostica from the Greek for “spotted flanks”, and senegala from the Latin for “from Senegal”. This the name describes a bird from Senegal with spotted flanks. Accurate enough, although the ones that we have seen are very far from Senegal, and I wouldn’t have thought the spotted flanks were an outstanding feature.