The Common waxbill is a small bird with a length of about 11 cm. Although it is native to sub-Saharan Africa, it is a popular cage bird and has been introduced into many other parts of the world, where, after escape or release, it has established breeding populations wherever the climate is suitable and a ready supply of food available.
Common waxbills have plumage that is mainly grey, with upper parts barred finely with dark brown. They have a red stripe through the eye and throats that are light grey or white. Their bellies are flushed with pink and their tails and vents are dark. They have a bright red bill, said to be the colour of sealing wax, which is the origin of the bird’s common name. Eyes are dark brown; legs and feet are pinkish-brown. The females are similar to the males, but may have less pink on the belly.
Common waxbills are widespread throughout the southern African region, absent only from the Central Kalahari in Botswana. Their preferred habitat is the vegetation along the edges of rivers, streams and dams, but they are also found in agricultural fields and gardens. Their call is a harsh “di-di-di-chee”.
Common waxbills are sociable birds and they may gather in large flocks, especially when feeding. They feed mainly on the ground, but also in trees and on grass stems, feeding predominantly on grass seeds but also on insects which they may catch while in flight.
Common waxbills are monogamous and build a ball-shaped nest of grass that is usually placed on the ground. A rudimentary “cock’s nest” may be built on top of the actual nest, in which the male bird may sleep. The nests are sometimes parasitized by the Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura), for which the Common waxbill is the main host. The female lays a clutch of between four and seven creamy-white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 12 days.
The scientific binomial for the Common waxbill is Estrilda astrild; Estrilda from the Latin for “starred”, and astrild for the Latin for “a star”. Thus, being nothing if not consistent, we have a starred star.