Shaft-tail Finch - Poephila acuticauda
Heck's Shaft-tail (Poephila acuticauda hecki) Red-billed subspecies.

Common Names
Long-tailed Grassfinch, Heck's shaft-tail, Black Heart finch

Shaft-tails can be difficult to sex. Males and females are nearly identical in appearance. When placed side-by-side, the male's throat bib will appear a bit wider and triangular than the female's. (Photo - the female is on the left, male on the right) The male may also have a cleaner gray on the head and the flank stripe is said to be thicker as well. The male also has a rather high-pitched song that accompanies a hopping sort of dance. The head bobbing that is seen in both sexes is more often seen performed by the male.

A standard finch mix will be fine with Shaft-tail finches. They eagerly take egg food (Roy's egg food), greens and soaked millet. Grit and calcium in the form of crushed egg and oyster shells and cuttlebone should always be available to them.

Breeder's Notes
The Shaft-tail can be considered an eager breeder if given the right accommodations. Some breeders have reported success with breeding them in a colony situations, but I've had had better luck by placing them as individual pairs in flights or cages. Probably because the colonies I tried to use were not large enough. They are fine in mixed collections with birds that are able to hold their ground, but Shaft-tails can be inquisitive and annoying to other more shy breeders. They are active birds and I like to give them at least a 3' flight cage or an outside aviary to fly in. (3' flight cage) This also keeps them from breaking the long points on their tails which gives the bird its name. I have bred Shafttails in my smaller breeding cages as well.

Shaft-tails like to get down and hide in their nests. While they will take a basket or other similar nest, I prefer to use a standard sized finch box with a hole at the top. This lets them build their nests deeper in the bottom and hide below the entrance hole. (click to see nestbox) They will build a rough nest, but I can't say that they were master builders. I provided coco fibers, long grasses, rice hay and various soft materials, but there did not seem to be a preference for any particular material. The average clutch is 4-7 eggs and incubation lasts approximately 13 days. Both sexes share in the incubation duties and the feeding of the young. No additional food items were offered other than to increase the amount of egg food, which they eagerly ate and quickly provided the young. The young will fledge at approximately 21 days and will require an additional 21 days to be independent. I have read that the young, while able to eat on their own, remain somewhat reliant on their parents and that too early of a separation might result in some losses. I can't say if this is true or not, but I left the young in with the parents for quite a while before moving them to a different cage.

Shaft-tails are reported to have strong pair bonds. I can say that if a bonded pair is separated and are within calling distance, they will quite loudly call to each other and ignore any other mates that you provide. They are quite easily fostered under Society finches as their begging pattern is typical of estrildid finches.

An Isabele Fledgling next to a normal fledgling. Both are pictured again after their molt into adult colors.

Additional Notes
There is one subspecies of the Shaft-tail finch known as the Heck's Shaft-tail (P. acuticauda hecki) which has a bright coral red beak. The red color is dominant over the yellow and intermediate birds are often produced when trying to develop yellow-billed birds from red-beaked birds. Because of the early popularity of the red beak and its dominant inheritance, the yellow beak variety is rarely seen now in US aviculture. The reality is that in the wild there is a smooth transition of color from the yellow-beaked variety of the western part of thier range to the red-beaked variety in the eastern part of the range. Because of this, many ornithologists do not recognize the Heck's as a distinct subspecies, but rather a morph within the population.

The Shaft-tail finch is very similar to another Australian Grassfinch, the Parson or Black Throated finch (Poephila cincta). The most notable difference is the Parson has a shorter tail and black beak. The two should not be housed together. In spite of the beak color, which is often a sexual trigger and species indicator, the two species will hybridize. It has been reported that the hybrids are fertile. The same has been reported for the Masked Grassfinch (Poephila personata) so Shafttails should not be housed with them either.

There are a number of color mutations for the Shaft-tail, including fawns, a dilute fawn called the Isabele (Fawns are sex-linked and Isabels are autosomal recessive), a cream and all white individuals as well. There is reportedly a gray mutation and a pink billed mutation in Europe. Australian mutations are also being developed, but cannot be exported.

Wild yellow billed Shaft-tail in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Wider view of the area they inhabit.

Wild Heck's Shaft-tails taking a morning bath at Cape Crawford, NT Australia