Star Finch - Neochmia ruficauda
Star Finch pair

Common Names
Red-faced finch, Ruficauda, Rufous-tailed finch

Males are easily distinguished from hens by their larger face mask. The males also have a song that they will sing while stretching their neck and fluffing their head feathers, often while carrying a long piece of nesting material (MP3 of the male's song).

For such a small bird, the Star finch really likes big seeds. I found that they scattered most of the small seeds in a standard finch mix, so I offer them a parakeet mix or just White Prosso millet. They are also quick to take egg food (Roy's egg food), greens and soaked Japanese millet, though I rarely feed the latter two. Grit and calcium in the form of crushed egg and oyster shells and cuttlebone should always be available to them. Some references mention live food, especially when they have young in the nest. I do not offer my Stars livefood.

Male (left) 2 Female (right) Star Finches.

Breeder's Notes
I would place Star finches on the same level of difficulty as Gouldians. For me, they are similar in many ways, so my approach to breeding them is similar. Star finches are shy breeders and will prefer the hole entrance nestbox over the half-open front. I tried them in the half-open boxes and they did build a nest (sort of), but they were always very nervous in them. I generally use a box with a half moon shape cut at the top of the front (nestbox). It allows them to get down low in the nest and hide. The Gouldians do the same thing. They prefer to "duck down" below the entrance. Contrast that with Zebra finches that like to look out of the box while sitting (zebra in box). They were not spectacular nest builders by any measure. Sometimes removing all material until only the sawdust in the box remained. Their clutches ranged from 3-10 eggs with average clutch being 4-6 eggs. Incubation would normally begin after the 3rd or 4th egg. They are light sitters and are easily disturbed. The chicks hatch at about 13 days and are pink with slight fuzz. They will remain in the nest for approximately 21 days. While in the nest they are relatively quite beggars, but once they are out, all hell breaks loose. They are noisy and insistent about being fed.

The parents will do very well on the standard diet noted above. They will take a bit more egg food during the brooding period. Many sources list that live food is necessary. I don't think mine even know what it is. All their needs can be met with the egg food. The young are weaned at about 14-21 days. They seem to take a little longer than some other Australian species and it's best to wait until you're sure they are on their own. Even when fostered under Society finches they are slow to wean.

The young fledge a dusky green with a buff belly. The tail has a hint of the red (rufous) tail that the adults have. The beak is black and they do not have the red or spots of the adults. They take quite a while to molt into adult plumage. Similar to the length that juvenile Gouldians take, approximately 4-6 months. I have read that there is an intermediate or sub-adult plumage that the juvenile molts into before showing final adult colors. I have not noticed this, or they are slowly molting the entire time until they are fully molted into their adult colors. Young males will begin singing while they are still in juvenile plumage, plus any young that show red feathers appearing below the chin can be identified as males.

Star finches are easily fostered under Society finches. The appearance of the young, the begging patterns, and brooding period are all similar to Society finches. By using the Society finches as back ups to your breeding Stars or ones that are not reliable in your environment, you can quickly establish a breeding strain of your own. With the Star finches being such shy incubators, I had trouble getting them to settle down in my birdroom. I expect that that will not be an issue with the birds that I have raised from those original birds. These young are used to my foods, my birdroom and me.

Additional Notes
There are two subspecies kept in aviculture. The most common is the subspecies, Neochmia ruficauda clarescens, while the nominate subspecies, Neochmia ruficauda ruficauda, is rarely seen and probably does not exist in U.S. aviculture. The nominate form was often mixed with the more numerous subspecies, which is also more colorful. The nominate race differs in that the face mask is not as large and the belly is not as yellow, but instead carries more buff white coloring. Aviculture recognizes the two subspecies, but ornithologists only recognize one.

There are several mutations of the Star finch available. The Yellow face is the most popular and prevalent. There is also a pied, fawn, cinnamon, Isabel and blue mutation. The pied is not as dramatic as many pied mutations, only causing a ring of white around the mask and white wing primaries and tail feathers. The fawn and cinnamon are similar, from what I understand, with varying shades of brown. This may actually be the same mutation, but is being called by the two names. If it is a "brown" mutation of the Star, it would probably be more appropriate to call the mutation cinnamon since the Star is a yellow based bird. The Isabel appears to be a form of dilute. Reducing both the green and yellow colors of the body, but not the red. The blue mutation is not as dramatic as the blue mutation of Gouldian finches, but it does eliminate the yellow base from the coloring leaving the belly white and the back a dark shade of blue. I have only heard of this mutation being reported, but have not seen pictures of it or know if it as been established since those earlier reports.

When I was holding some Melba finches, I was warned not to keep them with any of my Star finches due to their red face. The Melba males were aggressive birds that would attack other birds that it thought threatened its pairing with its mate. The Melbas have red faces as well.

Star Finch male

Star Chicks
Immature Star finches - 10 weeks (left), 7 weeks (right). See the mouth markings of nestling Stars