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Waxbills are 107 species of finch-like birds that make up the family Estrilidae. Species of waxbills occur in the tropics of Africa, South and Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Australia, and many islands of the South Pacific. Their usual habitats are grasslands, marshes, savannas, forest edges, and disturbed forests. Waxbills are sedentary, nonmigratory birds.

Waxbills are small birds, ranging in body length from 3.2-5.9 in (8-15 cm). The bill is short, stout, conical-shaped, and pointed, and adapted to eating seeds. The plumage of male birds is generally brightly colored, with contrasting patterns that can include hues of red, blue, purple, green, yellow, black, or white. Female birds have a much more inconspicuous coloration.

Waxbills forage on the ground for seeds, fruits, and small invertebrates. Species that occur in open, seasonally dry habitats are gregarious during the drier times of the year, while species occurring in more closed moist habitats defend their territories throughout the year.

All waxbills are territorial during their breeding season, which for many species typically begins immediately after the seasonal rains begin. Their songs are weak hisses, buzzes, and chatterings. Waxbills construct bulky, domed nests of grassy fibers, often lined with feathers on the inside. Waxbills lay four to 10 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes, who also share duties in caring for the young.

Several species of waxbills have been domesticated, and are kept in captivity as cagebirds. These include the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) of Australia, the striated finch or white-rumped munia (Lonchura striata) of South and Southeast Asia, and the Java finch (Padda oryzivora), native to Java and Bali in Indonesia, but widely introduced elsewhere in Indochina and Southeast Asia.

The Gouldian or rainbow finch (Peophila gouldiae) is a particularly gaudy bird of northern Australia, which has a yellow bill, black face, purple breast, yellow belly, and green back. The white-crowned mannikin (Lonchura nevermanni) is a white-headed, two-toned brown-bodied species that lives within grassy savannas in southern New Guinea. The red-headed parrot finch (Erythrura cyaneovirens) has a red head, blue breast, green belly and back, and burgundy tail. The orange-eyed pytilia or red-faced waxbill (Pytilia afra) is a red-faced, gray-bodied species of East Africa.

Some species of waxbills are regarded as serious pests of agriculture. For example, the Java finch is a pest in parts of Southeast Asia, because of the quantities of ripened rice that this flock consumes.

See also Finches.

Bill Freedman

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