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The Masked Grassfinch


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Written by Harry Bryant (Elyria, Ohio)
Originally published in The NFSS Bulletin, Vol. 16 No. 1. January – February 1999

About 28 years ago, while reading Bates and Busenbark’s “Finches and Soft Billed Birds”, I saw a color photo of a group of Lady Gouldians and Masked Grassfinches. I knew in my heart that one day I would have and raise both of these finches.
    Well, I have been raising Gouldians now for at least 20 years, and have had Masked Grassfinches for the last 13 years; and have my own flights of Gouldians and Masked Grassfinches together. So after much urging by the NFSS Editor, I will try to put my experiences with this wonderful finch into writing.

    While the Masked Grassfinch does not possess the bold bright colors of many finches it does provide a striking contrast when kept with Gouldians, Parrot Finches, and other brightly colored finches. It has a delicate feather texture, light brown color with black mask and flanks, white rump, coral red feet and yellow waxy-looking bill.

    The Masked Grassfinch is one of the most peaceful and friendly of the Grassfinches and I have kept them with owls (bichenos), Gouldians, Cherry Finches, Star Finches, and various small waxbills with no problems. If I had to compare them with another finch, I would say they are most like a Gouldian in habit.
    Their cages or flights should always be provided with either a large finch nest basket or nest box, as they like to roost in a nest at night. One of the first things I se in the flights in the morning is a multitude of bright yellow bills peering down at me from a nest basket.
    Masked Grassfinches are fast flyers and sometimes have a tendency to panic easily, so I recommend keeping a nightlight on in the flight or bird room. Having a nest basket available greatly reduces the chances of night flight.

    The best way to sex Masked Grassfinches is to set up two together in a breeding cage, and if you get eggs you have a female, if they are fertile, you have a pair. The male does have a quiet trumpet like call, and does a little display dance, but he is shy about vocalizing. Sometimes the males seem to have a larger, brighter facial mask and beak, but not always.
    It is often hard for a breeder to put two birds together and get the birds to “pair up”. I usually place eight to twelve color-banded birds in a flight and watch them closely for signs of pairing. I then remove the pairs as they form. Once paired up, the bond between a breeding pair is very strong.

    My birds all readily eat my own finch mix, which I make by mixing 50% of a locally made standard finch mix and 50% of Clifford’s Finch Booster, which is kept before them at all times. They receive sprouted seed and eggfood (Hardboiled egg, I tablespoon Rich Life Vionate, 1 tsp. Japanese millet) everyday, and mealworms and/or wax worms twice a week, unless they are feeding babies, and in that case they receive the worms daily. They also receive green food (Romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves, celery leaves, depending on availability) three times a week, and spray millet twice a week. A cuttlebone and bowl of gravel/grit is kept in each cage or flight. Glass hotel ashtrays make great grit containers!

    Living in northern Ohio, my birds are kept indoors, in a basement birdroom. My flights range from 3’x6’x6’ high to 6’x14’x6’ high. They are lighted 14 hours a day by 4’ shop lights, which have vitalite bulbs in them. Some of the flights have large plants in them, (fig trees, spider plants), while others are bare. All have corncob bedding on the floor.
    My cages are all “box style”, made from ½ inch plywood with a front made from ½ inch by 1 inch welded wire. They are painted with flat white enamel paint inside and are lighted by a small 12” fluorescent light. They range in size from 24” deep x 24” tall  x 48” long to 24” deep x 24” tall x 72” long. I use newspaper on the floor of these cages.

    While I have raised Masked Grassfinches in my flights, I now set them up for breeding in box cages, which are 24” deep x 24” tall x 48” long. These cages are equipped with one woof finch nest box, usually 5”x5”x5”, and 2 large woven finch nest baskets. Sometimes, the cages contain artificial foliage, and I have had one pair of Masked Grassfinches build their own grass nest in the foliage.
    I provide soft grasses for nesting materials. I try to find an abandoned house in the country where the lawn grass has become overgrown. Tall grasses can also be found along roads or in parks. The most important thing is that the grasses are “fine”. I have also tried using coconut fibres, however I was always afraid the birds would become entangled in them so I stopped using it.
    Masked Grassfinches lay between 4-6 eggs, and incubation is 13-16 days. Three weeks later, when the babies finally emerge from the nest, they are dull little copies of their parents with dark gray beaks. 

Immelmann, Klaus, Australian Finches, 1977. Angus and Robertson Publishers. (ISBN: 0207136262)
Iles, G.W., Breeding Australian Finches, Published by Iles d’Avon, Ltd. (ISBN: 0905714024)
Goodwin, Derek, Estreldid Finches of the World, 1982. Cornell University Press

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Last updated: August 27, 2006