When translated to English, the French language name for this little finch – Nonpareil – means “without equal”. The name suits the gorgeous bird perfectly…so much so that aviculturists of all nationalities have adopted it. Also known as the Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch (Erythrura prasina), the brilliantly-colored Nonpareil has long been among the most desired of all Southeast Asian finches.
My first experience with these beauties came while working for a bird importer. I was captivated by their colors, but despaired over the stress caused them by shipment and confinement to quarantine facilities. Fortunately, an experienced private breeder helped me to learn the keys to keeping them alive and well.
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The 5.5 inch-long male Nonpareils are clad in “grass green”, bright red and brilliant blue, and sport elongated central tail feathers. Females have shorter tails and are not as gaudy, but are also quite colorful. While most related parrot finches are attractive (please see photos), none are as spectacular as the Nonpareil.
Yellow-bellied individuals are found in some wild populations, but are not common in captivity. Birds originating from Borneo have more blue in the plumage, and are considered by most to be a subspecies. Although few aviculturists see any need to experiment with color mutations, largely-green and pied strains have been established.
Range and Habitat
Nonpareils range from Myanmar through Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra and Java.
Habitat preferences are not well-studied, but they are most often observed along moist forest fringes and in bamboo thickets, brushy river edges and overgrown areas near rice farms.
Nonpareils are notoriously shy and a bit high-strung, but when properly housed are quite hardy, and a delight to observe. They do well in colonies, and most successful breeders report they are best kept in this manner.
If confined to small cages or denied cover and visual barriers, Nonpareils will not thrive. When startled, they may fly into cage walls and become injured, especially if their enclosure is not correctly set-up.
Nonpareils forage almost entirely above-ground, and are not comfortable when forced to feed on the cage floor. They must be supplied with elevated shelves and perches. Tiny forest-dwellers are on the menu of myriad predators, so Nonpareils are consequently very ill-at-ease in open situations. Dried or live grass clumps, hanging potted plants and bushes should be always be positioned about the aviary to prevent their becoming stressed.
The need for security and ample cover is one of the most important considerations in the husbandry of Nonpareils. While aviary-style indoor cages may work if one takes great care, outdoor aviaries or homemade indoor cages are the best options. Please see this site for an example of a well-planned indoor aviary.
Nonpareils, even those well-habituated to captivity, tend to hide when their enclosure is approached. Allowing them to remain out-of-sight when necessary will encourage a sense of security that will translate into healthier pets.
It is important to avoid startling Nonpareils – i.e. by suddenly illuminating a dark room – as they may explode into flight and injure themselves.
Light, Heat and Humidity
Full spectrum light, while not essential, may encourage breeding and other natural behaviors in Nonpareils that are housed indoors.
Native to warm, moist habitats, Nonpareils be kept at temperatures of 72-76 F and a humidity range of 50-60%. Temperatures to 90 F, and quite humid conditions, have been successfully used by some keepers.
Grass seeds form the bulk of the diet in the wild. Pets do well on a high quality finch seed mix, to which has been added extra canary grass seed and Japanese and white millet. Paddy rice (unprocessed rice with the kernel-covering intact) is a great favorite, and in the past was often used to induce newly-imported birds to feed.
A bit of egg food should be offered each day, with the quantity increasing when breeding behavior is exhibited. Small amounts of kale, watercress, sprouted seeds and other greens should be provided twice weekly. Live insects are usually ignored, even by breeding pairs.
Grit and both crushed and whole cuttlebone should always be available.
Most Nonpareils accept only a rather limited number of food items. To ensure against nutritional deficiencies, vitamin/mineral supplements should be provided (please write in for specific information).
Breeding results vary, as do the observations made by those who have been successful. Colony members seem to come into breeding condition more frequently than do single pairs; squabbles among males are rarely if ever serious. Breeding activity may vary greatly from year to year, despite similar captive conditions. Two molts occur each year; the failure of potential pairs to synchronize their molts is believed by some to interfere with successful reproduction.
The woven, enclosed grass or coco-fiber nest will be constructed in a basket, finch box, thick shrub or other protected space. The 2-6 eggs are incubated by both parents for 13 – 15 days. Soaked seeds, sprouts, additional egg food and chopped greens should be provided to the parents once the young hatch.
The chicks fledge in approximately 21-23 days, and are fed by their parents for an additional week or so. Adult plumage usually appears when they reach 8 months of age.
Parents that are disturbed may abandon their nests. Nonpareil chicks have been successfully fostered by Bengalese Finches.