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The estrildid finches are small passerine birds of the Old World tropics and Australasia. They can be classified as the family Estrildidae (weaver-finch), or as a sub-group within the family Passeridae, which also includes the true sparrows.[1]

They are gregarious and often colonial seed-eaters with short, thick, but pointed bills. They are all similar in structure and habits, but vary widely in plumage colours and pattern.

All the estrildids build large domed nests and lay 5–10 white eggs. Many species build roost nests. Some of the fire-finches and pytilias are hosts to the brood-parasitic indigobirds and whydahs respectively.

Most are sensitive to cold and require a warm, usually tropical, habitat, although a few have adapted to the cooler climates of southern Australia.

The smallest species of the family is the Fernando Po Oliveback (Nesocharis shelleyi) at a mere 8.3 cm (3.3 inches), although the lightest species is the Black-rumped Waxbill (Estrilda troglodytes) at 6 g. The largest species is the Java Sparrow (Padda oryzivora), at 17 cm (6.7 inches) and 25 g.

Species list[]

File:Indian Silverbill I IMG 8877.jpg

Indian Silverbill, Lonchura malabarica

File:Scaly breasted Munia I IMG 4769.jpg

Scaly-breasted Munia, Lonchura punctulata

File:Black-headed Munia I IMG 7747.jpg

Black-headed Munia, Lonchura malacca

File:Chestnut-breasted Mannikin444.jpg

Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, Lonchura castaneothorax




File:Red Avadavat (Amandava amandava)- Male in Kolkata W IMG 3315.jpg

Red Avadavat, Amandava amandava

Origin of Estrildinae[2][3][]

File:Estrildid finches.jpg

Origin of estrildid finches.

The phylogeography and possible origin of Estrildinae finches have been studied[4]. The following scheme may be useful to represent an hypothetical origin in India in the last and stronger Himalayas uplift (16.5 million years ago),when monsoon rains regime established in India (see figure). The conclusions from this study[4] are:

  • Estrildids are a monophyletic group with polytomies that may have started evolving by Middle Miocene Epoch (about 16.5 million years ago)
  • This proposed timing is coincidental with the Fringillinae finches’ radiation starting time and also with the biggest Himalayan and Tibetan Plateau uplift, triggered by the Indian tectonic plate strongest collision; this established present day southern Asia monsoon regime and other drastic climatic changes, like a dryer weather in Tibetan Plateau and China deserts.
  • The Estrildid finches form a monophyletic group which includes several polytomies and comprises African, Asian and Australian birds.
  • The most ancient evolutive group comprises African (African silverbill), Asian (Indian silverbill) and Australian (diamond firetail); this suggests that the whole Estrildids radiation might have originated around India.

Evolutive conclusions[3][4][]

File:Evolution of estrildid finches.png

Estrildid finches phylogenetic tree.

  • The African group Nesocharis is grouped with the African gender Estrilda.
  • The Gouldian finch (Erythrura or Chloebia gouldiae) is definitely included within genus Erythrura with the other species.
  • The Java sparrow (Padda or Lonchura oryzivora) is a very modified species from genus Lonchura: bigger size than the rest of Lonchura species, and a noticeable and quite different head pattern. It is endemic from Java, Bali, and Bawean Islands, although escapes from captivity can be seen today in other neighboring islands.
  • African munias (Spermestes) belong to a genus (evolutive group) totally different to Australian and Asian munias.
  • The Australian species Red-browed Firetail (Neochmia temporalis), very similar to African common waxbill (Estrilda astrild), is unrelated to it. Their similarities (bill, red brow, etc.) are due to convergent evolution, since their environmental pressures (weather, habitat, feeding) are similar.


  1. ^ Christidis L, Boles WE (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Canberra: CSIRO Publishing. p. 177. ISBN 9780643065116. 
  2. ^ Sibley CG, Monroe BL (1990). Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press
  3. ^ a b Arnaiz-Villena,A; Gomez-Prieto,P.; Serna-Ayala; Ruiz-del-Valle,V. (2009). "Origen de los estríldidos".
  4. ^ a b c Arnaiz-Villena,A; Ruiz-del-Valle,V.; Gomez-Prieto,P.; Reguera,R.; Parga-Lozano,C; Serrano-Vela,J.I. (2009). "Estrildinae Finches (Aves, Passeriformes) from Africa, South Asia and Australia: a Molecular Phylogeographic Study"(PDF). The Open Ornithology Journal 2: 29-36. (doi:10.2174/1874453200902010029).

External links[]

Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
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