These are fine birds to enjoy for their antics and the splendid breeding plumage of the male. The Pintail Whydah is one of the most common forms of Whydah available.
“Whydah” is the name of a town in Nigeria where these birds are common. Pintail Whydahs are also called “Widow Birds” due to the long tail the male has during the breeding season. During this time It is twice the length of his body and often black. In the wild, when the males are not in their wonderful breeding plumage, they are surprisingly inconspicuous.
Though the Pintail Whydahs are not difficult birds to keep, they are best if kept by themselves or with only a select few other bird types, as they can be rather quarrelsome. Breeding them is difficult as they are parasitic breeders, which means they only lay their eggs in another birds nest, and are quite particular about it.
For more information about the care of Finches see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Finch
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Actiniform
- Class: Elasmobranchii
- Order: Passeriformes
- Family: Viduidae
- Genus: Vidua
- Species: macroura
Vidua macroura Learn more about the Pintail Whydah “Family”, the Plodeidae Finches here: Finch Families
The Pintail Whydah males are very attractive when in breeding plumage. It is glossy black above with white on its underside. The sides of its head and the lower back are white, and it has a white stripe across the wings. The long narrow tail feathers are 10″ (25 cm) giving the male and overall length of 13″ (33 cm) when in breeding plumage, and an overall length of 6″ (15 cm) in a non-breeding male. The female is tawny colored, speckled with black and is 5″ (13 cm) in length.
Care and Feeding:
Fresh food and water must be provided daily. A good finch seed mix will provide their everyday need of grass seeds and millets and is readily available at a pet store. In a separate cup supply green foods regularly, such as chickweed and spinach. Other supplements to include sparingly are egg foods, apple and pear. Finch treats of seed with honey, fruits and vegetables are fun for your bird too, as well as nutritious!
Grit with charcoal is essential to aid in digestion and it contains valuable minerals and trace elements. Grit should be provided in a special cup or sprinkled over the bottom of the cage floor. Provide a cuttlebone because the calcium it provides will give your bird a firm beak, strong eggshells when breeding, and will help prevent egg binding. The lime in the cuttlebone also aids in digestion.
Give your finch a bath at least once a week and daily during the summer by placing a dish that is 1″ deep with a 1/2″ of water on the bottom of the cage. Bathing is very important to finches during molting and breeding.
Their nails may occasionally need to be trimmed, but be careful never to clip into the vein as the bird can quickly bleed to death. Bird nail trimmers and styptic powder to stop the bleeding are available at pet shops.
Pintail Whydahs do well indoors in a cage. Place the cage where it is well ventilated though free from drafts, and against a wall at eye level. It should have good light but be away from doors and windows where direct exposure to sunlight can make it overly warm.
Provide two or three good softwood perches about 3/8″ to 3/4″ in diameter. Tree branches of a similar size also make good perches and will help to wear the claws down naturally. Provide separate dishes for food, water, treats, and grit. Place paper on the cage bottom that can be sprinkled with grit, or use a grit paper.
Pintail Whydahs also do very well in aviaries or bird rooms. The screening should be 3/8″ square mesh. Dishes for food, water, grit and bathing water must be included along with perches and a wide variety of nests. Leafy branches, tall grasses and reeds, and dense bushes will make the space more enjoyable for the finches.
Although finches require very little time, a clean environment as well as fresh food and water daily is a must to prevent disease and illness. The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Every two to three days change the paper on the bottom of the cage and sprinkle it with about 1/8″ of fresh grit. Weekly wash and dry the entire cage, including the perches.
The Pintail Whydahs can be a rather quarrelsome finch and it is best to avoid mixing them with other finches of similar color, and keep only one male with several females. Because they are rather assertive birds, small finches are best not housed with them.
Finches are simply enjoyed for their antics and play rather than training. When you need to handle your finch to examine it or clip it’s nails, place your palm on it’s back and wrap your fingers around the bird with your thumb and forefinger on either side of it’s head.
Pintail Whydahs are parasitic breeders. This means they lay their eggs in the nests of a waxbill to be incubated and reared. The Common Waxbill, the St. Helena Waxbill, is the only nest they will lay in and that finch is rarely bred in captivity.
In order for the male to attract a mate, he must be able to imitate the songs and calls of the foster finch perfectly. Consequently, the Pintail Whydah will have perfected two sets of songs, that of his species and that of the foster species. If he is successful, the female will deposit her eggs in the nest of the waxbill and the hatchlings will grow up with the waxbill babies.
The hatchlings have a mouth pattern and a first plumage that matches that of the other nestlings, as well as the postures and begging calls. As the hatchlings age, they learn the calls and patterns of the foster parents so that they may find the right foster parents to deposit their own eggs into when they are mature. Quite fascinating, but it makes it difficult to breed them in captivity!
Pintail Whydahs are fairly hardy birds and almost all illnesses can be traced to improper diet, dirty cages, and drafts. A balanced diet and plenty of exercise will prevent most illnesses. Know your birds and watch for real drastic changes as indications of illness.
Some signs of illness to be aware of are droppings that are not black and white, feathers that are fluffed and the bird tucks it’s head under it’s wing, lack of appetite, wheezing, and acting feeble and run down.
Some of the common illnesses and injuries your finch could contract are broken wings or legs, cuts and open wounds, overgrown beaks and nails, ingrown feathers, feather picking, metabolic problems from lack of exercise, weight loss, heat stroke, shock, concussion, egg binding, diarrhea, mites, colds, baldness, scaly legs, sore eyes, tumors, constipation, and diarrhea.
First you can try and isolate the bird in a hospital cage where you cover all but the front of the cage and add a light bulb or heating pad to keep the interior of the cage at a constant temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove all perches and put food and water dishes on the floor. If you don’t see improvements within a few hours, take the bird to an avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura) male non-breeding (Image Credit: Charles J. Sharp, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 International)