The Long-tailed Grassfinch
(Poephila acuticauda)


Australia is perhaps one of the most graced countries where members of the Estrildid family are concerned, especially in regards the Grassfinches which are particularly well represented.

The grassy savannahs of northern Australia are home to most of these finches and it is here that we find the Longtail finch, fortunately still in reasonably large numbers.

With much in current literature concerning the plight of their "cousins" the Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae, we can officially report that the Longtail still abounds in the Kimberley region in decent numbers.
A visit to the AWC's Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary will let you observe these guys in their native state as they flit from one batch of Sorghum grass to another, mind you that's just on the walk from the shower block to grab a morning cup of coffee so imagine how many you'd actually see in the bush!!
Ok, ok just blame the person who took me to such a finch lover's paradise if you must!


Not wishing to rehash 1000 things already written I'll leave the description of these guys to others and the photographs accompanying this text!
This species is often referred to as the Black Heart due to the beautiful black bib and as a lad when wild-caught finches were regularly available I never heard them referred to as anything else but Black-hearts!

Suffice it to say that there are two "types" of Longtails in our aviaries - the Yellow-billed longtail, P.acuticauda, or Black-heart and the Red-billed, P.a. hecki, or Heck's longtail.
There also exists a number of 'intermediates' which tend to have a more orange coloured beak and these are usually the result of a 'mixed marriage' between the two pure beak colours. From my experience the red beak tends to disappear when the two colours are mixed and after only a few generations at that. As they are the 'same' species birds with orange beaks are not 'hybrids' in reality as such and, if crossed back to a pure beaked bird of either colour you can easily reproduce a 'pure' species. Needless to say all are fully fertile!!
In my own state Heck's were very rare and expensive back "in the day" so this may explain why the bills tended to revert back to the yellow form when crossed as they were usually paired with a Yellow-billed form if a mate died..
When selecting your Heck's Longtails I suggest you go for the progeny of birds with deep red beaks and those with a purple tinge to their head colours.
Why not a deep red-billed bird? That would be because adult birds displaying such a bright beak usually have a few years on them and I feel it's always better to try for youngsters whenever possible.


Pair Yellow-billed Longtails - Cock Right. Hecks Longtails


The Longtail has two close relatives in the Mask finch, P.personata and the Parson or Black-throat finch, P.cincta.
In the aviary the Parson can be a nuisance to smaller and weaker species while the Mask appears to have none of the vices of its other close relatives.

The Longtail fits in between the two with some being troublesome in the aviary and for that reason you must limit their numbers or they may tend to take over your best nesting, feeding and perching sites!
If a colony is desired then they do well with other of the larger species and mine are perfectly happy with Diamond sparrows, Mexican (Yellow) siskins, Golden Song Sparrows and Red-faced parrotfinches. Or at least the others give the Longtails a run for their money in the 'grass pinching' and nest box stealing stakes!!
There is nothing better than watching a group of Longtails interacting with each other with their bobbing and "chuckling" as they sort out their pecking order. The nifty "tail-wagging" of a soliciting female is also rather a treat as the more anxious she gets the faster the tail tends to vibrate - irresistible to a male Longtail I'd imagine!
Others keep Longtails happily with Cutthroats, Stars, Blue-faced parrotfinches and some of the hardier Waxbills like Orange Breasts and African Fires (Ruddies).

I have always used the size and shape of the bib as an easy way of sexing this species although I find the Yellow-billed form slightly easier than the Heck's. The cock has the larger bib which extends out to the sides of the chest especially when he is squatting on the perch. The hen has the more pear-shaped bib which is usually smaller and narrower than the males.

If you get very lucky you may even get a male Longtail that "sings" but this is a rarity in captivity.

I have only ever had one such male and it was amazing watching him sitting in the sun singing for all he was worth. I have mentioned this to many breeders and most had never had a male that sang in such a manner.
Other breeders sex their birds by the leg patches stating that the hens were smaller than the males and a slightly different colouration - as I have never noticed this I nevertheless pass on this "hint"!
Other say that only the males have the two long tail feathers but I have seen many older hens that also posses these beautiful feathers.
When in breeding colouration the males head and body often appears to have a slightly brighter hue to it than the females.


Our Longtails are fed on a well constructed finch mix with a little added Plain canary for these finches. The other seeds included are Red & Yellow pannicum, French white, Siberian & Jap millet.
They are also fed daily a soaked/sprouted seed mix which is supplemented with a mineral/vitamin and softfood mix.
Being a grass finch they thrive on green grass seeds and they will consume large quantities of this when feeding youngsters. In fact, in my humble opinion, live food is not a prerequisite for breeding Longtails if you have plenty of green seeding grasses and Chickweed at hand.
Among our favourites are all three members of the Ehrharta family ( E.erecta or panic veldt-grass, E.calycina or perennial veldt-grass and E.longiflora or veldt oats.) any of the Rye grass species, Panicum hillmani, &  P. gilvum, Guinea grass and any of the Setaria family of tropical grasses.


Longtails in the aviary! Hecks in the aviary!!


These guys are not the world's most difficult finch to breed and are generally free-breeders once a compatible pair is introduced into your aviary set-up.

Nests are often built in Tea-tree attached to the walls of your aviary or free-standing clumps suspended from the ceiling or in any number of 'man-made' nesting receptacles. The good old Budgie-type box is as favoured a nesting site as anything fancier!
In order to prevent these guys from pilfering nesting material from their weaker cousins you must be prepared to supply liberal amounts. Thinner green stems are a favourite for the outer layer in some instance even if the nest is built in a box!! One of the best for this is the leaves of the tussock grass, Poa billardieri, which are also favoured by the Weaver finches and the Pictorella mannikin.
Once the outer shell has been constructed then November (or swamp) grass is thatched into the outer shell to create a very cosy structure. Into this is dragged a copious amount of soft white feathers, cotton wool & lintus (try to go for a natural brand of cotton wool if you are at all worried about entanglements) Emu feathers and/or dried Pampas grass seed heads.

Around 4-8 white eggs are laid and the Longtails are usually doting parents giving short shift to any interloper that dallies near the nest entrance!!
Again plenty of seeding grasses and soaked/sprouted seeds should see the youngsters reared with a minimum of fuss.
As my own birds share the aviary with insectivorous species they always have access to live food in the form of mealworms and maggots. These should prove to be enough for any Longtails to rear young on without adding termites into the mix.
I try and remove the youngsters when their beaks are beginning to turn from black to red or yellow - depending upon the variety of course!! However, if you choose the young can be left with their parents for successive broods but just check that all the youngsters are not trying to cram back into the breeding nest at night. This will usually mean the loss of the hatchlings. Most pairs will lure their young off into another nest to sleep in (or even construct one solely for that purpose) but just be aware that some may try to "re-visit" their childhood nest site - usually to the detriment of the later brood!!


Nest in a  box!! ....and in a wire bunt!!


As with any finch the onus is on the finch keeper to ensure that their charges are kept in the best possible condition.
In the case of the Longtail -and most finches for that matter- this is made more difficult as the birds spend extended periods on the ground.
For this reason alone a strict worming regime is a must for your aviary and we treat our flocks every 3 months. Some may chose to have faecal floats done and determine from the results whether to worm or not but we chose to include it as part of our regular finch husbandry. Again this species preference for green grasses also makes it a target for any worm eggs contained on the actual grass itself grown outside the aviary let alone the "nasties" that might tend to stick to the shoes of their doting keeper!!

Any number of products are available to treat for parasitic worms and mites so we strongly suggest you talk to your avian vet about designing a program for your flock  - Dr's Colin Walker (from the Australian Pigeon Company) and James Harris have been invaluable in designing ours!! Mind you I don't think there is an avian vet we haven't "annoyed" at some stage over the past too many years in finches!!

Products used on our Longtails in their water bowls include Panacur 100, Cydectin Plus (often called Moxidectin Plus), Oxfendazole and Equimax Liquid Allwormer. Newly acquired birds are treated with Avitrol Plus given directly to the beak as per dose rate on container but we strongly advise against using this wormer as a flock treatment in the water bowl.
For stubborn air-sac mite in new imports we use a dilution of alcohol and Ivomec given direct to the back of the neck - you must get the dose rate correct or you will end up with very inebriated finches!! The alcohol is absorbed straight into the blood stream and the wormer gets working straight away. Ivomec given in water usually ends up with the medication simply stuck to wet feathers!!
If you live in warm, wet climes then it would be imperative that you treat for Coccidia on a regular basis. Although not a huge problem here ( up until July it has rained for 2 half days this year at our aviaries!!!!) we still use Baycox about twice a year. Others have been experimenting with using Baycox combined with their wormer of choice and this appears to be the way to go for flock treatments. Since trialling this method we have experienced no problems at all.

Hopefully that will give you a few tips on keeping your Longtails in tip-top condition throughout the year.


Few finches in our aviaries have the inquisitive nature and natural charms of the Longtailed grassfinch and if housed correctly they will prove to be prolific breeders.
Given you select young birds and supply plenty of nesting sites and copious amounts of the outlined nesting material you should be well on your way to success with this much loved species.

In fact, if you ever get that feeling you are being watched in your aviary, it is probably just the Longtails checking out what goodies you have brought in for them - I even had one that used to land in my soaked seed bucket and start eating before I even had a chance to place some in his bowl!!!
An Australian native I'd recommend to anyone - whether a newcomer to the hobby or an "old hand"!!