Hidalgo and Spice-Finch Song

Recording of Hidalgo with Mozart

Spice Finch is the common caged-bird-trade name for lonchura punctulata, better known in the field by their ornithological common names of Scaly-Breasted Munia or Nutmeg Mannikin. When I went to find my two original zebra finches, I fell in love with two of these dark brown beauties sharing cage space in the pet shop and decided I had to have them too. They were to be named Hidalgo and Sofia. Only Sofia turned out to be Sam. The sexes are virtually identical and perhaps the best way to tell them apart is to observe them for a while for behavioral cues. The males tend to sing, although not necessarily in the pet shop. Still, that should be simple enough to tell the boys from the girls.

Scaly-Breasted Munias

Three Spice Finches

But therein lies part of the problem: Spice Finch song is practically inaudible. Their call notes are distinct and easily heard above the fray, but the song is definitely not intended to be broadcast all over the neighborhood. When I did finally manage to get a couple of females for these guys, I observed song etiquette first-hand. You can see a spice finch singing easier than you can hear him. The singing male will often get right next to his intended and start singing sweetly, a rendition of his song intended just for her ears. Sometimes another male wants to hear him so he gets on the other side of the singer and leans in to listen. No countersinging going on here.

By Spice Finch standards, then, I guess Hidalgo was a loud mouth, because he was frequently pretty audible. This was way back before I had a huge flock. At the time of this recording, Hidalgo’s competition for airspace came down to one somewhat sickly male budgie and a couple zebra finches. And Sam, who didn’t sing all that much.

The recording attached to the link is in three parts. I was apparently really butchering a Mozart sonata in B-flat on this particular day, but the repetitive practicing in the first movement triggered some urge in Hidalgo to sing along a few times. That’s the first clip, and then there’s a short version of his entire song which follows the end of the Adagio. The song starts out high, “peepeepeepee” sound that drops down about an octave, goes up and down again, then goes to a clacking sound, trills, and finishes with an almost human sounding “Mwah mwah” in two descending notes. It’s quite an intricate matter. It’s fascinating to watch a Spice Finch sing too, because he moves his upper and lower mandibles constantly as if he’s carving sound in the air, strutting his inaudible stuff. I also found a little bit of Hidalgo as I reached the end of the third movement and tacked that on too, so you can hear him come in.

I will eventually find more recordings of Hidalgo in his element and share them with you. Sadly he became very ill after a year or two, and I have never had another spice finch male equal him musically. When the day comes that I no longer have budgies and zebra finches, I could be tempted to launch my own study of spice finch song.

2 thoughts on “Hidalgo and Spice-Finch Song

  1. We love your Birdsong and also your piano playing. What a treat! We have a huge flock of nutmeg mannequins on our feeder daily. The flock gets bigger and bigger, so we know that they are intent on having babies like mad. We have never heard them vocalize at all, however. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy eating. We think they live in the brush and maybe oak trees on the hillside out back. Our indoor cat Tuppence is their greatest admirer.

    • Thanks so much for your comment and welcome to my blog! Sounds like it’s easier to see Nutmeg Manikins where you are than where they came from. I don’t have them anymore and I suspect the reason why I don’t see them in pet stores or at the zoo is because they have established a population in the U.S. so now they’re protected. It was never easy to hear them sing: it was a very private performance sung sotto voce in the female’s ear with I suspect another male listening in on her other side.

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