Be Your Own Birder

Weekly Bird: Violet-Eared Waxbill

A study in technicolor, the violet-eared waxbill is often more familiar as a pet bird than in its wild habitat. Learning more about this extraordinary finch can help birders better appreciate all the unusual and distinctive birds throughout the world.

Violet-Eared Waxbill - Male

Violet-Eared Waxbill – Male – Photo by Derek Keats

Violet-Eared Waxbill Fun Facts
  • The violet-eared waxbill (Granatina granatina) is a member of the Estrildidae bird family, along with munias, waxbills, silverbills, firefinches, mannikins, and other colorful and exotic species. The more familiar Gouldian finch and zebra finch are also in this family.
  • Other common names for this colorful finch include the common grenadier, grenadier, purple grenadier, and violet-eared cordon-bleu. In Afrikaans, the bird is called the koningblousysie.
  • These birds are monogamous and mate for life, renewing their bonds by preening one another’s crowns or with bobbing courtship displays.
  • The violet-eared waxbill was one of the first birds to have a brain transcriptome completed. This is a detailed genetic mapping of the bird’s brain, which is useful for both ornithologists and neurobiologists to study in order to better understand bird social behavior and how the brain operates.
  • While these birds can be found as pets, they can be challenging to keep because males tend to be territorial and can be aggressive. Because of their presence in the pet trade, however, occasional escapee sightings could be recorded in unusual locations far from their native south African range.
  • Violet-eared waxbills are subject to brood parasitism from the shaft-tailed whydah; watching for the brood parasites during the breeding season from December through May can lead to sightings of the waxbills.
  • The violet-eared waxbill was featured on a Mozambique postage stamp in 1987, as well as a postage stamp from the Central African Republic in 2001.
Adding the Violet-Eared Waxbill to Your Life List

These birds are relatively common though sparse within their range, and prefer drier, more arid habitats such as thorn scrub and open acacia savannah and woodlands, though they avoid dense growth. Visiting their range with a qualified birding guide is the best option for birders to see this bird, and watching for its bold colors and long tail can help birders spot violet-eared waxbills, which typically forage on the ground for seeds and insects. These shy birds stay in pairs year-round, so where one is spotted, another is likely nearby, offering birders the opportunity to see both genders. Because these birds stay in very arid regions, visiting watering holes during mid-afternoon can yield sightings of violet-eared waxbills as they stop by for drinks.

Learn More About the Violet-Eared Waxbill

These resources can add even more color to your knowledge of this colorful bird…

Violet-Eared Waxbill - Female

Violet-Eared Waxbill – Female – Photo by Derek Keats

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