Orange-breasted Waxbill (Save Africa's smallest finch)

A small bird doing BIG things for conservation

Orange-breasted Waxbill conservation collaboration

OBW cock Chris Krog (6) A small bird in trouble?

Recent unexpected declines in the Orange-breasted Waxbill, Africa’s smallest finch, Amandava subflava, from certain parts of its natural habitat has resulted in the need for the species to be researched. The conservation project is a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa and the Rare Finch Conservation Group. This species has a wide distribution and can be found   sporadically across Sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from Senegal to western Ethiopia and south through central Africa and eastern South Africa. The preferred habitat of the Orange-breasted Waxbill includes reed beds, moist grasslands and grassy savanna. They are usually seen in pairs or in family flocks of up to 20 birds. Not yet listed as threatened the species has now been selected by BirdLife South Africa as a sentinel bird for eight threatened and 84 common bird species that all use a similar habitat to itself









Male Orange-breasted Waxbill (Photo by Chris Krog)


A comparison between the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 1 (SABAP1: 1987-1991) and SABAP2 (2007 to present) suggested a possible decline in the reporting rate of the species.

This conservation project is part of a BirdLife International and BirdLife South Africa initiative for Keeping Common Birds Common.

 Nylsvley wetland

                                                                                                           Nylsvley Wetland (Photo by Albert Froneman) 

The Orange-breasted Waxbill will serve as a sentinel species for eight threatened bird species:

Species name  Scientific name   Regional Red list status
 Wattled Crane  Bugeranus carunculatus  Critically Endangered
 White-winged Flufftail  Sarothrura ayresi  Critically Endangered
 African Marsh-Harrier  Circus ranivorus  Endangered
 Grey Crowned Crane  Balearica regulorum  Endangered
 African Grass-Owl  Tyto capensis  Vulnerable
 Greater Painted-snipe  Rostratula benghalensis  Vulnerable
 Striped Flufftail  Sarothrura affinis  Vulnerable
 Rosy-throated Longclaw  Macronyx ameliae  Near Threatened


Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane: Critically endangered (Photo by Bruce Ward-Smith) 

White winged Flufftail

White-winged Flufftail: Critically endangered (Photo by Warwick Tarboton)

African Marsh Harrier

African Marsh-Harrier: Endagered (Photo by Warwick Tarboton)

Grey crowned Crane

Grey Crowned Crane: Endangered (Photo by Albert Froneman)

African Grass Owl

African Grass-Owl: Vulnerable (Photo by Warwick Tarboton) 

Greater Painted Snipe

Greater Painted-snipe: Vulnerable ( Photo by Marietjie Froneman) 

Striped Flufftail

Striped Flufftail: Vulnerable (Photo by Hugh Chittenden) 

Rosy throated Longclaw

Rosy-throated Longclaw: Near threatened (Photo by Albert Froneman 



Main objectives of the conservation project

  1. To consolidate distribution and habitat information of the Orange-breasted Waxbill in South Africa to understand the apparent declines of the species in some parts of its range.
  2. Raising the public profile of common birds through a small is BIG awareness campaign.

Distribution of the Orange-breasted Waxbill

This part of the project consists of two phases.

  1. Analyse trends in the population distribution to indicate past and present Orange-breasted Waxbill distributions based on data from atlassing (SABAP1 and SABAP2), together with additional current and historical ringing records from Safring;
  2. Raise funds for phase two, a fine scale desktop and ornithological field study at Masters level on certain Orange-breasted Waxbill populations with the aim of identifying factors affecting their ecology.

Results from the preliminary study show that Orange-breasted Waxbill populations are possibly expanding away from their historical distribution ranges, with pockets of increased reporting rates in certain areas.

Historical recordsOrange-breasted Waxbill distribution including

historical records as far back as 1900 from

the National Museum Ornithology collections,

Ditsong Museums of South Africa Ornithology

collection, Niven Library nest records and South

African Bird Ringing Unit (SAFRING) overlaid

with distribution data from SABAP1. The trend

indicates an increased distribution range,

specifically in KwaZulu-Natal where higher reporting

rates for SABAP1 were recorded further

afield from historical sightings. In other provinces,

the reporting rates are centralised within historical distribution areas.



Orange-breasted Waxbill distribution nowRecent records

overlaid with the more recent data of the

ongoing (2007 – 2015) citizen science project,

SABAP2. The map shows that the reporting

rate has decreased from urban and developing

areas, specifically in Gauteng, where the

birds have increased in numbers on the outskirts

of the cities in the more rural areas.



BirdLasser to assist the Orange-breasted Waxbill

The BirdLasser mobile app has enabled citizen scientists to become part of the Orange-breasted Waxbill Conservation Project by allowing any sightings of Orange-breasted Waxbill to be shared directly with BirdLife South Africa.

If you would like to contribute to the project please download the BirdLasser app from either App Store (iPhone) or Play Store (Android devices). To join the Orange-breasted Waxbill cause, simply tap on “settings”, scroll down to Causes, tap on “Support causes” and select the Orange-breasted Waxbill Project. All the Orange-breasted Waxbill sightings will be available to BirdLife South Africa, which will help us to understand the current distribution and analyse trends in distribution of this species.

For more information please visit the BirdLasser website at

small is BIG Orange-breasted Waxbill

The small is BIG is an Orange-breasted Waxbill Conservation Project public awareness campaign. It brings attention to not only the plight of the little Orange-breasted Waxbill, but also the Keeping Common Birds Common initiative. The small is BIG Fiat 500, proudly sponsored by Arnold Chatz Cars, Hyde Park, Johannesburg is contributing significantly to conservation awareness whenever it is seen in the bustling streets of Gauteng and further when it is used to visit schools, universities, bird clubs and nature reserves to speak out about the Orange-breasted Waxbill and the Keeping Common Birds Common initiative. Click here to read about the small is BIG event.

Arnold Chtaz Cars

The little Orange-breasted Waxbill, with its bright orange colour, will be made into a hero bird (helping save eight threatened and 84 common bird species) that can be admired by both children and adults alike.Preferably both the small size of the bird as well as the colour orange will be simultaneously leveraged to their maximum effect.The campaign includes the development of posters, banners, articles, press releases and social media Public event initiatives and merchandise help to raise awareness and funds for this important new conservation project.

Keeping Common Birds Common


Eelco Meyjes and John Kinghorn Eelco Meyjes and Hanneline Beaded Waxbill Lucky


A solo cycle ride from Cape to Vic Falls for a small bird

Eelco Meyjes cycleTo kick-start the public awareness campaign for the Orange-breasted Waxbill, one man dared a 3000 km solo bicycle ride from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. Eelco Meyjes, who is both a director of the Rare Finch Conservation Group and a BirdLife South Africa member, began his journey on 15 March 2015 from Cape Town, South Africa, via Botswana, and ended in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. He passed through 55 villages and towns on his route. The ride of an average of nearly 82 km per day was completed in a period of 44 days (including seven rest days) covering a distance of 3008 km while carrying a kit of 35 kilograms.

  Not only did Eelco gain many once-in-a-life-time experiences, but he also completed an inspiring awareness campaign for this tiny little finch.





Founded in 2005 The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches. All donations will be publicly acknowledged, unless otherwise requested, on the RFCG website. Donations can be made to the following account. Rare Finch Conservation Group, Nedbank. Account number 1933 198885 Branch: Sandown 193 305 South Africa (For international donors please add) SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.

For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.orgor write to the secretary



small is BIG Orange-breasted Waxbill