This project is a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa and the Rare Finch Conservation Group and forms part of the BirdLife International initiative for Keeping Common Birds Common.

Orange-breasted Waxbill - small bird, BIG hero

One of Africa’s smallest finch species, weighing only ~7.5g. They are usually found in small family groups of up to 20 individuals. Their diet consists mainly of grass seeds. They feed in small foraging groups, and when disturbed will fly away synchronously producing a high pitched chirping call.

Waxi the Hero Puppet Show

Alastair Findlay has assisted the Orange-breasted Waxbill Project by designing and creating a puppet show centred on the core messages of the Orange-breasted Waxbill Project and the different wetland bird species it aims to conserve. Waxi, the orange-breasted waxbill, is the star of the show and sets out to find Fluffy, the missing white-winged Flufftail, with help from several of his bird friends that also live in the wetland.

The aim of the puppet show is to drive awareness in South Africa’s Youth about the importance of conserving water, wetlands and water birds. Through the entertaining medium of puppetry, wetland birds are brought to life in an approachable and memorable way as they tell their story and teach the audience about conserving Africa’s wetlands and the birds that live in them.

The Orange-breasted Waxbill project would like to take the puppets on a road show to schools and bird clubs around Gauteng to spread its message of conservation and encourage the youth of South Africa to engage with the natural world around them. If you would like to get involved with sponsoring or booking the show please contact Eelco Meyjes (Director of the Rare Finch Conservation Group)

We are grateful to Toyota for their current sponsorship of the Waxi the Hero puppet show at the 2019 Flufftail Festivals and to Ryan Dittman and the Zikka Zimba productions team for bringing the show to life.

Catch the ‘Waxi the Hero’ Puppet Show at these events!

The distribution of the Orange-breasted Waxbill

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. Locally, the Orange-Breasted Waxbill is patchily distributed throughout the eastern interior of South Africa. It is most commonly found in the moist grasslands of the highveld and southern Kwazulu-Natal (midlands and the lower Drakensberg), and are particularly fond of rank, grassy vegetation bordering wetlands and floodplains within these areas.

Declines in reporting rates in core areas for this species have been detected between the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 1 (SABAP1) and SABAP2. With expansion of its range into new areas likely being driven by loss of prime habitat and wetland degradation.

We want YOU to be a part of something BIG

We have teamed up with BirdLasser, an easy-to-use mobile app, to try to consolidate data on the current distribution of Orange-breasted Waxbills in South Africa and further investigate the declines observed in these birds’ range as highlighted by the SABAP data.

Download the easy to use BirdLasser app from the Google Play Store or iStore now, activate the ‘Orange-breasted Waxbill Project’ cause on the app and start logging sightings of Orange-breasted Waxbills when you find them around the country. The data collected from June 2016 to August 2017 are displayed below. Play your part as a citizen scientist and help this small finch to be a BIG hero for wetland conservation.

For more information please visit the BirdLasser website at

What are WETLANDS and what do they do for us?

Wetlands are transitional areas of land where both terrestrial and aquatic systems overlap and the land surface is seasonally covered by shallow water. Wetlands typically support specialised vegetation which is adapted to life in saturated soils, such as reeds, sedges and algae. These in turn provide habitats for a number of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, many of which are specifically adapted to living within wetland ecosystems, making wetlands a reservoir for biodiversity. Wetland ecosystems also provide vital ecosystem services such as water purification, flood control, water and sediment storage, as well as cultural values for communities.

What is happening to our WETLANDS?

Unfortunately, South Africa’s wetlands are considered the most threatened habitat type in the country with 48% of wetlands classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ (SANBI National Biodiversity Assessment, 2011). Africa’s wetlands face many threats including increases in nutrients from pollutants contained in surface runoff flowing into the wetlands, the draining of water out of these systems for mining or housing development purposes, erosion of wetland soils after removal of vegetation through cutting or burning, as well as the increased establishment of alien invasive plants. These threats have put pressure on the fragile wetland systems, as well as the flora and fauna which are adapted to live in them.

Eight THREATENED birds that live in WETLANDS

Orange-breasted Waxbills, a relatively common wetland bird, have also shown declines in their range across South Africa. The presence of these birds can be used as an indicator for wetland health and BirdLife South Africa, in collaboration with the Rare Finch Conservation Group want to use this small finch to raise BIG awareness about the plight of Africa’s wetlands and all of the birds that call wetlands home. The Orange-breasted Waxbill can serve as a sentinel species for eight of South Africa’s 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


 Grey Crowned Crane

 Balearica regulorum


 African Grass-Owl

 Tyto capensis


 Greater Painted-snipe

 Rostratula benghalensis


 Striped Flufftail

 Sarothrura affinis


 Rosy-throated Longclaw

 Macronyx ameliae

 Near Threatened

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 or write to the secretary at