Family Waxbills (Estrildidae)

Least Concern

African Firefinch (Lagonosticta rubricata)


French: Amarante foncé German: Dunkelamarant Spanish: Amaranta ocre

F[ringilla]. rubricata

M. H. C. Lichtenstein

, 1823,

“terra Caffrorum” = Uitenhage, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa


Form landanae commonly treated as a separate species, on basis mainly of reddish vs pink-based dark grey lower mandible (2) and rather smaller size (tail appearing shorter; allow 1), but otherwise it is very close in plumage to race haematocephala; genetically it is in fact closer to nominate than to other races, but mouth of landanae nestling like that of congica, and songs and calls appear the same; also, adult males in NW Angola (Uíge) have bill varying from violet above and red below to grey-blue above and pale horn-coloured below (both with black tip), with plumage nearly identical. Most other races intergrade with one another, although nominate not known to intergrade with haematocephala. Proposed race neglecta (described from Guinea-Bissau), named on basis of red cheeks of female, considered untenable, treated as a synonym of polionota; ugandae (described from Fort Portal, in Uganda) synonymized with congica. Five subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. r. polionota Shelley, 1873 – S Senegal, SW Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and N Liberia E to Nigeria.
  • L. r. congica Sharpe, 1890 – Cameroon E to South Sudan, NE DRCongo (Uele, Kivu) and W Uganda, S to Gabon and N & NE Angola.
  • L. r. haematocephala Neumann, 1907 – E Africa from South Sudan E of R Nile, C Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenyan highlands S to Zambia, Malawi, highlands of E Zimbabwe, coastal Tanzania and N & C Mozambique (N of R Save).
  • L. r. rubricata (M. H. C. Lichtenstein, 1823) – African Firefinch – N & E South Africa, Swaziland and S Mozambique (S of R Save).
  • L. r. landanae Sharpe, 1890 – Pale-billed Firefinch – NW Angola (Cabinda S to Gabela and upper R Cuanza) and lower R Congo in S Congo and SW DRCongo.
  • Descriptive notes

    10–11 cm; 8·6-11·7 g. Male nominate race has crown and side of neck grey, nape and upperparts, including upperwing-coverts, brown, rump and uppertail-coverts red, tail... read more


    Contact call a plaintive whistled "feeeeeee", and in undirected display at close range... read more


    Rank vegetation of long grass and bushes, thickets, riverine forest edge, edge of evergreen and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Small grass seeds (diameter 1–2 mm); also small insects, especially termites (Isoptera). Forages on ground; pecks with closed bill to... read more


    Records in Jun–Jul in coastal Ghana; in Nigeria, Jul in N and Aug–Oct in E; Oct–Nov in Cameroon; Jul–Sept in Uganda... read more


    Resident; probably some altitudinal movement in Sudan.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to fairly common; race landanae locally common within relatively small range. Densities of nominate race in acacia (Acacia)... read more

    Recommended citation

    Payne, R. (2020). African Firefinch (Lagonosticta rubricata). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 22 January 2020).