Bird ID Tips – African Firefinch vs. Red-billed Firefinch

The most important part of collecting data for the Kenya Bird Map is being able to correctly identify the birds that you see. Correct bird ID is crucial because submitting records of mis-identified birds causes the bird map data to be inaccurate and therefore unreliable. For this purpose, we have decided to begin a Bird ID Tips series where we will be highlighting the key differences between similar-looking bird species. These are the features that you should look out for in the field in order to ensure that you correctly identify the birds that you see and submit data that is useful for bird conservation. However, always make sure to consult your guidebook for further details if you still experience difficulty identifying the bird you are looking at.

Two bird species that Kenya Bird Mappers often confuse are the Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) and African Firefinch (Lagonosticta rubricata). You need to be very careful with these two as their ranges overlap and they occur together in several areas, although Red-billed is generally more common and widespread. Here are the key features to differentiate them:

African Firefinch Red-billed Firefinch
Bill bluish-black or dark grey in all ages. No red Bill red or red-and-black (always has some red). Juvenile has brown and pink bill
Male has strong contrast between brown back and red under parts Male appears red above and below, with little contrast between back and underparts
Lower belly dark (often black). Juv has brown belly Lower belly brown
Under-tail coverts (crissum) black Under-tail coverts barred grey and brown (sometimes appear plain brown)
Female has brown lores (areas between eyes and bill) Female has red lores
In flight, the red rump stands out as it contrasts strongly with the dark brown upperparts In flight, rump contrast little with red upperparts
At end of flight, often lands in concealed area/bush At end of flight, often lands in open area
Shy and usually avoids human settlements Freely forages and breeds in human settlements e.g. towns and villages
Prefers moist thickets and forest edge in the highlands (note that in low-lying dry areas, you may encounter the similar but paler Jameson’s Firefinch.) Wide habitat tolerance but avoids very dry areas

Another tip is to listen to the calls and compare them to those recorded in the Birds of East Africa app (digital version of the Stevenson and Fanshawe guidebook). The app is available for Android and iOS phones.

Here are some photos for comparison:

African Firefinch – left (photo: Brian Finch); Red-billed Firefinch – right (photo: Sidney Shema)

African Firefinch – left (photo: Brian Finch); Red-billed Firefinch – right (Photo: Sidney Shema)

African Firefinch – left (photo: Brian Finch); Red-billed Firefinch – right (photo: Sidney Shema)

Always keep in mind that African Firefinch is quite rare. Most times what you will see is Red-billed. In dry areas you may encounter Jameson’s Firefinch, which looks similar to African but is pale pinkish in colour. Habitat is very important when trying to ID a bird. In far western Kenya, you may see Bar-breasted and Black-bellied Firefinches (see your guidebook for more details).

Let us know, either via email (kenyabirdmap@naturekenya.org) or the comments section below, if there are certain similar-looking birds that you find challenging to identify and we may do a Bird ID Tips post on them. Note that these posts are to help you better map the birds of Kenya for their conservation, so please use this information to go out, record the birds that you see and submit them to the Kenya Bird Map project.

 

– Author: Sidney Shema (Project Manager – Kenya Bird Map) –

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7 thoughts on “Bird ID Tips – African Firefinch vs. Red-billed Firefinch

  1. Indeed these two little pretty birds are very easy to confuse. Thanks for the clarity. Good binos or a long lens would prove adequate when it come to these ones just as it is with the Cisticolas

    Like

  2. HI Mr Sydney, thanks for the continued updates each and every time. I get the difference between the two firefinch species. It’s well

    cheers,

    Like

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