Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nature Watch: "Scaly-breasted Munia"


Last updated 9/14/2023 at 11:40am

If you spot one of these little birds at your seed feeder, your first reaction might be, "oh, someone's pet has escaped from its cage."

You would be partially correct.

The scaly-breasted munia has long been a popular cage bird. It is a colorful native to Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines, but has become more common as an established wild species in Southern California, likely because of escapes from cages.

Populations have grown and are now successfully breeding as they adapt to the hospitable environment of our region. Breeding populations have been seen in the Tijuana River Valley, Tecolote Canyon, Lake Hodges near Escondido, Fallbrook and Encinitas.

Also known as a nutmeg mannikin or spice finch, it is now being seen here as a winter and spring visitor in places like The Palms at Indian Head, Roadrunner Club, Borrego Springs Resort and Club Circle and Salton Sea. In other parts of San Diego County, it is a common visitor to gardens, arriving in flocks and then moving on.

Sighting records at show the munia was first recorded in Borrego in November 2018 and has been spotted annually, with the latest sighting in February this year.

It's likely that keen observers may well see them this winter and spring in places like Coyote Canyon and Borrego Palm Canyon.

They are generally easy to spot, traveling in groups to eat at seed feeders or to forage on seeing grasses or small berries.

It's a colorful bird, about four to five inches long, with a deep reddish-brown head and throat, lighter nutmeg color on the back and wings and a boldly scaled breast with dark brown and white, and light underparts.

Immature birds lack the scales, but they begin to appear as the birds reach maturity.

Like many visitors to Borrego Springs, the scaly-breasted munia seems to like it here.

There are no records of it nesting here yet, but if they do, it might not be hard to find, since they tend to nest in groups in the same tree.

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