The Society Finch, also know as the Bengalese, has a shrouded history; its basic identity, its scientific classification, is the subject of debate. Its relation to other mannikins, including the Spice Finches and the various Asian and Indonesian munia species, is undisputed, but the exact relation of this species to the others remains a mystery. Most commonly these birds are assigned to the genus ‘Lonchura’, species “domestica”.
As its scientific name suggests, the Society finch is one of the few domesticated species of finch. Domestication implies two things: first, the animals in question survive in captivity as well as, if not better than, they would in the wild, and secondly, they differ significantly from their cousins who still live in the wild. Both aspects of this definition are true with Societies; as a species they do not exist in the wild and never have.
Society Finches are the product of artificial selection by man. Variously described as a descendant of the shaft-tailed finch or the white-backed munia, they most likely originated as the result of hybridization between ‘Lonchura’ species. (The author is unaware of any genetic tests to determine the exact origins of Society Finches and would appreciate hearing of any such studies.)
Society finch are accustomed to living with man and do not stress as easily as other species. As a result they can live in homes with other birds and even other animals. They have no problem with eating, bathing or singing in the presence of humans. Additionally, they can be housed with most other species of finches as they are non-aggressive. Also they are so easy to care for that they are an ideal species to begin with if one is a novice finch owner.
Animals living in captivity breed more readily if they were themselves born in the company of man. Society Finches, after several hundred years of captive breeding, therefore, have no trouble with this arrangement. They do not even mind humans interfering with their nestlings (to band them, for example) as other species do. They make such good parents that they have been known to interfere with the raising of other nestlings – sometimes to the dismay of the chicks’ real parents. Finch breeders have taken advantage of this behavior to help raise some of the more sensitive species, those that have not adjusted to captivity quite as well. They can foster most species of finches with their own nestlings of approximately the same age, though they do better with related species, the mannikins and munias, than they do with less closely related species, such as the waxbills.
One further caution should be mentioned on the subject of breeding Society Finches. As they are likely hybrid already, they have been known occasionally to interbreed with other species, including most of the closely related mannikins, as well as several of the more distantly related species like Zebra Finches and Cordon Bleus. Cross breedings with a few of the related mannikin species (Shaft-Tailed Finches or White-Backed Munias, for example) can produce fertile offspring, but this should be discouraged. It should be noted that hybrids produced from crosses between Societies and species outside the genus ?Lonchura? are never fertile and cannot produce offspring of their own. One interested in breeding Society Finches should prevent his birds from choosing mates of another species, preferably by separating breeding pairs into their own cages for the duration.