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Its name is based on the distinct scale-like feather markings on the breast and belly. The adult is brown above and has a dark conical bill. The species has 11 subspecies across their range and differ slightly in size and colour.
This munia eats mainly grass seeds apart from berries and small insects. They forage in flocks and communicate with soft calls and whistles. The species is highly social and may sometimes roost with other species of munias. This species is found in tropical plains and grasslands. Breeding pairs construct dome-shaped nests using grass or bamboo leaves.