Zebra Finches

Family: Estrildidae Zebra FinchesPoephila guttata castanotisPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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what things can you use for nesting material  Sandra Jordan

    Zebra Finches are great birds for a beginner or any bird enthusiast! These attractive little creatures are hardy, inexpensive, active, and one of the easiest birds to keep and breed. They are long-lived, with a life span in captivity of about 12 years.

   The Zebra Finches have been a most popular cage bird for over 100 years! They originated in Australia and belong to the Estrildidea family. In the wild, these are hardy little grass finches live in groups and breed in colonies. There they occupying grass or brush lands, dry savannas, open areas, pastures and cultivated fields, eating mostly grass seed they find on the ground.

For more information about the care of Finches see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Finch

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Geographic Distribution
Poephila guttata castanotis
Data provided by GBIF.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Actiniform
  • Class: Elasmobranchii
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Estrildidae
  • Genus: Poephila
  • Species: guttata castanotis
Zebra Finch Singing

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Zebra Finch Singing

Zebra Finch Singing Its Heart Out

Scientific name: Poephila guttata castanotis Learn more about the Zebra "Family", the Estrildidae Finches here: Finch Families

Description:    Zebra Finches reach a size of 4" (10 cm). Their normal, or "wild" color contains quite a lot of distinctly colored areas. Males have a light gray crown and neck, Their lores and cheeks are white set off with two black vertical lines and they have a rusty red patch on the sides of their head. The crop and throat are silvery with black cross barring, and just below that is a black breast front. The lower body is white while the side is reddish with white round dots.
   The female is similar, though not quite as colorful as the male, The sides of her head, throat, crop and upper breast are gray, and the sides of her body are mouse gray. A male's beak is a reddish orange and the female's is usually lighter.
   Today, with selective breeding, you can find Zebra Finches in a variety of colors and patterns that include pied, fawn and white.

Distribution:    Zebra Finches are naturally wild in over 90% of Australia.

Care and Feeding:    Fresh food and water must be provided daily. A good finch seed mix will provide their everyday need of grass seeds and millets and is readily available at a pet store. In a treat cup you can occasionally offer supplements of bread moistened with milk, oranges, diced hard boiled eggs, even seed moistened with cod liver oil and powdered with yeast to provide a high fat protein and vitamin D. Some green foods you can offer sparingly include lettuce, spinach, and celery tops. Finch treats of seed with honey, fruits and vegetables are fun for your bird too, as well as nutritious!
   Grit with charcoal is essential to aid in digestion and it contains valuable minerals and trace elements. Grit should be provided in a special cup or sprinkled over the bottom of the cage floor. Provide a cuttlebone because the calcium it provides will give your bird a firm beak, strong eggshells when breeding, and will prevent egg binding. The lime in the cuttlebone also aids in digestion.
   Give your Zebra Finch a bath daily or as often as possible. A bath dish that is 1" deep with a 1/2" of water, or a clip on bath house is also very important as they love to bathe.
   Their nails will occasionally need to be trimmed, but be careful never to clip into the vein as the bird can quickly bleed to death.  Bird nail trimmers and styptic powder to stop the bleeding are available at pet shops.

Zebra Finches
Zebra Finches With Albino Coloration Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

Housing:    Zebra Finches have a great need for movement. A cage with horizontal space for flight is better than a vertical cage, 28" (70 cm) long and 20" (50 cm) high is ideal. Place the cage where it is well ventilated though free from drafts, and against a wall at eye level. It should have good light but be away from doors and windows where direct exposure to sunlight can make it overly warm.
   Provide two or three good softwood perches about 3/8" to 3/4" in diameter. Tree branches of a similar size also make good perches and will help to wear the claws down naturally. Provide separate dishes for food, water, treats, and grit. Place paper on the cage bottom that can be sprinkled with grit, or use a grit paper. Zebra Finches prefer a closed place to sleep at night. Hollow coconuts or enclosed wicker nests work nicely.
   Zebra Finches also do very well in aviaries or bird rooms. The screening should be 3/8" square mesh. Dishes for food, water, grit and bathing water must be included along with perches and nests. Zebra Finches will roost in nest boxes even when they are not breeding. Plants that are not poisonous, such as fruit trees, privet, forsythia, and honeysuckle bushes will make the space more enjoyable for the finches.

Maintenance:   Although finches require very little time, a clean environment as well as fresh food and water daily is a must to prevent disease and illness. The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the water and food dishes. Every two to three days change the paper on the bottom of the cage and sprinkle it with about 1/8" of fresh grit. Weekly wash and dry the entire cage, including the perches.

Social Behaviors:    Zebra Finches will come to know you and trust you, but they will not become intimate. Because Zebra Finches naturally live in flocks they are very social and should be kept in pairs, not singly. However if you keep several pairs, they will pluck each other if they are overcrowded. If you wish to mix bird types, they are best kept with other finches from the Estrildidae family with similar requirements.

Handling/Training:    Finches are simply enjoyed for their antics and play rather than training. When you need to handle your finch to examine it or clip it's nails, place your palm on it's back and wrap your fingers around the bird with your thumb and forefinger on either side of it's head. Finches rarely bite, and even if they do, they do not have a harmful or dangerous bite.

Activities:   Zebra Finches are active, flittering around and twittering most of the day with a few short quiet periods. They love to bathe and then preen themselves and others.

Breeding/Reproduction:    Zebra Finches breed readily, even in small cages. They will display mating behaviors all year long, such as selecting nesting sites, collecting materials, and courting.The size of a breeding cage should be at least one square foot of floor space per bird. Nest boxes should be about 4"x 4"x 4" (10 x 10 x 10 cm). Provide two nest boxes per pair of birds mounted as high as possible and separated from the next two pair of boxes. Also provide lots of soft nesting materials. The male does most of the nest building.
   Breeders must be at least 9 months old to prevent eggbinding and immature parents. They can be bred as single pairs or with three or more pairs and no odd birds without a mate. Two pairs will fight for dominance.
   The female will lay a clutch of 4 to 6 eggs. The male and female will alternate sitting on the eggs and they will hatch in 12 to 14 days. Both parents will feed the hatchlings. At this time provide fresh sprouts daily, and soft foods such as bread soaked in milk, hard boiled egg, or grated carrot. Banding should be done on the 12th day.
   The young leave the nest about 4 weeks after they hatch and in 5 to 6 weeks will be on their own.

Potential Problems:    Zebra Finches are very hardy birds and almost all illnesses can be traced to improper diet, dirty cages, and drafts. A balanced diet and plenty of exercise will prevent most illnesses. Know your birds and watch for real drastic changes as indications of illness.
   Some signs of illness to be aware of are droppings that are not black and white, feathers that are ruffled, lack of appetite, wheezing, and acting feeble and run down.
   Some of the common illnesses and injuries your finch could contract are broken wings or legs, cuts and open wounds, overgrown beaks and nails, ingrown feathers, feather picking, confinement cramps in the legs from a cage that is too small, weight loss, heat stroke, shock, concussion, egg binding, diarrhea, mites, colds, baldness, scaly legs, sore eyes, tumors, constipation, and diarrhea.
   First you can try and isolate the bird in a hospital cage where you cover all but the front of the cage and add a light bulb or heating pad to keep the interior of the cage at a constant temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove all perches and put food and water dishes on the floor. If you don't see improvements within a few hours, take the bird to an avian veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Availability:
   Zebra Finches are readily available in the pet industry in their normal or "wild" coloration as well as other colors of pied, fawn and white. Because they have bred so easily in captivity, they are very inexpensive little birds.

Author: Clarice Brough, CAS
Lastest Animal Stories on Zebra Finch


Sandra Jordan - 2014-11-19
what things can you use for nesting material

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-11-21
    You can find both string and cotton nesting materials at a pet shop.
Reply
Tara - 2014-01-29
I have two finches, one is all white, with a very light tan pattern on the tail, and dark tear lines on it's face. The other is spotted dark tan and white, with no tear lines. I have not had them very long, no eggs. How can I tell if they are male or female? Neither one has orange cheeks.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-01-30
    If neither one has orange cheeks, than your Zebra Finches are both female.  Zebra Finches are very easy to sex - males have orange cheeks and the females don't. See the descriptions of the male and female above... under the 'description' section.
  • Diogo Ferreira - 2014-09-23
    Hi, That's not always the case, there are mutations where the female can have cheeks. Females can also have dark red beaks, colorful chests and chest stripes as the males. The only way to distinguish male from female are brown feathers on the side with the white spots.
  • Clarice Brough - 2014-09-26
    There are a number of mutations like the Fawn Cheek Zebra and the Black Cheek Zebra, but even so the orange cheeks are still a stubborn indication of a male. You can learn all about mutations on the eFinch website.
Reply
Colin - 2014-07-18
A male Zebra finch has started to feed in my back garden, is it likely to survive in the wild.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-07-22
    It could, finches are very adaptable. However, if the weather is extremely cold (freezing) in your area during the winter, it may not.
  • ALICE - 2014-07-23
    MY MALE ZEBRA FINCH GOT OUT THE WINDOW AND I AM HEART BROKEN BECAUSE I AM AFRAID IT WILL NOT SURVIVE IN THE WILD.
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abdul rafhay - 2014-02-25
I have a pure white pair of finches. The female laid 3 eggs and began to incubate but stopped incubating after a week. The pair sits outside the nest rather than either of them sitting on the eggs. What is the problem with them? What should I do?

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-02-25
    There's a few reasons why zebra finches won't sit on eggs. The first is because they are 'duds', and the parents will know if they are. Another is if you actually have two females, where one is laying eggs and the other 'acting' male, and in this case the eggs will be infertile. And another reason is simply that some times the parents don’t even know enough to sit on the eggs yet, so they won’t. Usually that happens with the first clutch or two, then they begin to get better. But not always, there are occasions where the parents never get the hang of it, so in that case the eggs have to be incubated by the keeper.
  • Lydia Ottinger - 2014-04-08
    I have a male and female zebra finch, they laid 5 eggs, they have been good about sitting on them but today they both were out for awhile, is that normal?
  • Melissa Reid - 2014-08-20
    My zebra finches incubated 4 eggs for 10 days, stopped for 3, (mated again 2 days after they stopped incubating), and today, 4 days after they stopped, they've started incubation again. Two are dark, two are yellow. Maybe she'll lay more? Or maybe incubation will resume? I don't know how long eggs can go unattended before they die.
  • Clarice Brough - 2014-08-20
    The incubation of Zebra Finches is actually more complicated than one would think. Usually the parents handle all the aspects of egg laying and hatching, but they don't always handle it well. Here's a site on Eggs by the Finch Information Center  that talks about the process and many of the challenges that can come up:
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