The Zebra Finch

by: Kerri McCoy

Zebras Finches are probably by far the most popular kept finch here in the States. Their reputation for being prolific breeders, being easy to care for, and being downright sociable makes owning them most rewarding. Many do not know that zebra finches come in a large variety of colors. The possible color varieties are almost endless. I have found nothing more rewarding than watching my finches go through their courtship ritual and eventual breeding and raising of babies.

Most male zebra finches sport a black breast bar, brown flanking along their sides, their infamous orange cheek patches, black tear drop markings and beaks red in color. This is the standard coloring for most of the zebras although whites are absent of the flanking, cheeks, and breast barring. And some of the rarer color mutations may have different coloring all together. But, a sure indicator of a male zebra finch is his song. Putting it simply males sing and females do not. You are able to sex zebra finches visually which makes acquiring them as a beginner a good bet.

Female zebra finches are absent of any chest barring, flanking, and cheeks. However most have the black tear drop markings and their beaks are orange in color.

Zebras are peaceful birds and can be housed with a variety of other finch species. They are hardy birds and fairly easy to care for. They are nest sleepers. My experience is that they will accept both a closed style rattan nest and open nesting boxes.

They will take most anything for nesting material including bermuda grass, nesting hair, toilet paper, burlap strips ,etc.

Once the birds have picked a nest they will begin building the interior of it with the nesting material you have provided.

They will mate and if you are lucky you can watch the whole courtship process take place.

The hen will begin laying eggs. Usually one a day. Egg clutches range from 4 to 8 eggs. My hens usually begin sitting regularly once the third egg is laid. The chicks usually begin hatching 12 days after the 3rd egg is laid.

The chicks will usually hatch one a day. The parents will feed them. You will see them gagging up food either before they enter the nest or once inside. Each breeding pair has their own style of rearing.

Between 18-21 days after the babies have hatched they will usually fledge. This means they will leave the nest for the first time. Finches are born knowing how to fly but, the chicks are not very skilled at making it onto perches etc. in the beginning.

At about 4 weeks the chicks should be shelling seeds by themselves. You will notice their begging for food from their parents will decrease as time goes by. Once they are independent the parents will disown them and treat them like any other bird sharing their cage. This is the appropriate time to remove the youngsters to another cage. I usually house my siblings together until they begin to fill in and then I separate boys from girls in separate aviaries.

It will take about 2 months total for the birds to come into full color. The males take the longest since they have more color to develop. I move my chicks into a separate cage from the parents once they are seen to be independent.

The birds will not be sexually mature until at least 2 months of age. You should wait until they are at least 8-10 months old before attempting to breed them. Immature hens risk egg-binding if too young to breed.

Providing your zebras with a well rounded diet which includes a good finch food, fresh vegetables, an egg rearing food, mineral grit and cuttlebone will ensure their good health and better their chances for successful breeding.

Provide them with an environment that allows them to exercise. Finches are great flyers and should not be housed in cages that do not allow for a lot of flying. The overall length of the cage is the most important factor to consider. The rule of thumb to follow is more is better. You can never give them too large a cage.

The zebra finch is kept by both the beginner and the serious breeder. I would recommend them to anyone interested in keeping finches. Their personalities alone would make them a welcome addition to any household.

(No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.)

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