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Zebra finches (poephila guttata) can be found all around Australia, except for the northwestern, southeastern, and southwestern coasts.
They average 4 inches (10 cm) in length and weigh between 10 to 16 grams. Lots of color variations have been bred in captivity. Please refer to photos on this page.
I kept and bred zebra finches for years and it was one of my most enjoyable experiences.
They did well in my large, planted aviary; got along great with other finches and canaries. They come in many beautiful mutations (please refer to the photos below); although the natural coloring is already very pretty -- it does provide for some nice visual variety in the aviary.
Event though Zebra finches are generally considered "decorative," it is possible to hand-tame a zebra finch. However, you would have to tame him at a very early age and not provide him with a mate. Finches are very social creatures. They need plenty of social interaction.
They were excellent parents and continuously produced off-spring. A few pairs turned into a hundred finches within a year.
If you don't want that many finches, you can either sell the offspring, or you can replace the eggs with dummy eggs. Alternatively, there are ways of rendering laid eggs unviable. During the laying period (before incubation has started), the eggs are still dormant and vigorously shaking the eggs causes the internal structure to change (comparable to scrambling the egg inside the shell). Each shaken egg should be dated with a crayon the day it is shaken and returned to the nest. Do not remove eggs permanently as this will only motivate the hen to lay new eggs, which will deplete her from necessary minerals, potentially causing serious health problems or even death.
Please do not shake after the incubation has begun, as it may result in deformed chicks.
General Egg / Incubation Data:
- Average clutch size: 4 - 6 eggs
- Incubation period: 12 - 14 days
The below photos are courtesy of Mandy & Paul - Breeder of Canaries & Other Exotic Birds - Singing Wings Aviary - www.singing-wings-aviary.com (A great source for these beautiful little finches)
The Zebra Finch, Taeniopygia guttata is the most common and familiar estrildid finch of Central Australia and ranges over most of the continent, avoiding only the cool moist south and the tropical far north. Zebra Finches inhabit open steppes with scattered bushes and trees, but have adapted to human disturbances, taking advantage of human-made watering holes and large patches of deforested land.
There are two distinct sub-species. Taeniopygia guttata guttata, the Timor Zebra Finch, extends from Lombok in the Lesser Sunda Islands or Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia to Sermata in addition to coastal areas around the continent of Australia. The other sub-species is Taeniopygia gutatta castanotis. This species is found over the wide range of continental Australia.
The morphological differences between the sub-species include differences in size. Taeniopygia guttata guttata is smaller than Taeniopygia guttata castanotis. In addition, the T.g. guttata males do not have the fine barring found on the throat and upper breast of T.g. castanotis as well as having small breast bands.
The Zebra Finch breeds after substantial rains in its native habitat, which can occur at any time of the year. Birds in captivity are ready to breed year-round. Wild birds are adaptable and varied in their nesting habits, with nests being found in cavities, scrub, low trees, bushes, on the ground, in termite hills, rabbit burrows, nests of other birds, and the in cracks, crevices, and ledges of human structures. Outside of the breeding time, brood nests are constructed for sleeping in.
"Zebra Finches are extremely gregarious birds that are never met singly in their native habitat but are always found in groups of several pairs. The closest bond is between the cock and the hen... these two do things separately only while the eggs and nestlings have to be kept warm. However, despite the close contact with their mates, adult females indulge in bodily contact only rarely. Males in full coloration never do" - Hans-Jürgen Martain, 'Zebra Finches'.
Zebra Finches are sometimes used as avian model organisms. They are commonly used to study the auditory processing capabilities of the brain, due to their ability to recognize and process other Zebra Finches' songs. Their popularity as model organisms is also related to their prolific breeding, an adaptation to their usually dry environment. This ability also makes them popular as pet songbirds, and they are usually found at relatively inexpensive prices.
Song and other vocalizations
Zebra Finches are loud and boisterous singers. Their call is a loud "beep", sounding something like a toy trumpet. Their song is a few small beeps, leading up to a rhythmic song of varying complexity. Each bird's song is different, although birds of the same bloodline will exhibit similarities, and all finches will overlay their own uniqueness onto a common rhythmic framework, which becomes obvious after a few minutes of listening to finch song.
Females, as a rule, do not sing.
Male Zebra Finches begin to sing at puberty. Their song begins as a few disjointed sounds, but as they experiment and grow it rapidly matures into a full-fledged song. During these formative times, they will incorporate sounds from their surroundings into their song, also using the song of their father and other nearby males for inspiration.
Male finches use their song, in part, as a mating call. The mating act is usually accompanied by a high pitched whining sound. They will also exhibit a hissing sound when they are protecting their territory.
Food and care
Zebra Finches, being weaverbirds, are primarily seedeating birds, as their beaks are adapted for dehusking small seeds. They prefer millet, but will eat many other kinds of fruit seeds as well. While they prefer seed, Zebra Finches will also eat fruits, vegetables, egg food, and live food, enjoying a meal of mealworms and other small insects. They are particularly fond of spray millet, and one or two of these small birds will decimate a spray millet stalk within a few days. Zebra Finches are messy and voracious eaters, typically dropping seed everywhere.
Zebra Finches also need a lot of calcium, especially when breeding, so a cuttlebone (the bone of a cuttlefish) should be provided. The shell of a cooked egg will work too. This is especially important when the female is laying eggs, as a calcium deficiency could cause egg binding, an exhausting and potentially fatal condition.
When setting up a cage for captive Zebra Finches, care should be provided to ensure that they have enough room to fly (a large cage is much better than a small cage), and that they have perches of several sizes. All perches being the same size will lead to a serious foot condition.
While Zebra Finches can survive with very little to no water, fresh water should always be provided for them - and a dish to bathe in is always greatly appreciated. They should always be provided with food. Being small and active birds, Zebra Finches have a very high metabolism and cannot survive for any length of time without food.
Zebra Finch breeding
A pair of finches show signs of wanting to nest by sudden bursts of gathering behaviors. They will pull strings or plant leaves that they can reach. If they have nothing at all to gather, they will use feathers and bits of seed husks. Any item they can use to build a nest will be deposited in a corner of the cage floor, or in their food dish. When these behaviors are noticed a mating pair should be provided with a sturdy nest shell about the size of a large apple or orange. This shell should always be placed in the highest possible corner of the cage, opposite the food dish but near the normal night perch. Nesting finches will abandon a perch if it is across the cage with the male showing that he prefers to sit attop the nest while the female lays. During the nest building, however, both will spend the night cuddling inside the nest. When they accept the nest shell and begin using it each night, they should be provided with an ample supply of very soft bits of string and leaves. They prefer items that are only a couple of inches long and will used nearly any type and color of soft material. The nest shell will be packed with everything they can reach for at least a week before laying begins. The egg clutch (amount of eggs) ranges from 3-12 eggs per egg laying period.
Males and females are very similar in size, but easily distinguished from one another as the males usually have bright orange cheek feathers. Offspring from a similary colored nesting pair may sometimes vary from the parents coloration, withnestlings from plain grey to completely white. These variations are usually due to mixed breeding between finch types somewhere down the family line especially in pet store birds. However, the orange cheeks are a stubborn indication that a young Zebra Finch is indeed a male and the cheeks begin to appear when the young are about two months old.
A nesting pair of parents may produce as many as 5 to 12 eggs over a few days of active laying. The chicks will hatch according to the laying time of each egg. It is common to have one or two eggs remaining unhatched as the parents begin the task of feeding the nestlings. Nests should be left completely alone after the egg laying begins, and until the young begin to venture out on their own. The time from laying until a fledgling adventures outside will vary with each clutch, but it is a good rule of thumb that good eggs will hatch within two weeks of laying and young will begin to venture out within about three or four weeks of hatching. Be prepared for all the eggs to hatch, and the nest to be a very busy, crowded house for the entire nesting time. Chicks that do hatch very often thrive, even in a very crowded nest. Zebra Finch are usually excellent parents and will readily take turns sitting on the nest and bringing food to the young.
Do not remove the nest from the cage until all the young adventure out freely and join the parents in perching for the night. But owners should not leave the nest for more than a very few weeks after the family moves out, as the mother finch will begin to nest for a new clutch very quickly. While the female is laying, only her mate will be allowed in the nest. Allowing the pair to start a new family while the first clutch is still in the cage will overly stress all the birds in the family. The father bird will not allow any other birds near the nest while eggs are being laid, so the fussing and shoving will be noisy and tiring for all the birds.
Zebra Finches are generally decorative birds, and prefer to be left to their own devices. It is, however, possible to hand-tame a Zebra Finch. In order to do so successfully the finch should be very young, and it should not be provided with a mate. Keep in mind when doing so that finches are social creatures and that the tamer will have to take up the slack caused by the lack of a companion. With a lot of time and patience, however, a finch can be tamed almost as well as a parakeet. For guaranteed tameness the bird should be hand fed from a young age, and well socialized with humans. The bird is hand fed similar to a parrot, it will be just as tame and loving as a larger parrot, however because of its high social needs someone should always be home with it.
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