Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) are the most common species of Australian finches and come from the family called Estrildid, which accounts for the majority of finches raised in poultry farming worldwide. It lives in the cool south and tropical far north of the country, as well as in Indonesia and East Timor.
People have called zebras ‘flying mice’ because of the ease with which they reproduce. This is great if you are looking to start breeding or add a new species to your aviary as there are very few specific requirements for them.
Zebra finches are happy to live in colonies with their own kind of birds, as well as a wide variety of other species. They will live in peace with almost all other species of finches, canaries, British birds, pigeons and even smaller parakeets.
When breeding, both birds can be a bit defensive of their nest and will chase away other zebras. This is natural behavior and will spread when a chick fledges or leaves the nest, but it is never particularly aggressive or harms the other bird. It’s more of a loud, fast-flying warning to stay away from home.
Feeding the zebras is also pretty straightforward. Use a good mix of foreign finches as the basis of their feeding regimen and supplement with egg food and some specialist seeds like niger or hemp seeds. Fresh fruits and vegetables are very important to your health, and you will easily consume foods like spinach, kale, and cabbage, and fruits like apples, pears, grapes, mangoes, and plums. With fruits like apple and plum, remove the seeds or pits as they contain small amounts of toxic substances, so it’s best not to risk it. Access to sand or cuttlefish is also important, especially during the breeding season to replace the calcium used in egg production in the hen.
Zebra finches do not have a particular breeding season like many birds do. They are activated in playing conditions by light and heat levels or sometimes for no apparent reason! They like a variety of nesting materials and are surprisingly good little builders. Coir, jute, sisal, feathers, and even dried grass will be incorporated into the nest, which will generally be a domed affair. They will also happily use a half-open finch nest box, or one with only one hole.
Once the nest is finished, remove the remaining nesting material; otherwise they will continue to build and even cover their eggs. 2 to 7 eggs are ugly and are incubated by both birds for about two weeks. When the chicks hatch, they are tiny and almost hairless, blind and helpless. They are fed by the parents in the nest for about three weeks, at which time they fully fledge and resemble an adult, except for their black bill. One way to tell that the bird has matured is that the bill will change from black to bright red for a male bird or a duller red for a hen.
After fledging, the parents feed the chicks for at least two weeks, at which time they may or may not be competent. If they are not the best at flying, they will look for corners to hide in, so always keep an eye out for the chicks in strange places and make sure they don’t get trapped.
Zebras can breed to crazy ages of around three months, but it is advisable to wait until at least six months of age before allowing it. One way to ensure this is to keep males and females in separate cages until they fully mature.
The life expectancy of these little birds is surprisingly long. In the wild, they live for around five years, but in captivity, 5-7 is an average, 12 is possible, and the oldest zebra was recorded at 14.5 years. They are relatively resistant to weather conditions, although any bird must be protected from the worst of the weather.
They will live happily in a good sized cage as a pair or colony, or with other birds. They will also thrive in a flight or a large aviary cage and in flight can become quite friendly with humans when they are able to approach on their own terms. Standing very still with food in hand before the first meal is a good way to win them over, and some may happily jump onto your hand to get to the food first.
No matter what your background is with birds, Zebra Finches are a great bird to have. They need little specialized care and can be easily reproduced with a few simple supplies. They also come in a range of colors and different mutations, so you can quickly get into the fun side of genetics and learn which pairing can produce which colors. But overall, they are fantastic little characters that will quickly win your heart.