Casey Gustawarow & Nichole
The zebra finch, Poephila guttata, can be found in the wild throughout
most of the Australian continent, and can therefore exist in a number
of different climates and environments. The lifestyles of different zebra
finch populations are somewhat varied but they generally form dense populations
in arid and grassland areas. They will remain in one area as long as conditions
are good but will migrate during periods of extreme climate such as drought.
Zebra finches are extremely social and often live in groups of forty to
one hundred birds.
The body of mature zebra finches
is about 4 inches long with a 1.75 inch tail and wings that are slightly
longer than 2 inches. Zebra finches have gray bodies, dark gray-brown
wings, a beige underside, and a black tail with white diagonal bands.
Mature males are more colorful than females and contain a number of other
distinguishable characteristics, including orange cheek patches, black
and white striping across the throat and brown flanks with white spots
below the wings.
Both the male and female zebra finch have the ability to sing and call,
but the male is generally more vocal. Zebra finches are in fact quite
vocal and have a number of different calls, each with a different meaning.
Generally these vocalizations are considered to be soothing and pleasant
rather than loud or obnoxious. The different calls of the zebra finches
can be used to warn off other birds, impress the female, or communicate
with a mate or other members of a flock.
In the wild, the main diet of zebra finches consists of grass seeds,
other plant seeds, and small insects such as termites, moths, and
flies. The diet of the hatchlings in the first few days of life
consists chiefly of insects. In captivity, the main food source
of zebra finches is seed or pellets. Millet is the main component
of prepared finch formulas and millet sprays often supplement the
seed. The sprays provide the birds with a chance to forage, thus
providing them with physical and mental stimulation.
Green foods such as spinach,
lettuce, and other vegetables and fruits or sprouted seeds are another
important part of the diet. It may be necessary to provide captive
zebra finches with small insects or other protein sources such as
water fleas, moths, or boiled eggs. It is important that they receive
the required amount of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Vitamin
formulas and a calcium source such as a cuttlebone can be used to
supplement the diet; this becomes particularly important during
the egg laying process.
In the wild, zebra finches
can be found in quite large congregations participating in many
In the afternoon, they often
sing and preen each other and then huddle together at dusk to roost for
the night. When conditions are extreme enough to warrant a migration,
oftentimes many groups will join to form flocks of over one thousand birds.
When breeding season arrives, the larger group often separates into smaller
groups of five to twenty pairs, at which time each pair claims its own
territory. Members of a group are always in contact with each other, however,
and can distinguish members of their group from outsiders by their calls.
This social behavior in nature is precisely why it is important to have
at least a pair of zebra finches in captivity in order to guarantee their
well being. In captivity the finches will stay in close physical contact
and will often groom and preen one another.
In the wild the male performs
a courtship dance in order to impress the female. This dance consists
of the male hopping from twig to twig while puffing out the feathers of
its body. If the female is receptive, she will rapidly raise and lower
her tail and then copulation will ensue.
Zebra finches are extremely easy to breed in captivity, and are preferred
by bird fanciers for this reason. A nesting box should receive sufficient
sunshine and ventilation and be positioned so the opening faces the center
of the cage and not the cages door. The finches will press their
droppings against the inner wall of the nest; these will harden and not
be harmful. Although several nest box designs are available, the best
choice is a nest basket made from woven raffia, wicker, or straw. This
will keep the eggs warm and well ventilated without becoming too hot during
the summer. Finches are avid nest builders and will do so as long as material
is available. Hay and straw should first be offered so the birds can form
the base of their nest, then line it with softer material such as string
and feathers. Once the nest is made, all materials should be removed so
the birds will concentrate on breeding. One pair can produce 2-3 broods
per season, and should not be encouraged to produce more. This will drain
the females energy and may result in harming the young. The finches
should also be at least 9-10 months old before they begin breeding, even
though they are capable 11 weeks after hatching.