Zebra Finches in Brief
Scientific Name: Taeniopygia guttata castanotis
Adult Size: About 4 inches (10 cm)
Weight: 0.5 to 1 ounce (15 to 30 gm)
Life Span: 4 to 9 years on average
Zebra finches are colorful and energetic birds commonly kept as pets. Let’s learn a little more about zebra finches to help you decide if one is right for you. If you already have a parakeet, I’m sure that you will learn something new.
The zebra finch is a small bird superficially resembling a canary in body shape. A zebra finch’s beak forms a thick pointy triangle when closed; it is bright reddish orange in color. His chest and abdomen are white, and his back and wings are gray to grayish brown. Beneath the wings there is a patch of chestnut-colored feathers with white spots. A black line runs down from each eye. Male zebra finches have a bright orange patch on each cheek, which the females lack. Additionally, females have a much paler beak.
Zebra finches have been bred in captivity for hundreds of years. Some breeders have selected for various colors and patterns. Numerous varieties of zebra finches deviate from the normal coloration and include those that are mostly white, pure white, tan, and other colors and patterns. Some of these varieties are harder to sex because the males may not have prominent cheek patches. However, males of all varieties will sing when ready to breed.
In the Wild
The zebra finch is native to Australia and some of the islands of Indonesia. He has formed feral colonies in other areas of the world, including Puerto Rico, Portugal, and several parts of the United States. The zebra finch primarily lives in grasslands and savannas, but he adapts well to human presence and may be found in cities and suburbs. These birds live in small flocks, forming strong pair bonds within those flocks. They primarily eat grass seed, but they also eat other seeds, fruits, vegetables, grasses, leaves, roots, flowers, insects, worms, spiders, and other small invertebrates.
Zebra Finches as Pets
A zebra finch (or a few) makes a fun pet for the right family. While these birds are colorful, active, and pleasantly vocal, they are not “hands-on” pets. They are too small, fast, and nervous to be handled. However, if you enjoy watching birds and listening to their interesting sounds, a zebra finch is likely the perfect pet for you.
One Finch or Two?
Although a zebra finch does not necessarily need another finch for company, he will live a more interesting life if he has a friend. It will also be more fun for you to have two finches because you can watch their interactions. If you have the room and budget for one finch, you probably have the room and budget for two.
You can keep a zebra finch in a cage or aviary, which is essentially a room-sized cage that houses several pairs of finches. An aviary can be located indoors or outdoors. If outdoors, it must offer protection from the sun, harsh weather, and predators, such as cats and hawks. An aviary should have two doors so that it is more difficult for the finches to escape when you enter and leave. Aside from these considerations, aviaries are much like normal cages.
If you are using a cage, buy the largest one you can afford; horizontal space is more important than vertical space because it gives your finch more room to fly. The minimum size should be about 20 inches (51 cm) long. The best cages are made of wrought iron or powder-coated steel. Make sure that the bars are spaced so that your finch cannot get his head out, or he may escape or become stuck.
Your finch will need several perches in the cage. Vary the sizes and materials that the perches are made of to provide his feet with exercise. Natural wood perches with bark still on them are an excellent choice, but wooden, rope, and concrete perches are fine as well. Space them out so that your finch has plenty of space to fly.
The bottom of the cage should be lined with newspaper or plain paper towels. Do not use gravel or corncob, as these are dangerous if your finch ingests them.
You may want to get a birdbath because finches tend to like to splash about. You can use just about any clean, shallow dish, however. Some finches like to be gently misted with a plant sprayer rather than actually bathe.
Although zebra finches have evolved to eat seeds, an all seed-diet does not provide adequate nutrition. Plan to feed your finch a mix of seeds along with some fruits, vegetables (especially leafy greens, such as spinach, dandelions, romaine, and parsley), and perhaps live insects. Use a seed mix packaged for finches, and check it for freshness. For more nutritious and possibly more palatable seeds, sprout them yourself. Your finche should have seeds available at all times. Provide fresh fruits and vegetables in the morning, and remove them in an hour or so before they spoil.
Finches must always have access to fresh, clean drinking water.