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Zebra Finch

Zebra Finches originate from Mainland Australia and a few Islands, such as Timor and Sumba, where they prefer to live in open grassland. This provides them with the seed diet they survive on, and also their preferred nesting sites in spiney bushes.

In the wild, whilst searching for their basic diet they will also eat lots of small insects and larvae, these are especially important during the breeding season. They are very sociable birds and vast colonies of the species can often be seen at many remote watering holes.

The species has proved very popular with the beginner who wishes to breed finches, as they are easy to sex, free breeding, have a bright coloured plumage and make an endearing "trumpeting" call. Many colour mutations have now been established, so the beginner can be spoilt for choice when starting with the hobby. Quite often, the beginner starts with the normal grey, which is their native colour.

The sexes are different in coloration. The normal grey cock bird carries the majority of the colour, with large brown ear patches, the throat and upper chest is finely barred in black and white. The flanks are a deep chestnut colour, heavily spotted with white dots. The back is grey, as are the flight feathers and secondary feathers. The rump should be white with black and white bars merging into the tail feathers. The iris is red brown, the feet and legs dark orange and the beak "coral" red. The hen bird lacks most of the colour of the cock bird. She show no sign of cheek patches and the breast and flanks are pale grey. The feet, legs and beak are the same colour as the cock. The juvenile birds when they emerge from the nest are duller versions of the hen bird, but their beaks are black. They moult through into adult plumage in about 12 weeks

Zebra Finches have been established in the UK since the first breeding pairs were imported during the late 1840's. As well as proving to be quite hardy, they also were free breeding so the species quickly became popular with most foreign bird keepers.

Some of our members may know that we are closely linked with the RSPB. The SCA takes ALL calls on foreign birds that the RSPB will not answer. Imagine our surprise when we had a phone call from a radio station in the South West of England asking about Zebra Finches talking in their sleep. You begin to wonder if it's April Fool's Day - however, fortunately we had read the following article before the phone call:

'Birds that practice singing in their sleep - Daily Mail

EVERYONE knows that, in the world of music, practice makes perfect. But who would have thought that the same was true in the world of the songbird?

Even our feathered friends, it seems, need plenty of practice - and some of it comes when they're fast asleep.

Scientists have discovered that a sleeping zebra finch "listens" to the songs of birds which are still awake and mimics their tunes silently in its brain.

Using tiny recording devices to analyse the bird's electronic brain activity, the research team found that, if its sleep is unbroken, it goes on to practice the songs in its sleep, trying out variations such as changing notes or tempo.

Professor Daniel Margoliash, who led the research at the University of Chicago explained: "From our data we suspect the songbird dreams of singing".

"The zebra finch appears to store the neuronal firing pattern of song production during the day and reads it out at night, rehearsing the song, and perhaps, improvising variations. The match is remarkably good."

Professor Margoliash, whose research is detailed in the journal Science, said it suggested sleep plays a central role in the learning process.

"If we can describe the rules by which sleep acts on song learning, these lessons may apply to learning in other animals, including humans", he explained.'


The recommended basic diet for Zebra Finches is a good quality finch mixture. Mineralised grit, cuttle fish and water should be available at all times. They will also enjoy smaller quantities of white millet, pannicum millet, japanese millet, plain canary seed, niger etc. They are fond of many types of seasonal greenfood such as "chickweed", "dandelion", "groundsel", "Sow Thistle", chicory and seeding grasses. Millet sprays can be offered regularly, and are extremely useful when chicks are in the nest. Apple, cabbage and spinach can be offered in the breeding season.

Softfood can be added to the daily diet regulary and branded eggfoods such as EMP or CEDE can simply be mixed with water and/or grated carrots and fed to the birds. Other brands come ready mixed and can be simply spooned into feeding dishes. You may need to try a few different eggfoods before settling on the one the birds eat most of. Eggfood is important when the pair have young birds in the nest, and can help prevent problems with vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Breeders occasionally have their own alternatives to commercial softfoods. Some breeders recommend the use of brown bread and milk with most of the milk squeezed out or digestive biscuits mixed with hard boiled eggs.

Common Problems

Overgrown claws are quite common in all species of finches. Claws should be checked regularly and clipped when necessary. Overgrown claws can cause birds to be entangled in wire netting or foliage. If a breeding bird sits on a clutch of eggs with long sharp claws they may puncture the egg shell and stop the embryo from developing further.

Zebra Finches can also suffer from "scaly face" on the beak or legs. This is caused by a small mite. The mite feeds on the outer layers of the birds skin usually in areas around the beak and legs. It will burrow into the skin forming a scale like layer which must be treated with a proper cream. This is available from most good pet centres or from a local veterinary surgery.

When siting your aviary or breeding cages, care should be taken that birds are not disturbed at night. Night fright, causing birds to leave their roosting perch or brooding nest and fly straight into the wire. Many birds simply break their necks when such incidents occur. Ensure that no garden lights (including the neighbours garden lights) shine anywhere near to the aviaries.

Colour Mutations

Colour mutations available.

There are many colour mutations of Zebra Finches, just some are listed below.

Normal GreyFawnGray Check
AlbinoChestnut flankedFawn Cheek
Silver(Dominant or recessive)CreamFlorida Fancy/Isabel
Black-facedBlack-bodiedYellow Beak
PiedBlack-CheekedOrange Breast
CrestedWhiteLight Backed
PengiunBlack-BreastedChestnut Flanked White

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