The ever-popular Zebra Finch, Taeniopygia guttata has been kept in captivity for almost 150 years, and is considered by most to be an “easy breeder”. However, the ease of breeding these little beauties should not be taken as an excuse to ignore their basic needs. While they will nest even under poor conditions, only when given proper care will breeding pairs remain in top condition and reward you with healthy, robust chicks.
Zebra Finches provide an excellent introduction to captive bird breeding. They are native to Australia’s hot, dry grasslands and have evolved the ability to reproduce whenever ideal conditions (i.e. rain and mild temperatures) present themselves.
Unlike most birds, Zebra Finches that that are always supplied with ample food and nesting sites may breed year-round, producing 6 or more clutches (this is a drain on the hen, however- please see below). What’s more, they are wonderful parents and their courtship rituals and care of the young are a joy to observe.
Determining the Sex
The sex of normally-colored Zebra Finches is easy to determine. Adult males sport black bars on the breast and bright orange cheek-patches, both of which are absent in females (please see photo of female with chicks).
Youngsters under 5-6 weeks of age are impossible to sex visually (please see photo of chicks). Many color phases have been produced by breeders, and among these, differences between the sexes may be difficult to discern; behavior is your best guide here. Courting males sing and “bounce” before females, and may offer nesting material as well.
Zebra Finches may become sexually mature when only 3 months old, but it is best to wait until they are 9-12 months of age before allowing them to breed.
While Zebra Finches may reproduce and rear young when provided with a seed-only diet, breeders are best given fresh sprouts, small live or canned insects and egg food in addition to a high-quality basic seed mix.
Cuttlebone should always be available, especially when eggs are being produced, as the female’s calcium needs will soar.
The Cage and Breeding Supplies
People tend to keep finches in small cages, but they really should be given as much room as possible. This is especially true for a breeding pair. Bear in mind that once the hatchlings leave the nest, they will be fed by their parents for an additional 2-4 weeks. Therefore, your cage must be large enough for up to 8 birds. An aviary style or “flight cage” is ideal. You can breed Zebra Finches communally in an outdoor aviary, but do not keep more than a single nesting pair in an indoor cage.
The cage should be located in a quiet location, and stocked with ample supplies of commercial nesting material or dried grass (do not use string). A covered wicker nest box will be readily accepted, although some pairs prefer to construct their own domed nest.
Courtship and Nesting
The eggs hatch in approximately 14 days…remove them if they have not hatched by day 21, as they are either infertile or something has gone awry during development. The chicks fledge at age 20-22 days, and are fed by their parents for an additional 2-3 weeks. They acquire their adult plumage and orange beaks by week 5-6, at which time they should be removed to a cage of their own.
Well-fed Zebra Finches will usually re-nest several times, but it is best to limit them to 2-4 clutches per year. More than that may tax the female’s strength and shorten her lifespan (and what will you do with 25-35 more finches!).
The presence of a nest site and nest material seems to stimulate them to breed, so remove these when you wish to give your breeders some “time-off”.
Video: Tame Zebra Finches nesting in tree
Zebra finch pair image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Keith Gerstung and uploaded by Snowmanradio
Zebra finch female with chicks image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Lip Kee Yap and uploaded by Snowmanradio