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The Natural History and Captive Care of the Gold-Breasted or Zebra Waxbill

Philippine cockatooThe Zebra Waxbill, Amadava subflava (also known as the Gold or Orange-Breasted Waxbill), is one of the tiniest of all African birds available to aviculturists.  With their bright yellow bellies and brilliant red rumps, the males are a sight to behold.  A mere 3 to 3.5 inches in length, they are a delight to keep and breed, and quite hardy as well.

Natural History

The Zebra Finch is found throughout much of sub-SaharanAfrica.  It favors grasslands and lightly-wooded savannas (please see photo), but has adapted to farms and village outskirts as well.  Grass-seeds and insects comprise the bulk of its diet.

A larger and more colorful subspecies, Clarke’s Waxbill, Amadava subflava clarkii, occupies the southern portion of the range.  Unfortunately, it is not common in private or public collections.


Zebra Waxbills adapt well to captivity, and a pair will thrive and even breed in a moderately sized finch cage.  They are quite active, however, and so should be given as much room as possible.  Like all waxbills, Zebras really come into their own in an outdoor aviary, where they may be kept in colonies or with other small finches.

Although generally quite hardy, Zebra Waxbills cannot tolerant cold temperatures or extended periods of damp weather.  In temperate climates, they should be brought indoors at summer’s end.  Typical room temperatures are fine, and European hobbyists report that they do well even at 55-60 F.


A high quality finch seed mix should form the basis of the diet; millet sprays and similar naturalistic treats will also be greatly appreciated.

Small mealworms, crickets and waxworms, sprouts, greens and Egg Food should also be offered on a regular basis.  Your waxbills will benefit greatly from the opportunity to search for live prey.  Wild caught insects (please see article below) should also be provided when available.


Zebra Waxbills are often reliable breeders, but parenting skills and fertility rates vary.  They construct a huge, bulky nest which may be situated in a dense bush, or an open or closed nest box.  Wild pairs often appropriate the abandoned nests of weavers and other birds.  Long grasses are preferred for nest-building, although commercial nesting hair may be accepted.

Acacia BildA typical clutch consists of 4 to 6 eggs, which are incubated by both parents.  The young hatch in 12 days, but may not fledge until 3 weeks or so later.  Zebra Waxbill chicks are impossibly small, and bear tiny white puffs of down atop their heads; please check the video below for a look at some of the oddest little birds you’ll ever see.

Nests should not be removed after the chicks are independent, as they and the parents may roost within at night.

Multiple pairs may be kept in outdoor aviaries.  Breeders may become territorial, but serious aggression is rare, especially if live shrubs and bushes are planted to provide retreats and sight barriers.


Further Reading

Video: hand feeding a Zebra Waxbill chick

Breeding Zebra Fiches (with great photos)

Live Food for Finches and Waxbills


Male Zebra Waxbill image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Alan Manson
Acacia Bild image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Marco Schmidt

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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