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Zebra Finch Research – Females Choose Mates with Compatible Personalities

Personality and Mate Choice

Brower Bird NestResearchers first tested the personalities of female Zebra Finches by monitoring reactions to novel objects and their willingness to explore new surroundings. Females that were judged to have “exploratory personalities” were then allowed to view pairs of male Zebra Finches as they were offered the chance to explore. One male was able to roam at will, but the other’s movements were restricted by a clear box that was invisible to the females. The restrained male therefore appeared “less willing” to explore.

Bold or exploratory females overwhelmingly chose males with the same traits, regardless of the males’ size or beak color (factors also believed to influence mate choice). Shy, non-exploratory females exhibited no preference.

This finding is the first example of a non-sexual behavior or personality trait influencing mate choice in any non-human animal.

Well-Matched Pairs are More Successful

An earlier Zebra Finch study in the UK found that nesting success was greatest where both parents shared personality traits such as aggressiveness or a willingness to explore. Partners that differed in personality did not raise as many chicks as did well-matched pairs.

Rearing chicks requires cooperation and coordinated behavior; researchers speculate that “like-minded” parents achieve this state more easily than do others.



Further Reading

Personality and Nesting Success Study

Female Zebra Finches Inherit “Infidelity Gene” from Fathers

Deciphering Zebra Finch Communication

Breeding Zebra Finches

Zebra finch pairThe 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.

Enthusiastic Breeders

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. Read More »

The Unknown Side of the Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata castenosis) and the Timor Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata guttata): Natural History, Role as a Lab Animal and Entry into the Pet Trade, Part 2


Please see Part I of this article for information on zebra finch natural history and the story of its entry into the pet trade.

An Avian Lab Mouse

The zebra finch is one of our most important laboratory animals, so much so that researchers have christened it the “Avian Lab Mouse“.  Each year studies of zebra finches provide valuable insights into many aspects of human health, genetics and speech and brain development.

One particularly interesting group of zebra finch studies illustrated how a bird’s early experiences influence behaviors that are not put into practice until maturity is reached.  It seems that zebra finch chicks which are placed under the care of Bengalese finches overwhelmingly prefer Bengalese finches to zebra finches as mates once they mature.  The adopted birds also sing the song of the Bengalese finch, not that of their own species.  These findings have led to other studies with direct bearing on the process of learning and language acquisition in humans.

Please see my articles on Zebra Finch Research  for further information.

Zebra Finches as Pets

Zebra finches make great pets…their care in captivity is very similar to that of related species.  Please see my article on Nuns, Munias and Mannikins  for details.

The National Institutes of Health has posted an interesting article on the importance of zebra finches as experimental animals at http://science.education.nih.gov/AnimalResearch.nsf/Story1/Can+Zebra+Finches+Tell+Us+How+We+Learn+to+Talk+-+and+Walk.



The Unknown Side of the Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata castenosis) and the Timor Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata guttata): Natural History, Role as a Lab Animal and Entry into the Pet Trade, Part I


The zebra finch is so well known that it needs little introduction in terms of appearance and captive care.  However, the details of its entry into the pet trade, importance as a laboratory subject and fascinating natural history are often overlooked.  Please read on…you might be pleasantly surprised at the stories behind this pert little pet trade staple.

A Lesser Known Zebra Finch from Timor

There are actually two distinct races of zebra finches.  The nominate race, (the first to be described scientifically) was brought to the attention of European taxonomists in 1817.  Known as the Timor zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata guttata, it is native to Timor and other of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands, which lie in the Timor Sea about 250 miles north of Australia.  Only rarely seen in captivity, this bird is much smaller than the Australian subspecies, and its song is more complex

The Australian Zebra Finch Enters the Pet Trade

Australian Zebra FinchThe Australian race, T. g. castenosis, was described in 1838 and was imported into Europe shortly thereafter.  An immediate avicultural hit, the zebra finch was being bred regularly in Germany by 1872 and was featured in bird shows in England and elsewhere by the early 1900’s.  The new arrival proved easy to breed, and importations from the Australia slowed down considerably by 1915.

In 1962, Australia imposed severe restrictions on the export of native wildlife…few if any wild zebra finches have entered the pet trade since that time.  By 1969, it was estimated that approximately 80 generations had been produced in captivity without the addition of “wild” genes, leading many to consider the zebra finch as a largely “domesticated” species.

Natural Range and Habitat

Zebra finches are among the most common and widely distributed of Australia’s birds, being absent only from tropical Cape York Peninsula in the north and along portions of the southern and eastern coasts.

Although most at home on the dry, largely treeless grasslands of the interior, zebra finches have adapted to human presence and readily colonize overgrown fields, scrub, farms, ranches and gardens.  Indeed, the presence of wells and other artificial water sources has resulted in significant range expansions.  Their kidneys are extremely efficient at removing moisture from food, and they are even able to drink brackish water, a facility that enables this hardy finch to survive in salt marsh habitats.

Reproduction in the Wild

The zebra finches’ breeding biology is tied to rainfall and temperature, and varies greatly across its vast range.  Populations in the center of the continent can breed whenever the unpredictable rains arrive, regardless of the season.  Breeding is tied to temperature in the east and southeast, where rainfall is regular and predictable.  In southern and southwestern Australia, the winter rains are heavy and would destroy the nests, and the summers are extremely hot.  Breeding is therefore limited to the relatively brief intervals of warm weather and light rainfall.

Zebra finches are as adaptable in nesting behavior as they are in the timing of their breeding.  Nests have been found in trees and tree hollows, shrubs, mounds of dead grass, on the ground, within the nests of termites and larger birds and even below ground in rabbit tunnels.  These enterprising little birds will also adopt artificial nest sites, and often set up house-keeping in spaces under the eves and roofs of houses, and in abandoned or open barns and other structures.

Further Reading

A very interesting account of personal observations of zebra finches and other Australian birds in the wild is posted at http://www.zebrafink.de/en/zfinf-au.htm.



Taming and Training Canaries and Other Finches, Part 2

See Part 1 of this article: Taming and Training Canaries and Other Finches, Part I


Last time we discussed some finch training basics…getting your pet to calm down when near people and out of its cage. Please see Part I of this article for further details.

CanaryReturning to the Cage

As mentioned in Part I of this article, canaries and other finches are much easier to train when outside their cages. If your bird is to become truly tame, it is essential that it return to the cage on its own, and not be chased there. This may take a great deal of time, and will require you to be very patient.

Use treats to lure the bird inside. Canaries and finches often relish egg food, and may respond quickly when it is offered. Many finches cannot resist small insects. A convenient way to keep these handy is to utilize canned insects most silkworms are nearly always a big hit.

Your pet may also respond to fruit treats – freeze dried mango, coconut, papaya, blueberries and others work well for many species.

If you must net the bird, darken the room and try to be as quick and careful as possible.

Calling your Bird to Hand

The treats mentioned above may also be used to induce your pet to fly to your hand. If you call the bird each time food is presented, it may eventually fly to you when called, even if it does not see food in your hand. Continue to provide a treat each time it responds, but, as time goes on, hide the treat until your pet actually alights upon your hand (or head, as the case may be!).

Again, canaries are most apt to respond to this type of training, but I have also run across surprisingly responsive spice finches, Java rice birds, zebra finches, fire finches and others.

Further Reading

Although canaries are perceived to be natural songsters, a good deal of learning is involved…and you can help (no, you needn’t be a good whistler!). Learn more about improving your canary’s singing abilities in my article Teaching Your Canary to Sing.


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