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Zebra Finch

At a diminutive 10cm (4 inches) long, the Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) is second only to the Canary in pet finch popularity. Wild birds are found across much of Australia, with only the cool, wet south and parts of the tropical north being Zebra-free. The finch is also a native of Indonesia and East Timor, with thriving, introduced American populations in the US, Brazil and Puerto Rico. In European countries, the many escaped pet Zebra finches have failed to survive and breed, with the exception of a feral population in Portugal.

zebra Finch perching
The Zebra Finch, one of the world's most popular Australians

The different native populations of the bird have given rise to subspecies - the Timor or Lesser Sundas Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata guttata), and the Australian, Chestnut-eared or Spotted-sided finch (Taeniopygia guttata castanotis). The latter is sometimes classed as a separate species rather than a subspecies - Taeniopygia castanotis. The differences between these types is largely down to subtleties in markings.

In the language of native Australians the bird is called Nyi-Nyi or Nyeen-ka. 99.9% of pet Zebra finches are derived from this Australian subspecies.

Wild Zebra Finches

Wild Zebra finches live in flocks. They feed on the ground or in shrubs and grasses, and nest not just in bushes and trees but sometimes at ground level, or even below ground in deserted rabbit burrows. They are very adaptable in other ways, too, with the ability to acclimatise to non-urban human landscapes, and with the huge biological bonus of having extremely efficient kidneys. These are able to extract the last molecule of moisture from any foodstuff, and also enable the birds to drink the brackish waters of coastal saltmarsh.

Zebra Finches in the wild
Zebra Finches - hardy and adaptable in the wild

Zebra Finch Facts

The Australian race of the Zebra finch was being imported into Europe within a decade of first coming to the attention of western science in 1838. In the 1870s Germany became the first successful breeder of the bird, with the rest of Europe catching up in the 1900s, led by a newly enthusiastic Britain.

Zebra Finches in cage
Captive Zebra Finches tend to be larger than their wild cousins

Wild stocks began to plummet as demand for the birds increased, and in 1960 Australia finally banned the export of Zebra finches (and, indeed, all native animals). By this time the captive stock had been following its own biological path, and is now acknowledged as being genetically distinct from its wild cousins. Captive birds are generally larger, and there are subtle differences in behaviour and vocalisations. Like the Canary, it would seem to warrant the tag domesticus at the end of its Latin name.

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Lydia, 31 January 2023

I had 10 Zebra finches but found the mating, egg laying to be endless. I felt it was too much for the females and found homes for all but 3-females; Emmie, Ivee & Olive. Each adorable with delightful tweets. I let them have free cage time as the set up is safe and they stay close to their cages. Olive, a larger finch, bullies Emmie. They're in separate cages to protect (tiny) Emmie. The cages are by large windows and the finches "have friends" outside; and they react to predator visits by standing perfectly still not moving a muscle, until the outside birds return. Instinctively the Finches are brilliant. Finding the exact right bird seed mix has been ongoing. I get them Dr. Harvey's Fabulous Finch Food, keep it in the refrigerator for freshness. It's expensive but lasts when other food is blended. Calcium need is high in Zebra finches. I crush eggshells using a mortar/pestle to a very fine grind. Online order fresh bulk Cuttlebone (7"+). Scraping cuttlebone with a flat edge can opener put in little jar lids on the floor will give them an easy supply in emergency. My finches are no longer mating, but DO lay eggs at times. CRITICAL is to provide calcium at egg laying times: cuttlebone, fine ground up egg shells (rinse and dry first). Zebra finches deplete a lot during each egg laid. One bird could not fly but landed on the cage floor with disequilibrium. I didn't know what was going on. Somehow I went with more calcium since she is tiny and had laid an egg that morning. As soon as she ate (yuk) the scraped cuttlebone powder she was up and flying around all well again. That incident made me realize so much more about the calcium needs of these birds.

Tracy, 7 June 2022

I live in Canada and I own 8 Zebra finches. I just discovered today long looking worms in their water dish. I have had these birds for a couple of years and some less but never seen this. How does one treat this? I cannot figure out which one its from its not possible. We do not have a local vet who sees birds. Any info ASAP would be greatly appreciated.

Claude, 17 August 2021

We have a 3 year old male zebra finch whose mate died. We bought a 2 month old female to breed with him (later). Can we put her in with her safely now?

Mushtaque, 13 March 2021

looking for ENGLISH FINCHES pied black cheek chest nut i live in bronx and a breeder of java rice finch call me mike my cell number is 347 931 7515

Keaton, 9 April 2020

I had Zebra finches as my first aviary bird. I found them very easy to look after but did have a tendency to try to breed rather to much. I still breed these happy little birds and find them very funny and amusing. I currently have 1 pair for sale for anyone who is interested. I also breed Canaries (Fife and Gloster), Budgies, Cockatiels and Diamond Doves.