Starting up with Zebra Finches
Zebra Finches come from Australia but are one of the easiest birds to keep and breed in captivity. They are active, make little noise, free-breeding and are not complicated to feed. All this coupled with the fact that they are inexpensive to purchase and there is a good exhibition network for those interested in showing them – it makes them almost the perfect birds to keep and breed for the new bird keeper.
There are people around who believe that school age children should keep various forms of animals, get into bird breeding and Zebra Finches, better known as “Zebras” are the ideal birds for youngsters. Make no mistake – they are perfect birds for any potential bird keeper and breed to enter the hobby. Get some simple experience with easy-breeding birds before you move on to expensive and more complicated birds.
There are various mutations – which add interest to the variety. Greys are usually knows as Normals, but there are Fawns, Chestnut-flanked Whites (CFW), Penguins, Pieds, Silvers and Lightbacks. There are several more mutations but they are less common. All these mutations are popular and all have their particular charms. Sexing Zebras is easy – the cocks have an orange or chestnut cheek patch and the side flanks are decorated with white spots. The hens have no cheek patched and no spots on the flanks.
Zebras are generally considered as a colony bird which means they tend to breed best in groups. They will breed well in a group in an aviary or flight - but many fanciers will place a pair in a single cage to breed their babies. When breeding in flights or aviaries, they select their own mates so there is no control of parentage. It is perhaps the best way to start with a colony, but most serious fanciers end up breeding in cages where the pairs can be selected. If it’s the aim to just breed them – aviary breeding is perfect as it involves far less work – one bowl of seed and one water drinker.
We need to say a few words about that aviary. Something small is needed – about 5ft x 2ft is an ideal starter size. I would like to see the top of the aviary covered to protect the birds from heavy rain and from the droppings of wild birds that can bring disease to you stock. As a minimum, the end where any nestboxes are placed needs to be covered as water and nests do not mix well together. The sides of the flights may need some protection if your aviary is placed in a windy sport. Plastic or cotton mesh, the type usually used as a fly screen offers perfect protection.
Perching does not have to be complicated – 12mm dowel is fine but various sizes of natural branching is better because it offers different sizes which is better for the birds and it looks more natural than all the same size dowel rod. Something that new fanciers need to remember – do not place seed and water dishes under the perches or the droppings fall into the bowls and that’s not a good idea for obvious reasons.
Feeding a Zebra Finch is easy – a Foreign Finch mix, which consists of mainly millets, fresh water and a dish of mineralised grit. Some fanciers will always provide cuttlefish bone for calcium – (strong bones and eggshells) but this should be available through the grits. Millet sprays are always a welcome addition to the diet especially when babies are in the nest. At breeding time a softfood, or sometimes called an egg food should be available. Experienced fanciers will have developed all sorts of open mixes but something like EMP from all pet shops is suitable.
The last vital topic we need to discuss are those nestboxes. These are basically 5in cubes with a one-third open front to allow access. It’s worth making a nest for your birds with hay and moss but allow the birds access to various nesting material in the cage or aviary. The hens will build a nest but they are not great nest-builders. If you are cage breeding – more boxes per pair is the rule. If you are aviary breeding – provide extra nests as there will be problems with hens trying to use the nest of a hen that has already set up home in a box.
The problem with Zebras is that they are so free-breeding that they will lay eggs – and they then decide to build another nest on top. This can be discouraged if once nests are built – remove the surplus nesting material. The building of one nest upon another is known as “sandwich nest” building.
Look out for another article with more about Breeding Zebras next week