Zebra finches are among the most fun little birds around. At just 4 inches long, a pair of finches make enjoyable and beloved caged pets. But the fact is, they prefer not to be handled. What they lack in hands-on affability, though, they more than make up in spirit and ease of care.
The natural coloring of zebra finches makes them gorgeous additions to the home or aviary. Their base body color can be grey, white or fawn. The breast is white with a black bib, with zebra markings on both sides of the chest. The sides of the body have a brown strip with white spots, and tails are often black with white spots. Males have round, bright orange cheek patches and deep, orange-red beaks. Females' coloring is more subdued, with faint cheek patches and lighter, orange-yellow beaks. Selective breeding has resulted in white and pied zebra finches.
Fun to Watch
Zebra finches are active all day, with a few short, quiet periods. They are inquisitive and love to play together, so you'll want to provide plenty of different toys. Having just one finch isn't recommended, as you'd have to play with him all day to keep him from being lonely. More than one pair would be too much for a novice to handle. Have an assortment of perches -- some natural branches which help trim their nails -- placed at different heights so they can hop between them. Their natural inclination to fly means a rectangular cage is best -- about 28 inches long and 20 inches high for one pair of zebra finches. If you keep them in an outdoor aviary, surround the area with 3/8-inch-square mesh and nonpoisonous vegetation to climb, such as honeysuckle, forsythia and fruit trees.
Finches have a sound all their own. They don't sing like canaries, and they won't repeat their owners' sounds as parrots often do. They happily chirp back and forth to one another, though, without the loud, screeching tones other birds can utter. In time, they'll also interact with their owners by chirping in response to their talking, especially at feeding time.
Zebra finches are easy to breed, all year long. Females will stay healthier if they don't breed until they're between 6 and 9 months old, though they're able to breed much earlier. To encourage breeding, supply nesting boxes -- such as small wicker baskets or wooden boxes that are 4 inches all around -- and plenty of soft materials. It's fascinating to watch the male as he builds most of the nest, gathering the materials and flitting back and forth. Females will lay four to six eggs at a time; both birds will sit on the eggs, which hatch within 12 to 14 days.
Handle With Care
If you're intent on trying to handle your zebra finches, start when they're young. Pick one up by placing one hand around his back, with your middle and pointer fingers gently around his neck, and use the other hand for support underneath. He's likely to be frightened by the handling and may bite. Bring both birds out of the cage this way, into a small, secure room with doors and windows closed, and let them fly around for exercise. This way, they may associate handling with having fun outside the cage. Leave the cage door open with millet inside to entice them back into cage. This especially works well toward evening, as they will want to get back to their roost to sleep.
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