NamingThere are two sub-species:
⤷ ''Taeniopygia guttata guttata'', the Timor Zebra Finch, extends from Lombok in the Lesser Sunda Islands or Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia to Sermata in addition to coastal areas around the continent of Australia.
⤷ ''Taeniopygia guttata castanotis'' is found over the wide range of continental Australia.
The Australian race is sometimes split as Chestnut-eared Finch , ''Taeniopygia castanotis''.
The morphological differences between the sub-species include differences in size. ''Taeniopygia guttata guttata'' is smaller than ''Taeniopygia guttata castanotis''. In addition, the ''T.g. guttata'' males do not have the fine barring found on the throat and upper breast of ''T.g. castanotis'' as well as having small breast bands.
"Zebra Finches are extremely gregarious birds that are never met singly in their native habitat but are always found in groups of several pairs. The closest bond is between the cock and the hen... these two do things separately only while the eggs and nestlings have to be kept warm. However, despite the close contact with their mates, adult females indulge in bodily contact only rarely. Males in full coloration never do"
— Hans-Jürgen Martin, 'Zebra Finches'
HabitatZebra Finches inhabit a wide range of grasslands and forests, usually close to water. They are typically found in open steppes with scattered bushes and trees, but have adapted to human disturbances, taking advantage of human-made watering holes and large patches of deforested land. Zebra Finches — including many human-bred variants to the species — are widely kept by genetic researchers, breeding hobbyists and pet owners.
The Zebra Finch breeds after substantial rains in its native habitat, which can occur at any time of the year. Birds in captivity are ready to breed year-round. Wild birds are adaptable and varied in their nesting habits, with nests being found in cavities, scrub, low trees, bushes, on the ground, in termite hills, rabbit burrows, nests of other birds, and in the cracks, crevices, and ledges of human structures. Outside of the breeding time, brood nests are constructed for sleeping in.
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In the Zebra Finch, sudden bursts of gathering behaviors signal that a pair is ready to nest. The pair will pull strings or plant leaves that they can reach, and if there are no available materials to gather, they will use feathers and bits of seed husks. Alfalfa or Timothy Hay is an acceptable nesting material as it is closest to what is readily available in the wild. Any item they can use to build a nest will be deposited in a corner of the cage floor, or in their food dish. When these behaviors are noticed a mating pair should be provided with a sturdy wicker nest about the size of a large apple or orange. This nest should always be placed in the highest possible corner of the cage, opposite the food dish but near the normal night perch. Nesting finches will abandon a perch if it is across the cage with the male showing that he prefers to sit atop the nest while the female lays. During the nest building, however, both will spend the night cuddling inside the nest.
When they accept the nest shell and begin using it each night, they should be provided with an ample supply of very soft bits of short string and leaves. They prefer items that are only a couple of inches long and will use nearly any type and color of soft material; longer bits of string or nesting material can tangle around the finches or nestlings and cause distress that will lead to strangulation or even death. The nest shell will be packed with everything they can reach for at least a week before laying begins.
The number of eggs ranges from 2 - 7 eggs per clutch with 5 being the most common number. In captivity, some birds lay larger clutches.
Males and females are very similar in size, but are easily distinguished from one another as the males usually have bright orange cheek feathers, a red beak , and generally more striking black and white patterns. The beak is sometimes the only way to tell the gender of a Zebra Finch, as sometimes the orange cheek coloring is faded or nonexistent. Offspring from a similarly colored nesting pair may sometimes vary from the parents coloration, with nestlings from plain grey to completely white. These variations are usually due to mixed breeding between finch types somewhere down the family line especially in pet store birds. However, the orange cheeks are a stubborn indication that a young Zebra Finch is indeed a male and the cheeks begin to appear when the young are about two months old. Young Zebra Finches will also have a black beak, with the coloring coming in at puberty, though it begins changing at age 1 month.
The chicks will hatch according to the laying time of each egg. It is common to have one or two eggs remaining unhatched as the parents begin the task of feeding the nestlings. Though it is preferable to leave nests alone after the egg laying begins, once hatching begins a breeder might find it useful to make daily 'checks' into the nest to correct problems early, such as larger chicks sitting on and smothering smaller ones, thus increasing the number of chicks that eventually fledge. The time from laying until a fledgling adventures outside will vary with each clutch, but generally good eggs will hatch within 14 to 16 days of laying and young will begin to venture out within about three or four weeks of hatching, and will look full grown in about three months. Breeding age is eight or more months. Zebra Finch are usually excellent parents and will readily take turns sitting on the nest and bringing food to the young.
While the female is laying, only her mate will be allowed in the nest. Allowing the pair to start a new family while the first clutch is still in the cage will overly stress all the birds in the family. The male of the breeding pair will not allow any other birds near the nest while eggs are being laid.
FoodZebra Finches, like most estrildid finches, are primarily seed-eating birds, as their beaks are adapted for dehusking small seeds. They prefer millet, but will consume many other kinds of seeds as well. While they prefer seed, captive Zebra Finches will also eat egg food. They also enjoy fresh foods such as small bits of chopped lettuce, apples, and grapes. They are particularly fond of spray millet, and one or two of these small birds will eat a spray millet stalk within a few days. Zebra Finches are messy and voracious eaters, typically dropping seed everywhere. This behavior spreads seed around, aiding in plant reproduction. The availability of water is important to this bird's survival, therefore the Zebra Finch will drink often when water is available and enjoys taking bird baths in a small shallow bowl. A typical Zebra Finch may be plump, because it eats quite often throughout the day, however an overweight bird needs more exercise, not less food. Finches should always have access to fresh food and water.
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