Saturday, June 1, 2013

F is for FINCH (1)

The Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) is the most common and widespread of Australia's grassfinches, found across the Australian mainland, with the exception of Cape York Peninsula and some coastal areas.  They are also found in Timor and the Lesser Sunda Islands.  They are found most commonly in the drier areas of Australia, living year round in social flocks of up to 100 or more birds.  They can be found in a variety of habitats, mainly dry wooded grasslands, bordering water courses.

They feed in large flocks on fallen or ripening grass seeds.  Insects may be taken at any time of the year, but are particularly favoured when feeding young.  Feeding takes place on the ground, and, unlike some other grassfinches, birds never pull seed heads down with their feet.

The zebra finch is mainly grey, with characteristic black 'tear drop' eye stripes and 'zebra like' black and white barring on the rump and upper tail.  The throat and upper breast are pale grey, with fine black barring, and there is a broad black band on the upper chest.  The sides of the belly are chestnut with many white spots.  The remainder of the belly and the undertail are white.  The male is distinguished from the female by its chestnut cheek patches, a character that gave the species the alternative name of chestnut-eared finch.  (I have never heard it referred to by that name).  Both sexes have red eyes and bill.  The legs and feet are orange yellow.  Young are similar in plumage to the female, except that the clear black and white markings on the head are absent.  The eyes are grey-brown and the bill is black.

The female zebra finch has less colouring than the male but is still a very pretty bird:

Zebra finches pair for life.  The female along selects the nest site but both birds care for the eggs and the young.  The male gathers almost all the nesting material, with which the female constructs the loose dome-shaped nest.  Birds have also been known to nest in hollows in the ground, although this behaviour is uncommon.

I bought 6 zebra finches and a 6'x4'x6' cage back in 1986 and through the years they have been breeding and this has resulted in a variety of different colours, some of which are almost white.  This latter perhaps was caused by inbreeding but they have all been healthy birds.  At present there would be 30-35 birds in the cage and we saw two new babies had arrived recently.  Of course their nesting habits are different in captivity as we provide nests hung on the wall of the cage but they still collect bits and pieces to put in those nests.  They are not people friendly birds like budgies and canaries and even though they were all bred here they still panic when 'himself' goes into the cage to give them fresh seed and change their water.  They can be quite noisy when they are disturbed so in many ways they are still wild birds, although born in captivity.  I still delight on occasion just sitting quietly and watching them flying around their cage and gently chattering to each other and getting on with their tiny lives.

The babies have black beaks when they are young and are rather cute.  They often huddle up together for companionship and warmth.  They are very noisy when they are hungry as are most baby birds.

The pair of zebra finch shown above are in Bird Kingdom. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

The introduction of artificial dams and water tanks has actually increased the zebra finch's natural range in Australia as the birds need to drink on a regular basis.

There is a huge variety of finches and I will try and find pictures and descriptions of them and show them in part 2 of the finch story.  Many of them are quite beautiful and yet I think the Zebras are extra special with their striking markings.


  1. They are enchanting birds. A friend of mine was given a pair by her boyfriend - he broke up with her (nastily) shortly afterwards and to the end of their days the birds were known as Rat and Fink. They were beautiful and much loved birds though.
    And yes, aren't young birds demanding...

  2. I have never regretted having our finches although poor old Phil has the care of them now as I just can't make it into the cage as I did years ago. He is good-natured about it though and they are still flourishing even in this cold weather we've had the past two nights.
    I loved the story about Rat and Fink. Were they a pair? Pehaps not or there would have been little ones as they are quite prolific breeders. We have had lots of babies over the years but natural attrition has kept the numbers down although obviously we've had more births than deaths as we started with 6 and now have up to 40. We did lose a large number years ago when a friend looking after them didn't feed them properly and that was a sad time for us.

  3. What sweet little birds. Do they have that peculiar rollar coaster flight pattern that finches here have?

  4. They are gorgeous. Do you know I've never studied their flight patterns but I think they fly pretty straight but must check one day when I'm watching them. Perhaps not so easy to see even in a 6'x4' cage as they tend to flit about a lot.