Saturday, June 1, 2013
F is for FINCH (1)
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.