Poephila guttata.


Alternate Names:
Zebbie, Brown Eared finch, Shelly.


Zebra finches must be the most freely available finch in Australia. They can be found most anywhere.
Usually the best Zebra finches can be obtained from specialist breeders and these may be found within most finch clubs in Australia.
However, for those just wishing to "get into" finches the garden varieties available from the Pet store will serve just as well!


The sexing of the Zebra finch is easy as they are dimorphic meaning the two sexes are visually different to each other.

The male Zebra Finch has a tan patch on each cheek as well as tan along the flanks with white spots. Fine black bars cross the chest and white on the rump leading down to a white belly. The tail is barred black and white. The back is grey and the bill is red.

The hen is an overall grey with the banded tail. The abdomen is not as white as the male. The hen does not carry the tan cheek patches or the tan flanks. The bill is not as red as the male.


In white bird generally the hen's bill is an orange colour as against the cocks red bill.


There are numerous mutations of the Zebra finch worldwide and we have a considerable number here in Australia.
We have; Pied, Silver, Fawn, Fawn Pied, Black Faced, Black Body, Black Fronted, Black Bodied Silver, Isabel, Carabel, Charcoal, Fawn Charcoal, Slate, George, Cream, White, Marked White, Red, Isabel.....and the list goes on.
The latest accepted mutation by the Zebra Finch Federation of Australia is the Alumina.

Red Zebra. Fawn Zebra. Silver Zebra.

The Zebra Finch prefers the more arid areas of central Australia from east to west, but is also found in many of the coastal regions.
They are not found in
Tasmania or the top of Cape York.


They can be a real pain at times when sharing an aviary with mixed finches. They will take over nests of smaller birds and bully them around the feeding station.
They will steal nesting materials from other bird's nests and the young go on visits and will hop in and out of any other inhabitants nest.
Their propensity to out breed most other finches also means that the have the potential to take over even in the largest aviary!!
However, after saying all of that they are one of the best birds to have around. Their incessant chattering and quaint call is terrific to hear in anyone's backyard.
They are better housed with the bigger type of finch such as the Bengalese, Chestnut, Cutthroat, Java and
For anyone considering introducing their children to the world of birds then these guys are a must as they are virtually bomb-proof and most allow their young to be handled.


Ease of breeding (rating 1 to10):
As with the Bengalese if you stand still too long in the aviary they will breed in your pockets!
So I'll give them the same rating as the humble Bengalese 14 out of 10.


 Purchasing your bird:
It is not hard to find Zebra finches for sale - I think you'd be able to find them in a chemist shop!!
Thus saying we recommend that you purchase them from a breeder or a reputable bird dealership in order to be sure of the quality of your stock.
For the show quality stock you would have to seek out a professional breeder of show quality finches.


Good points to look for:
Look for a bird with clear bright eyes.
A bird that is moving and alert.
The feathers must be bright, tight and clean.
The feet, legs and mandible should be clean and free from flaking.
The colours of the bird should be strong. 


Faults to look for:
Skinny undersized and undernourished birds are a problem when confronting buying your birds. This is especially true of bird benched at bird sales where fear makes even the sickest bird look bright to the untrained eye!!
The usual things such as a soiled vent, fluffed up appearance, weepy eyes, bedraggled feathers are a sure sign of things that you don't want to see in your newly acquired birds.
If it looks sick then it most probably is, so don't touch it.

Young Red Zebras. Cock Red Zebra. Cock Red Zebra.

Aviary or breeding cabinet:
The Zebra finches that are aviary bred will settle down to a cabinet situation and the cabinet bred birds know nothing else and are quiet happy in their environment and will readily breed in cabinets, but it is in the aviary situation that they are at their true best.
They are fine in small aviaries of a couple of meters to very large well-planted aviaries.
Their suitability is such that they will be at home in the largest aviary or in a budgie-type cage in the smallest flat - and chances are their breeding prowess will not be diminished by the size of the cage!!

Breeding season:
Zebbies will readily breed all year round without any problems. You should restrict your breeding birds to 3 or 4 nests before separating them so that the hen can have a rest from the rigours of breeding and raising chicks. If you do intend on giving your hen a rest I would suggest a rest of at least 2 to 3 months.

Off-season feeding:
I am not fond of changing the diet of the Zebbie, as they are such an active bird that they need a good diet to keep their energy levels up.
I would suggest that you keep the birds on a good even diet in the off -season (when the birds are separated) to build them up again for the rigors of the upcoming breeding season.
Again the restriction of high protein softfoods and many other greenfood extras during the winter months will/may discourage them from breeding.

Should I feed soft foods?
Yes feed a soft food by all means as these forever hungry little blighters will eat just about anything they can get their little beaks into. Take a stock-take on your fingers when you leave the aviary just in case!

What green feed?
Zebra finches love just about nothing more than fresh seeding grasses. It is an important part of their diet. I know people who just feed their Zebbies only seed and I just feel for those poor little birds. It is a very sad sight indeed.
Some of the greens I feed my Zebbies are Endive (daily), Bok choy, Guinea grass, Summer and Winter grass, Shepherds purse, Milk thistle, Chickweed and Clover to name a few.
As some people say "they're only just Zebra finches", well, they are as entitled to a diet as rich a diet that you would provide for a pair of birds worth $3000.
As we say they are fantastic as a start on the road to rarer finches so if you are not prepared to feed them properly you will learn nothing of value to assist you husbandry - experiment and learn!

What live food?
I have always fed a diet that involves live food to my Zebra's. It has termites and maggots (gentles). I have found better breeding results when any type of live food is added to their diet.
However, you may find that most Zebbies do not readily take to livefood.

Breeding season feeding:
When the weather starts to warm after the chills of winter is usually the time to start your breeding program.
This is when you start to slowly give your birds some extra bits in their feed tray.
Let the birds build up to the extra live food such as termites, mealworms, gentles and green seeding grasses.
Too much too soon can easily cause all types of problems including scours.
Some of the seeding grasses that may be used are, Johnston grass, African veldt grass, chickweed, winter grass, any of the Ehrharta family, Guinea grass, Milk thistle and Shepherds purse.
It is best to give stars the seeding heads half ripe.

Separating the pairs:
It is a good idea to separate the pairs when they have had 3 or 4 nests in a row.
It is best to give them about a 2 to 3 month layoff before reintroducing them. You can at this time change the partners over if you have a couple of pairs.

What age do they breed?
Zebra finches will start breeding at 3 months of age if you let them. It is advisable to allow them to attain an age of at least 9 months if you want a good breeding life out of your young birds.
Ignore this advice and you risk egg-binding in younger hens.

A Mixture of Zebbies!! A Few More!!

What if I lose a mate?
Losing a mate is not too much of a problem for the Zebra finch, as they will at any time of the year take another mate almost immediately.

Nesting receptacles:
Anything that has a hole big enough for them to fit through will do.
They are not fussy where they breed, some of the nesting receptacles that I have used for them are gourds, nesting baskets (any size), tea pots, jam tins coke bottles (with a hole in the side), milk cartons, nest boxes both normal and open fronted. They have nested in the seed hopper behind the seed hopper on the floor and in the brush.

Nesting materials:
Grass both fine and coarse will do for their nest also some shredded paper, hessian, horse hair, cotton wool, pine needles, coconut fibre, any amount of feathers and any other interesting bits that they can find around the place. They do like to use green grasses for their nest about 8inches or 200mm long.

The nest:
The nest is a very cosy arrangement full of feathers and is well built. It is about 170 to 200 mm round and is tightly woven.

Mating behaviour:
The mating dance starts when the male puffs out his feathers and begins hopping to and fro towards the hen all the while crowing and bobbing up and down. The hen waits in anticipation and when she is ready to copulate she waggles her tail and squats on the perch where copulation takes place.

You can expect to have between 4 and 6 eggs in a brood with most of them being fertile.
They are oval and white.

Brooding time:
Between 12 and 14 days is the time it takes for the eggs to hatch depending on what time of the year it is.

Fledging time:
The young usually fledge in 20 to 21 days.

Independence from the Parents:
They are usually fully independent from their parents at about 18 days.

How long do the young stay with the parents?
I always take the young from the parents at 25 days as the young may well interfere with subsequent nests and pose problems for other more timid finch species in their aviary.

What do I feed the fledged young?
I feed the young Zebs the same diet as I feed the parents.

When do I ring the young?
While most Zebra's tolerate some interference with their nests just remember not all will tolerate you touching their nest and they will desert it whether on eggs or young.
If you wish for your baby Zebbies to be handled or at least regularly observed by your own youngsters then you must get the pair used to nest inspection and your presence in their aviary. If this is done correctly you will find that the birds will become so used to it that they will remain in the nest as you lift the nest down to inspect it!
If you want to ring your young Zebra finches with closed rings then do it at about 10 days of age is the time to do them and I suggest that you get in and out as fast as you can.
If you do not want to close ring your young birds then leave it until they have left the nest and do then with a split plastic ring.
Be careful not to damage the foot or toes over which you are slipping your ring and beware not to break a leg.

Showing your bird:
Zebra finches are one of the most shown birds in the world. There are just so many varieties to show.
One of the very first things a judge will be looking for the "type".
Whether the bird sits at the right angle and the shape of it's body in relation to the 'type bird'.
Tightness of feather.
Clean mandible and legs.
Clear bright eyes.
Movement of the bird.
The overall colour of the bird.
The symmetry of the colour of the bird.
Your bird must be in good feather and have bright eyes.
The feet, legs and mandible should not be flaky.
The breast should be of an even steel grey colouring and fine even white vermiculated marking running throughout.
The bird must alert and moving most of the time.
The toenails should be clean and even.

Gene pool:
Zebbies would have about the most secure of gene pools in the world let alone Australia.

Life expectancy:
A life expectancy of around 7 years is a good age for your average Zebra finch with their best breeding up to around 5 years of age.

Grizzle Pied Zebra. Grizzle Pied Zebra. Isabel Zebras.

Common ailments:
They don't usually have any type of problem if a good worming program and a coccidia treatment after rainy periods is followed.

Here is about the best part of this profile, I get to tell why you should have them in your aviaries.
My very first bird I ever held in my hands was a Zebra finch. I think it was then I had to have birds in my life.
I don't think that there has been a time when they have not been part of my life. If I didn't have my own aviary I sure as hell knew someone who had one and invariably there were Zebra finches in it.
Zebra finches are a bird that is very lively and has to know exactly what is going on around them.
If they are kept in with suitable birds then you have an aviary worth having.

Alumina Zebra Cock. Opal Zebras. Alumina Zebra Hen.


One of the world's finest finches!! Much pleasure has been had from these guys over the years. From competitive showing, genetic manipulation right through to introduction of children to the world of bird keeping these guys are flawless!!
All of the great finch people I know 'honed their skills' with these finches before moving on to bigger and dare I say dearer "better" finches. Yet most retain a few in their collection to remind them of their roots all those many years ago - or maybe it's just the Zebbies activity and/or incessant call?
Whatever the reason they still hold a place for most of these seasoned "finch professionals"!!
However, their personality, great though it is, is not appreciated by the majority of other finches because the average Zeb is not $1 a sugar bag full for nothing! They can breed a bit these guys!!
Unfortunately they tend to dominate species in the mixed collection and steal more than their fair share of nesting material (or in some case the entire completed nest of other birds!!!).
I do remember as a lad leaving 3 pair of Zebs in an aviary and upon returning from the mainland some 6 months later removed 195 of them!!!  Mind you nothing else bred in that aviary - funny that!!
Another amusing anecdote was when once I placed an abandoned baby Blue-face parrotfinch in a Zeb nest. It was duly raised to maturity but, upon leaving the nest, caused it's "parents" apoplexy by stead fast refusing to return to the nest at night time. They called to it, they coaxed it with food and when that didn't work they grabbed it and pulled it towards the nest!! A compromise was reached with it snuggled between mum and dad each night outsider the entrance hole of the nest yet still on the perch!!

Agate Cock. Agate Pair. Agate Cock.

With the plethora of mutations appearing these days they are a fantastic bird to simply let loose in that empty aviary and se what colours you can get out!!
Remember though that they are a grassfinch and as such deserve the same food and treatment that you reserve for Diamond sparrows or any other finch!!

So if you meet a finch person that didn't cut their teeth on Zebbies when they were "young" then they possible have missed out on the most fun a finch can give you.
For when fincho's are keeping Zebs it must be the only time that they don't sweat, chain smoke or develop a nervous tic over will they raise those chicks and use the sentence "Jeez, wish them finches would stop breeding" - odd words indeed from a finch keeper!!!!!
So if you hear someone run down the humble Zeb just let us know and I'm sure we can send someone round to sort them out!!!!!

  An "odd" Male Fawn Charcoal!!