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by Orlando Bonnici

THE ZEBRA FINCH Exotic Zebra Finches, Poephila guttata, are small birds (averaging 9cm) and are native to the Australian grasslands. Australia currently has a closed door policy prohibiting the exportation of animals from the country. Therefore, most species of Australia finches found outside of the country were not born in Australia. Zebra finches are extremely colorful and among the most popular variety of caged birds. Zebra finches are delightful pets for the home, office or classroom.Especially for small flats, which we find around Malta and Gozo, Zebra Finches make ideal pets. The mature male zebra finch is generally more colorful and easily distinguishable from the female. The classic male possesses bright orange cheeks, black and white striping across the throat and breast and brown spots on either side of the body. The overwhelming popularity of zebra finches is attributable to both their attractive coloring and the fact that they are among the easiest birds to breed in captivity. Owners generally have repeated opportunities to witness their nesting and reproductive behavior as well as the birth of their offspring. Though very common I would not be without a few of these cheeky little birds. The Zebras occur in a different mutations and even in Malta many breeders have managed to produce a variety of colourful mutations.They are a wonderful beginners bird and are free breeding under most conditions. That is not to say that they do not merit the same care and attention given to rarer more exotic species. I still get as much of a thrill when I open a nest box and find newly hatched chicks, and wait in anticipation of what colours may appear as when I first started keeping birds. New colour mutations have started to appear fairly rapidly over the past few years and I am sure many more will continue to arrive. This all adds to the attraction of these adaptable little characters. I have noticed that although they only go beep beep, that sound can vary tremendously from one strain of zebras to another. It can be so different that I sometimes wonder if it is like a different language to them.

Most of my zebras are bred from single pairs in cages about 2 foot 6 inches (75cm) long where there is some control over colour expectations. I do however place a few pairs in a flight cage where they are just left to get on with it. They are fed mainly on a mixture of white, yellow and pannicum millet. I also supply a dish of the same mixture soaked for a day and then strained together with a dish of eggfood when they are rearing youngsters. The eggfood is supplied dry and changed completely once a week. The soak seed is changed every day. This year I intend to introduce a condition seed mixture to the diet, mainly because I am trying it with my gouldians in an effort to try to improve on last years poor breeding results. Nest boxes used with the cages are half open fronted and hang on the outside of the cage front. They have a pivoting sloping top and can be accessed from outside the cage. Much easier when you are nosey and just have to have a peek.

A clutch of young ZebraFinches

Zebra finches are extremely social birds; however, only social with other birds. Typically, zebra finches are shy around people and do not like to be petted or held. Some owners of hand-fed zebra finches attest to birds that are more comfortable with human touch. However, as a general rule, individuals seeking pets that enjoy being held should probably avoid the zebra finch. In their native habitat of Australia, wild zebra finches travel in flocks in the wide open grasslands. Zebra finches in captivity retain this extremely social nature. Zebra finches should be kept in pairs to insure their happiness. A pair of zebra finches will often stay in close physical contact at rest or while grooming or preening one another. Often, however, trouble between a pair of Zebra finches will flare over situations, including but not limited to, sitting on the eggs. One strategy for curbing an aggressive male is to provide him a toy to vent his aggression against.

Zebra finches are very active and enjoy flying around. Experts recommend that zebra finch owners provide their birds with the largest flying space affordable. A minimum flying space of no less than 20 inches is recommended. Cages, either metal or wooden, are the most frequent cost-effective choice for housing finches. Aviaries, generally indoors, are often refer to in literature discussing the housing of finches. These structures are much larger than cages ranging anywhere from 50 cubic feet to those large structures found at zoos. Because of the zebra finches miniature size, all bird cages are not appropriate. For exotic finches, the space between cage bars should never be greater than one-half inch. Brass cages are not recommended because of potential toxic qualities. Happy, unstressed, finches have their cages or aviaries in quiet, low traffic areas of the house, office or classroom. Swings are an excellent accessory for the finch cage.

As a rule, zebra finches are aggressive nest builders. Wicker baskets work well as nesting sites. When the nesting process begins, the male gathers material to carry back to start building the nest. Caged zebra finches will use commercially available artificial nesting materialwhich is designed to approximate nesting materials found in nature and which can be easily purchased from any Maltese petshop at a reasonable price. It is important to become familiar with the change in dietary needs of the parent during the nesting and birth process (see above for detail). After nesting, a female zebra finch will lay between four and six eggs, laying one each day. After a couple of the eggs are laid, the pair will begin sitting on the eggs. The brooding and incubation process may take approximately 11 to 14 days or more. The whole process from building a nest to the young fledglings achieving independence is approximately two months. Most novice zebra finch owners are caught off-guard by the speed of this process. It is important not to allow finches that are closely related to produce offspring. Inbreeding will result in a weakening of the offspring and eventually the breed. Attention to this small particularities are essential to produce healthy offsprings. I wish you all young and new breeders to have successul results with this small, yet incredible and enchanting finch.

Donated by Orlando Bonnici

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