Breeding Zebra Finches

20 05/08 | 15:56

Breeding Zebra Finches....


Cage breeding is the accepted norm for those wishing to breed exhibition Zebra Finches. By breeding one pair to a cage the pedigree of any prodigy is assured, as long as cocks and hens have bee kept apart prior to the breeding season. The average size for a single breeding cage would be 24'' wide x 16'' high x 12'' deep (60cm x 41cm x 30cm). Foreign Finch or Budgerigar Cage Fronts can be used. The one designed for Budgerigars has the advantage of a larger door than those designed for Foreign Finches, thus making it possible to remove the nest box at any time during the breeding season, for inspection of the nest contents or ringing the chicks.


Two examples of Nest Box's
Nest boxes 5'' x 5'' x 5'' (13cm x 13cm x 13cm), with hinged or sliding lids for easy access are the most popular. The front should be reduced to around 3''(8cm) - leaving an opening of around 2'' (5cm) high for entry. Wooden nest boxes are usually used and need to be fixed securely (preferably in a fairly high position) in the breeding cage while at the same time being detachable for easy access and inspection. The best way of doing this is to fix a screw into the back or side of the cage and then drill a hole slightly larger than the screw head in the corresponding place in the nest box. When the screw is correctly located, the nest box will fit in place without falling off. The nest box can be put in place as the cage is made ready for the breeding pairs introduction, or a couple of days later once the pair have settled into there new surroundings.

A suitable nesting material is clean dry grass or hay, i/e. free from damp and dust. To ensure a correct base for the nest, fill the nest box with hay and make a cup shape in it by pushing the fist of your hand into the centre. A useful addition is to line this cup shape with a little fine soft hay or coconut fibre after fixing the nest box in the breeding cage, allow a little additional nesting material to be left in the cage, such as soft hay or coconut fibre, sufficient for the zebras to complete the nest.

The birds will appreciate other materials such as soft dried moss, clean soft feathers or branded nesting material if any of these can be made available in small quantities. After the first egg is laid remove all spare nesting material.


Zebra Finches kept in flights will breed as and when they attain breeding fitness. Birds kept in outside flights should be discouraged from breeding outside of Spring and Summer, and this is best done by not supplying nest boxes other than during periods of good weather.

Cage breeding in a controlled environment can be done at will, the majority of exhibitors pair there birds between Christmas and March, but of course steps have to taken to bring birds into breeding condition artificially, for an early start.


Birds kept for any length of time in small cages generally gain weight and through lack of exercise are not as fit as they need to be if they are to breed well. Therefore before attempting to start breeding a period of around six weeks is required, when they should be conditioned to achieve breeding fitness. At the beginning of the six week period cocks and hens should be separated and housed in flights or long flight cages, this will provide exercise, helping to burn off fat and to tone muscles. The main addition to the diet at this time should be the supply of cod liver oil mixed at the seed ratio of one teaspoonful to the pound. This should be fed for three days at a time followed by three days without, by alternating in this way any mineral and vitamin intake is gradual. This regime should be undertaken for a period of six weeks, returning to a normal seed diet one week before pairing up. Only make enough cod liver oil - seed for each three day period at a time and wash all containers after use. Also ensure that both grit and cuttlefish bone are available at all times. Obviously if you intend breeding during the winter months electric lighting should be provided allowing a period of at least ten hours a day for feeding. Heating is not so essential although temperatures in the birdroom should not fall below 10 degrees centigrade during breeding. Having followed this method of conditioning your birds, you should find your birds are ready to be paired up for breeding.


Having attained full breeding condition the cock and hen should be introduced to the breeding cage. Normal behaviour at this stage will see the cock puffing himself up, singing and dancing to attract the hen. The hen, for her part, will be swaying from side to side and fanning her tail. If both birds are ready, mating will take place almost immediately.


From time to time some pairs will not seem to accept the nest box provided. The first thing to do is to remove the lid of the nest box. This in it self may encourage entrance to the box. Failing this re - position the nest box into a different position within the cage, even trying the bottom corner on the cage floor as a last resort. If the birds still fail to enter the box, split them up and re - pair at a later stage.


If the birds are fit when paired the first egg should appear a week later. If after three weeks no eggs have been laid, split the pair up and re - pair at a later date as this would indicate that either the birds are not fit or they are not compatible.


Fertile eggs can be detected at an early stage (around five days). initially blood vessels can be detected and over an incubation period the eggs change colour slightly. If the eggs are infertile, remove them and allow the pair to lay again. You will usually find that the next clutch will be fertile.


From time to time eggs that appear to be fertile fail to hatch. There can be many reasons for this, the most common being the fact that the birds may have been scared off the nest for an excessive period of time and the eggs have become chilled. Therefore take steps to ensure as little disturbance as possible occurs, even to the extent that car headlights cannot shine directly into the Bird Room at night.

It is also possible that young pairs have not turned the eggs correctly, this is usually self correcting in future clutches. Humidity levels in the Bird Room can also be a factor in non hatching. If heating is used during winter, leave a small bowl of water in the Bird Room to compensate for any drying out in the atmosphere.


Zebra Finches are generally good parents, provided they have the correct tools for the job. At all times during the breeding season, in addition to the normal seed diet, rearing/softfood should be offered. This could be one of the commercially available options or wheat germ bread mixed to a crumbly consistency with milk, both are used with great success.

Zebra Finches can lay between four to eight eggs. the average clutch size is five eggs. Eggs normally start to hatch after a incubation period of 12 days. Incubation normally starts on the day the third egg is laid.

Zebra Finches may be close rung with Z.F.S. rings- usually when they are between eight and ten days old. A separate fact sheet is available on this site about close ringing. But if you are not sure about ringing your first chicks, then please ask for the assistance of an experienced fancier to help guide you through this process.

Young Zebra Finches leave the nest box when they are about three weeks old. Generally chicks are self feeding between 28 and 36 days of age. If they are observed feeding from the seed pots, they can be taken away from their parents and placed in stock cages, Points to watch out for around the time of separation are when you notice the colour of the young birds beak begin to change colour. In young normals for example, the beak colour will start to change from black to red.


As the chicks hatch they will not usually be fed for the first twelve hours as they will still be supplied from the residue of the egg sac. However sometimes pairs will not start feeding at the correct time and chicks may die. If this happens, the best remedy is to place a chick which is a few days older and from another pair, into the nest that the problems are occurring in. The fact that the older chick is noisier and more vociferous in its quest for food may stimulate the parents into feeding. After a couple of days the newcomer can be returned to its original nest.


Some pairs will from time to time start throwing chicks from the nest, the cause could be overfit birds wanting to start the breeding cycle all over again. In some cases the introduction of an older youngster may help but usually the best course of action is to foster any surviving chicks under pairs with youngsters of a similar age. You should also split up the offending pair and re - pair at a later date to different partners this can on occasion's eliminate this problem.


The period from the chicks leaving the nest to being fully self - sufficient is the time when on the rare occasions they can be attacked by one or both of the parents as they attempt to go back to nest before the chicks are weaned. If this problem occurs and it looks as though the chicks are endangered, remove the hen, leaving the cock to feed the chicks through the weaning period, which he should do without any problems.

It is hoped that you experience the joys of seeing your first youngsters leaving the nest and becoming fully independent without experiencing too many problems. If you should need any additional information please contact the Z.F.S. General Secretary who will put you in contact with your local Area Rep, If you are a fully paid up member of the Zebra Finch Society then you will find their contact details listed in the Z.F.S. Year Book..



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