Breeding Your Zebra Finches

Dixie Deb's Zebra finch chicks
4 Zebra Chick Colors- Normal, Lightback, Fawn & CFW


What age to breed?
Zebra finches will start breeding at 3 months of age if you let them and with any other Zebra, be it a close relative or not. See "Care" page on how to prevent this. It is advisable to allow them to reach at least 9 months old if you want a good breeding life out of your young birds and to have healthy chicks. Some may start breeding males at 6 months but you risk egg-binding in hens of this age. Also young birds often have failed early nests as they are not mature. Remember most "Pet Store" birds are young and so give them ample time before starting. For best results on new breeders, pair an experienced parent with the newbie to show them how its done.

Aviary or breeder cage?
The Zebra finches will be at home and happily breed in the largest aviary or smallest cage. However with the normal nest of 5-7 chicks who will grow to near adult size within a few weeks, a small standard bird cage is just won't work. I use 18x18x24 cages per each couple (aka line breeding) so I am certain of the parentage and the chick colors shown or carried (splits). For true genetics, wait a month before providing a nest if the hen was exposed to other males. In avairy breeding, Zebras are a fantastic bird genetically to simply let mix to see what colors you can get out!! However they will mate with their own kin and so your stock will eventually exhibit inbred deficiencies if unregulated.

Breeding season:
Zebras will readily breed all year round without any problems. You should restrict your breeding pairs to 3 or 4 nests before separating them so that the hen can have a break from the rigors of breeding and raising chicks. Let her rest for 2 to 3 months before restarting, preferably in a larger flight cage or avairy. The extra space will do her good mentally and physically. A male can be reused immediately. This is a good time to change the partners if you are trying for different mutation mixes.

Breeding feeds:
Provide additional supplements to the parents at least a month before breeding and the entire time when rearing chicks. With chicks, double the portion of seeds, supplement with vitamins and minerals, eggfood, vegetatbles, nestling food, water, etc. Remember the time to provide the best is during the growing stage. Start slowly giving your birds these extras in treat cups (plastic coffee lids or tuna cans work fine). Too much too soon can upset their gut. I also provide "Herb Salad" mix as Zebras love and thrive on greens.

Nest Boxes:
Anything that has a hole big enough for them to fit through will do. Many have used gourds, nesting baskets (any size), tin cans and milk/juice cartons, either with half & full opened front. My birds like juice cartons and I just toss them when done. BEWARE WICKER NESTS as I have lost too many birds from bleeding where a toenail was ripped out by these.

Nesting materials:
Any clean dry grass (both fine and coarse) will do for their nest. Also burlap fiber, shredded paper, horse hair, cotton wool, pine needles, coconut fiber, any amount of feathers and other interesting bits that they can find around the place. They do like to the grasses about 8 inches long. DO NOT use anything with strings as they may entangle the birds or chicks with dire consequences. I stuff the nest about half full of material and leave the rest strewn on the cage floor so the couple can get excited and involved in the construction.

Mating behaviour:
The mating dance starts when the male approaches the female, puffs out his feathers and begins crowing. He also hops to and fro towards the her and bobs up and down. When the hen is ready, she vibrates her tail very fast and squats on the perch. The copulation is very quick as the necessary sideways mount is awkward for the male.

From Nest to Juvenile:
The hen will usually "sit tight" on the nest after the 3rd egg is laid. Mark your calender when you see this sitting begin. You can expect to have between 4 and 6 eggs in a brood with most of them being fertile. The eggs have a slightly bluish tint if fertile or are more white if not. It takes the eggs between 12-14 days to hatch. The parents will remove any extra eggs. If none have hatched by 18 days, your parents may be too young. Since eggs can be laid over a week period, the chick growth and fledge time (leaving the nest) will vary by the same. The young usually fledge in 20 to 21 days. They are usually fully independent from their parents at about 18 days after fledge.

Inspecting the Nest:
While most Zebras tolerate some interference with their nests, remember some (especially young parents) will desert it whether with eggs or chicks. If you wish for your baby Zebras to be observed by your own youngsters then you must get the pair used to nest inspection and your presence in their aviary. Hand feeding of abandoned chicks is very rarely successful. Also know if the parents are skittish, the chicks will be even moreso. Try to stay out of the cage and move slowly about, as it is easy for chicks to receive fatal injuries from flying wildly into cage bars.

Identifying Chicks:
In the Nest- Brown beaks and feathers are Fawns. Black beaks and dark skin but with white feathers are CFWs. Females CFWs will show sooty heads. Pink beaks and skin with white feathers will be true Whites, Continentials or Saddlebacks. Crested heads also show now. Lightbacks and other dillutes will show lighter gray feathering than the normals.

After Fledge- At about 1month old, the boys will try to sing and start showing some male markings. The chicks will sometimes act very itchy and finally molt into their adult plummage at around 3 months old. For healthest birds, continue the extra supplements from birth through molt. They now start displaying mating urges and bickering with contenders. This is the time to seperate the boys from the girls.

Nest Problems:
Many breeders keep society finches to raise abandoned nests or take over duties for high quality finches. Please research this on the internet. Sometimes dark colored parents will not feed light colored chicks or one parent may be causing trouble. It is usually no problem to remove 1 parent and the other, male or female, will do just fine. Adding a Zebra surrogate rarely works.

When to ring the chicks?
If you are not concerned with breed lines then ringing isn't necessary. If you want to ring your young Zebra finches with closed rings then do it at about 10 days of age and get in and out as fast as you can. If you do not need to close ring your young, then you can apply a split plastic ring anytime. Check on the internet for more complete banding instructions and follow them carefully!

When to remove the nest & fledges?
I remove the nest about 1 week after the last chick fledges. I seperate the young from the parents at 1 month after fledge as they are then fully eating on their own. Also the parents are often trying to start another nest by then and usually harrassing the fledges.

Where should the fledges go?
You can now sell them or keep your best for future breeding. I may keep the fledges and parents together if its time to now rest the parents and so move all to a larger flight cage. Otherwise I keep seperate 3ftx4ft flight cages just for teenagers (under 9 months) because if I mix the young too soon with older birds, trouble usually ensues.

What if I lose a mate?
Losing a mate is not too much of a problem as they will usually take up with another in very short time. However swapping pairs can be a problem as Zebras do recognize and may pine for former mates if they are within sight. While some don't care, some couples get very attached and constantly fret in their cages, ignoring the new mate until they feel certain the former is gone.


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