What to Know About the Zebra Finch


In this Article

  • Zebra Finch Characteristics
  • Zebra Finch Personality
  • Zebra Finch Care
  • Zebra Finch Diet
  • Zebra Finch Health Problems
  • Zebra Finch Lifespan
  • Zebra Finch Facts

The zebra finch is a small songbird from Australia known for its cheerful and social nature. Zebra finch care is not difficult, even for a beginner, making the birds popular as pets. They’re relatively hardy birds, able to tolerate changes in their environment.

Zebra Finch Characteristics

The zebra finch bird is soft gray, with red eyes, “tear drop” markings (small black lines running straight down under each eye), and bright orange legs and beak. The male zebra finch has a deeper reddish-orange beak, while the female’s beak tends to have a lighter orange color.

The male zebra finch has black “mustache” markings, which are thin black lines running along both sides of their beak. The area between the mustache and tear-drop markings is usually white. On the outside of the tear-drop markings, the typical male finch sports rusty-orange cheeks. They have a “bib” of tiny black stripes from their beak down to their chest. Their tail has bolder black and white stripes. On their sides, they have chestnut-brown feathers with white spots.

Female zebra finches are almost entirely gray and don’t sing like the males. When they’re young, all zebra finches look like females, except their beaks are black instead of orange. Their adult colors appear when they’re around 2 to 3 months old. Both males and females are quite small even as adults, reaching a length of about 4 inches and weighing less than a half-ounce on average.

Zebra Finch Personality

Zebra finches are diurnal, so they’re active during the day and sleep at night. In the wild, they live together in flocks of about 100 birds. During breeding, the large flock splits into groups of around 50 finches. The birds in this smaller group will allow each other to visit their nesting site but will drive away birds from other groups. They know each member by their song, which is unique to each individual male.

As they grow up, male zebra finches listen to the songs of the birds around them. They use bits of music from their relatives and other sounds they hear in the environment to create a complex song of their own. The males use songs along with a courtship dance to woo the females. Zebra finches are monogamous — they’ll only mate with one partner and bond for life with their chosen mate.

It’s best to keep zebra finches in pairs or small groups. If a zebra finch must be in a separate cage because of illness, make sure they can see at least one other bird in the room with them. Zebra finches aren’t the quietest of birds — they’re quite noisy as they frequently call to each other. They get along with each other most of the time, but if they’re overcrowded, stressed, or competing over a female, males may fight by clashing bills with other males.

Overall, the zebra finch tends to be a peaceful bird and can get along with other types of finches in the same cage. They love to fly and need a cage long enough to allow them plenty of opportunity to exercise their wings.

Zebra Finch Care

Purchase a cage at least 24 inches wide, 16 inches high, and 16 inches deep. There should be no more than 3/8 inch of space between the bars. Add multiple perches that are the right size for your finches’ feet. Place them at various heights but not directly over food, water, or grit containers.

Leave plenty of room for the birds to fly. A few times a week, set a shallow dish of water in the cage so your birds can bathe.

The zebra finch thrives at temperatures between 68 and 77 F with around 40% humidity. It’s important not to allow the temperature to drop below 60 F, which can impact the birds’ health. Zebra finches can also have health problems if the lights are always on. They need 10 to 12 hours of darkness to sleep. During the day, provide natural daylight by keeping the birds in a room with plenty of windows or use full-spectrum lighting.

Zebra Finch Diet

The zebra finch should have seed available at all times. If a zebra finch is overweight, it’s because they aren’t getting enough exercise. When the food dish is half full, blow seed hulls out of the seed dish over a trash can or clean it out if there’s bird poop on it. Then fill it with a seed mix for small birds that includes millet and canary seed. Zebra finches enjoy occasional treats like millet sprays, grubs, and fresh greens.

Attach a cuttlefish bone to the inside of the cage so your zebra finches can get calcium by pecking at it. Place water bottles, one for every two to three finches, near perches so the birds can get to them easily. When they’re half-full, add clean water. If you can see dirt or seeds in the water bottle, clean it well before you refill it.

Zebra Finch Health Problems

Common diseases in zebra finches include: 

  • Knemicoptes mites cause scales on a bird’s face and crusty lesions on their legs.
  • Air sac mites can make it hard for a bird to breathe.
  • Aspergillus is a fungus that can cause shortness of breath and weight loss.
  • Coccidiosis, a parasite, causes diarrhea and lethargy (exhaustion and sleepiness).
  • Blood-sucking mites leave crusty spots under a bird’s wings and make them pale and lethargic.

Zebra Finch Lifespan

While wild zebra finches only live 2 to 3 years, a pet zebra finch can live 5 to 15 years.

Zebra Finch Facts

  • Zebra finch parenting. Both male and female zebra finches spend a great deal of time parenting. They work together to gather materials and build the nest over a week. The male protects the nest while the female sits on the eggs for 2 weeks.
  • Zebra finch songs. As they learn to sing and develop their unique song, young zebra finches watch their mother’s reactions to their song. Mothers fluff up their feathers or gestures with their wings when they like what they hear. Because they use their songs to court females, it’s important for the male zebra finch to have female input.
  • Zebra finch studies. Researchers use the zebra finch to study disorders that affect speech, like stuttering. Songbirds are one of the very few animals that learn to communicate the same way humans do. Both songbirds and humans learn vocal patterns through imitation.

Show Sources

Animal Humane Society: “Zebra finch care.”
Cold Spring Harbor Protocols: “Proper Care, Husbandry, and Breeding Guidelines for the Zebra Finch, Taeniopygia guttata.”
Current Biology: “Female Social Feedback Reveals Non-imitative Mechanisms of Vocal Learning in Zebra Finches.”
eBird: “Zebra Finch.”
Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic: “Common Diseases in Canaries and Finches.”
Michigan State University: “Do songbirds hold key to stuttering?”
National Finch & Softbill Society: “The Zebra Finch.”
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Taeniopygia guttata.”
University of Washington: “Care and Maintenance of Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata).”

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