The zebra finch is a small bird. Their name comes from the zebra like black and white stripes which can be found on the rump and upper tail. Across most of the body they are blue-grey. Running down from the eye is a black stripe with a white stripe sitting between this and the bill. On their sides they have orange-chestnut streaks with white spots. The rest of the belly is white with black streaks. On the upper chest and throat they have white and black stripes.
Males have a chestnut patch on the face which is absent in females allowing them to be told apart.
They have a bulky orange bill which helps them to crack through seeds. The eye is colored red. Their legs and feet are colored orange yellow.
Their body measures between 10 and 12cm (4-4.7in) long and their weight averages 12g (0.4oz).
10 and 12cm (4-4.7in)
Wild 2-3 years
Captive 5-7 years
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Zebra finches are native to Australia, Timor and the Lesser Sunda Islands. In Australia they can be found across much of the mainland only avoiding the coastline and the Cape York Penisula.
Introduced populations can be found in Portugal and Puerto Rico.
Their wide range means they are found in a variety of habitats including forest, savanna, shrubland and grassland. They live near a watercourse.
Breeding takes place throughout the year in captivity provided conditions are suitable. In the wild it tends to occur between October and April. This is typically triggered by a heavy rainfall. Pairs form for life with both the male and female participating in caring for the chicks. They will both engage in mating outside of this pairing though.
Males perform a courtship dance and call to attract a mate.
The female is responsible for choosing the nest site while the male gathers the nesting material. She will then form this in to a dome-shaped nest. On rare occasions they have been observed to nest in a hollow in the ground.
In to the nest the female deposits four to six eggs. These are laid over a few days. The male and female will share the incubation duties over the 14 day incubation period.
They spend 21 days in the nest. During this time the female does most of the brooding and the male gathers most of the food. Chicks produce a scratching or chirping noise to alert their parents that they want food.
Once young leave the nest the parents may produce another clutch in the same breeding season.
Immature birds have a black beak and the black and white stripe on the head are absent. They have a darker eye.
They are one of the fastest maturing bird species. It will only take 70-80 days for them to be sexually mature and ready to mate.
They make a range of vocalizations. These include a ‘tiah’ call in flight and a ‘tet tet’ call used when in close contact.
When they are not breeding they form flocks which may include up to 100 members. These flocks will break in to smaller flocks of around 50 members during the breeding season.
Each group has a distinct call and they use this to communicate. When breeding they use this call to identify animals moving between groups. If they have a familiar call they are welcomed while unknown animals are chased away.
Predators and Threats
These birds have benefitted from the building of dams and installation of water tanks as they are reliant on water.
Their small size and relative ease of care have made the zebra finch a popular aviary bird.
They are also known as the chestnut eared finch due to the patch on the side of the males face.
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Christansen, P.,2019. Birds. 2nd ed. London: Amber Books.
Morcombe, M., 2003. Field Guide To Australian Birds. Archerfield, Qld.: Steve Parish Pub.
Birdsinbackyards.net. 2020. Zebra Finch | BIRDS In BACKYARDS. [online] Available at: <https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Taeniopygia-guttata> [Accessed 2 November 2020].
Murray, M., 2020. Zebra Finch. [online] The Australian Museum. Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/birds/zebra-finch-taeniopygia-guttata/> [Accessed 2 November 2020].
White, R. 2007. “Taeniopygia guttata” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 01, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Taeniopygia_guttata/
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