Zebra Finch – Taeniopygia guttata – a lot of people want to know what these small finches are really like as pets, and what the pros and cons are of owning one. Guest blogger Chelsea of The White Finch Aviary explores these questions and more in an effort to help educate the public about her beautiful finches.
This article is a part of an ongoing series on Students with Birds that strives to provide real owners’ perspectives on bird species. If you’d like to be a part, feel free to get in contact by leaving a comment. Submissions are very welcome.
Let’s give Chelsea a warm welcome today!
Who I am and How I got started in the Bird World: Chelsea Le Pinson Blanc.
When I was growing up, I had a great grandmother who I spent most of my days with. She cared for any abandoned or injured birds that she could find, releasing them into her yard of giant pine trees when they could take care of themselves. Those experiences stuck with me, and as a result, I’ve always shared her love of birds. When I found myself in a giant new city with ample room in the house I lived in, my first idea was to adopt.
As I searched for a species of bird that suits my hectic work life, I came across Zebra Finches – specifically the Chestnut Flanked White Zebra Finches (CFWs). I fell instantly in love with their tiny white cuteness!
When I felt I was ready, I drove 16 hours round trip to pick up my first pair of Chestnut-Flanked White Zebra Finches: Oedipus and Ophelia, who are currently enjoying their retirement. Though their beauty alone was enough to fill me with pride, it was their charm and kindness towards people that amazed me. To say I was in love was an understatement. They had my entire soul wrapped around their little claws.
Today TWFA has almost every Zebra mutation available in the U.S.A. We have donated samples to research, been in the spotlight a few times, and are ever-growing as a family and community.
Life with Zebra Finches from a real owner’s perspective:
Zebra Finches (also known as Zebras) are a good bird for a beginner, or someone with a very busy schedule. As pets, Zebra Finches don’t bite hard enough to draw blood, they only make a mess inside of their cage (mostly), they don’t need physical human interaction, and they are very inexpensive. This often results in them being labelled as “very easy to care for.”
Unfortunately for them, this mindset of finches “not needing much” is where all of the neglect and abuse to their species stems from. People pay a small amount of money for them, set them up on an all-seed diet, and leave them in their cage without any interaction.
Simply put, Zebra Finches are just as emotionally deep as parrots are, but many owners never get the chance to see it. If you take the time to give it special attention and treats, let it get to know you better as with a parrot, then you will find that this is incredibly true. They have the personalities of parrots fit into a mouse-sized package. They feel the same as parrots and people do: boredom, depression, joy, excitement, love, happiness, sadness, loss, jealousy… You just have to know what to look for.
The Pros & Cons of Zebra Finches
- Pro – Straightforward Care: Once they’re set up in the proper environment with the right diet, their care becomes second nature. If they’re given greens, seed, and vitamins, they will thrive.
- Pro – Variety: There are many different color mutations of Zebra Finches, ranging from white to brown to red, and many different details in between.
- Pro – Breeding: They are easily bred, and do not typically require a license or permit to do so. If they are healthy and given the proper diet, they produce offspring regularly and with ease. The issue lies in the decision to breed or not to breed. As long as potential adopters are already in line, there is enough space to accommodate the babies if they aren’t adopted, and the proper diet/environment are given, then breeding of Zebra Finches is acceptable.
- Pro – Tameness: They are hard to win over but once you do, you have a friend for life. Zebra Finches as pets will talk directly to you, sing for you, come close to you, and provide hours of silly entertainment.
- Con – Potential Aggression While Breeding: One of the biggest and most frustrating issues that people face with Zebras is their husbandry, or where they are kept and with whom. Zebra Finches can be very aggressive towards one another, especially if the proper stimuli for breeding are present. The best way for them to get along is in a separate flight cage with a mate. This way they do not have any aggressive tendencies, and are never lonely. They prefer company.
- Con – Bad Info: Misinformation runs rampant in Zebra Finch circles. People who don’t quote their sources or provide legitimate ones should not be trusted. You can generally tell when someone knows what they’re talking about, and when a person is regurgitating information they were told by someone else. This misinformation can hurt our birds.
- Con – Health: Zebra Finches are considered hardy, but that does not make them immune. They are susceptible to health issues such as air sac mites, avian pox, and many more. What makes things even more difficult is the fact that they are symptom-hiders, and they do not respond well to vet visits. They can easily get sick from leaving the house. If they’re scared enough, too, they will thrash against the sides of the cage and injure or kill themselves, or can die of a heart attack.
Note: The best way to get vet advice is via phone or email FIRST.
- Con – Pet Shop Mysteries: You don’t know what you’re getting from pet stores, especially the major chains. Their conditions for keeping birds are sometimes pretty deplorable. They do not ask breeders for genetic information at all, not even sex. Many shops pay about $2 per finch, and don’t keep track of them very well, with birds ending up ill before they even make it to their new homes. Small-time breeders are a much safer option – or going through a local rescue.
- Con – Maybe Too Easy To Breed?: Backyard breeders who are more concerned with profit than quality are a problem. Zebra Finches’ breeding habits are a pro, but this can result in people breeding them without proper knowledge or resources. If everyone only chooses the best breeders, it puts these types out of business.
- One question that comes up for every owner is “should I breed my Zebra Finches?” My first answer is always no. Just let them enjoy being your pet! Most people do not know what they’re getting into when they decide to breed. It requires a whole new diet that most people aren’t prepared for financially, because Zebra Finches are supposed to be inexpensive. Basically, do it right, or don’t do it at all.
- Con – Life Happens: Even if you have all of the proper tools and do everything right, that does not mean you won’t experience setbacks. When bad things happen, you have to be able to let it go, pick yourself up, and move forward.
Zebra Finches and children
An adult Zebra Finch is a great pet for a child. It offers them the experience of caring for another life, allowing birds to be dependent on their caretaker. Zebras don’t bite hard, and they don’t demand your every waking hour like a parrot does.
How demanding is a Zebra Finch, really?
How hard is it to keep Zebra Finches? Generally the only people who are asking this are the ones who are experiencing difficulties. They can’t get their birds to breed (malnutrition). Their babies keep dying (malnutrition or inbreeding). Their pair suddenly dropped dead (illness or over-exhaustion).
All of these issues are not uncommon, but they are avoidable.
Once they’re set up properly, Zebra Finch care becomes second nature. It requires cleaning their cage regularly, changing their food and water every other day, and providing the proper range in diet. They do not do well with being handled unless hand-raised, so the only socialization needed is the type that can be given just by spending time in the room with them. Their cages are easy set up, and with access to the internet, their supplies are easy to acquire.
Noise level of Zebra Finches
Compared to a parrot, Zebra Finches hardly make any noise. They do constantly communicate with a “beep” call back and forth, and the males will sing beautifully, but these are very tiny birds making very tiny noises. However, get a room full of them together and the chorus will really begin!
I have over a dozen pairs making that much sound, so a few pairs are moderately noisy with constant chatter. A single pair is very quiet.
“Should I buy a Zebra Finch?”
The most important thing to think about when you’re adopting a Finch is how you are going to make their life special. If you can give them attention, treats, and special care if required, then you’ll be everything they need. But if you’re adopting a Finch merely as a decoration for your home, then do the birds a favor and buy decorations instead. These birds need your love just as any other animal or person does.
My life after Zebra Finches
Let me paint the picture of a typical morning at The White Finch Aviary.
I awake just after dawn, making formula and bringing it into the bird room. As I open the door, four little faces meet mine in a mess of squawks and beeps. By the time I take a step inside, they have all conveniently landed in their favorite spots all over me. Then the feeding begins.
Once everyone is fed and the babies are hopping about the couch, I settle in to answer emails and social media. (TWFA is also on Facebook!) An hour later it’s time for another feeding, and that’s how it continues throughout the day – two hours or so between each. Feedings, socialization, sometimes hours spent just keeping them company. My day revolves around them and their needs, stealing away as needed to rejuvenate or run errands.
If I had made the decision to continue my full-time career, I wouldn’t have adopted all of the pairs that I have now. I would have more money. I probably would have made the bird room into a walk-in closet. I’d imagine my life would be fairly boring and miserable, believe it or not!
My life as it is fits me perfectly. I enjoy doing what I do more than anything else, and I would never want to live in a world without my little birds. I don’t make a profit off of them, truly, but they are always happy and make us happy too. The bond that I have with my tame babies is not able to be put into words.
Life with Zebras is rich with love and affection. They may not be the easiest birds to win over, but when you do, that moment is all the more important. I could not live without my Miles looking up at me and cooing in affection, asking for a kiss!