South East Queensland Zebra 
Finch Society Inc.

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Posted on January 11, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Over many years the Zebra Finch has had a reputation as a cheap bird, something for everyone to start with who would like to keep birds. It achieved this reputation because it would have to be the easiest bird to breed. No matter how small the cage, a pair would produce a few young.  The Zebra finch is the most prolific breeder of all species of birds.


We now come to the dedicated Breeder of birds, one who is looking for a challenge.  This is where the true Zebra Finch Breeder comes in.


Go to any Pet Shop and you can buy a pair of Zebras, but there is no information available about the HISTORY of the birds. Many birds are not pure in colour.  This means that they may be “split” (have a hidden colour). When you breed young it is possible to have several different colours in the nest. This is not a good way to start your breeding program.


Within this field a great range of subjects unfold and it is intended to guide you to achieve success.







 In Australia we recognise a number of mutations that we have a written STANDARD for;




















Queensland ISABEL





Also there is progress towards newer mutations;


RED (Orange Bodied).




Although Zebras have strong desires to reproduce, at times they do not breed successfully.


Common problems are pairs that produce infertile eggs or fail to incubate their eggs.  Some will build a nest over their eggs and lay another clutch, and there are those that don’t feed their young.


A bird’s home environment is very important. Make sure their enclosure is large enough for the birds to feel comfortable raising young or even to perform their courtship display. Be sure the cage and nesting sites are secure and their environment is quiet, away from disturbances.


Check that the nests are in protected locations. Provide more nests than required and let the pair pick the one they prefer. The male will lead the female to the nest and she will decide if the nest is acceptable. Make sure there is enough nesting material for building but once the eggs are laid, remove excess material. This will prevent the eggs from being covered.


When Zebras fail to breed in captivity the cause may be a poor pair bond.

In the wild they choose their own mates, and ensure that both members of the pair are committed to the union, however in selective breeding we rarely let them choose their own mates – which sometimes results in an incompatible pair. The solution is to split the pair and give those birds’ different mates.


Difficulties sometimes occur when pairing different mutations. A Grey bird may not respond sexually to a bird of the White mutation. Studies have shown that birds prefer and recognise unrelated mates. Of course there is always a chance that the female does not find the male attractive in some way. There are many reasons why a Zebra might reject a potential mate.


If you want to keep a particular mating which has been unsuccessful, perhaps a temporary separation is the answer. This should increase the breeding desire.  Otherwise put the hen with another male.


Remember to always protect the female’s health when trying to solve a breeding problem.






 Most Newcomers to our hobby arrive home with their first Zebras in a shoe box or a wire Budgie cage, without having given any thought as to how they intend housing them. Don’t worry, Zebra’s will live comfortably in a Pet cage for a few weeks while you build (or buy) an aviary or a cabinet setup.


The accommodation you provide for your Zebras is limited only by your finances and the space you have in your backyard. It is your choice whether you want to have a colourful, attractive aviary with a mixed collection of Zebras, or you accept the challenge of trying to breed a Champion, or trying some “experimental” breeding in cabinets. Regardless of how you intend to house your Zebras, there are some basic rules we all should follow;-


1. Face your aviary or cages towards the North or East if possible, so the birds can gain benefit from the morning sun. Likewise if you are going to set up cabinets in a shed or bird room, face the door (and window if possible) towards the morning sun. Your birds will appreciate the early warmth after a cold night


2. Build or place your aviary or cages so that they will remain dry. This is extremely important as most bacteria need moisture to survive. Damp areas in a cage or aviary will make your Zebras sick.


3. At night birds will be frightened by a moving light or by someone walking through light coming from a window, so when choosing the site of your aviary, take into account the lights from your or your neighbours house. Also consider a flash of a car’s headlights.


4. Zebras prefer a warm, draft free environment, so choose a site where the aviary will receive a reasonable amount of sun. Also consider the chilling winds. Some form of protection from must be provided or your Zebras may not survive the cold weather.


5. Another problem to be considered is preventing “mice” from entering your aviary or shed. To achieve this, you must have;-

a)   A suitable rat wall included in your foundation.

b)   Use 6mm or smaller wire mesh all over including all roof wire.

c)   Make sure the gap between the door and outer frame is no larger than 6mm


6. It is essential not to have areas where vermin (cockroaches) can breed. Spaces between the ceiling and roof of the aviary are ideal breeding ground. Seal all these area.


7. Last but not least, if you intend using a metal roofed aviary or shed, think of the discomfort your birds will experience in extreme hot and cold weather, and fit some plywood sheeting or other suitable insulating material under the roof.







When any bird looks sick, it is actually REALLY sick.


Warmth and prompt treatment is needed urgently. A Hospital cage helps.


If you get a lot of sick birds, take one to a Vet.


Quarantine a sick bird, so as not to spread the problem.






When acquired “good” birds you need to consider three areas;

Health. Suitability for breeding.  How the birds would rate on the Show bench. 

Whether you buy your Zebras from a dealer, or acquire them from a club member, it doesn’t make sense to obtain any bird if it is in poor health, so the main things to check are;-


The bird should have clean and bright eyes. If the eyes are squinted or partially closed or weeping – DON”T ACCEPT THE BIRD.  Make sure the bird has a clean vent. If the feathers around the vent are moist or stained, the bird is most likely suffering from a stomach or gastro infection – DON”T ACCEPT THE BIRD.  If the bird is fluffed up or squatting on the perch, it could be suffering from any number of ailments, (including worms) – DON’T ACCEPT THE BIRD.  If you are able to handle the bird, check for protruding breast bone. This is another sign of health problems. It could be suffering from any number of ailments – DON”T ACCEPT THE BIRD.  The beak and legs should be clean and well coloured. Be prepared to treat any bird with white growth (caused by mites) on either beak or legs, for four weeks before introducing it to your other healthy birds.  To avoid introducing ANY disease or health problem, ALWAYS keep your new acquisitions in a cage separate from the rest of your collection for at least a fortnight. Watch for any problem that may arise during this quarantine period. Also treat for intestinal worms at this time. 

In regards to a birds suitability for breeding, all one can do is check the closed ring for the year to determine the age of the bird. It is unwise to accept a Zebra over three years of age. There is no way to check fertility of any bird other than test breed. Don’t accept any bird with a missing foot or toes, as this bird would be unstable during mating.


Any novice should choose a colour or mutation that they find attractive, and just breed that one colour for a few nests before attempting to mix colours. Fawn is very popular and a suitable colour for a beginner in our hobby. On the subject of Show quality, it is recommended that a beginner acquire a copy of the Show Standard and study it.  Also show the bird to an experienced show person and ask for an opinion.






The majority of our members use a mixture of seeds sold as Finch Mix by the various suppliers. This usually comprises Yellow Millet (Panicum), Red Panicum, White French Millet, Jap Millet, and Canary.


Zebras are not keen on canary seed and Jap Millet so these can be omitted from the seed if you mix it yourself. When mixing your own seed use proportions of 2 parts Red Panicum, 2 parts Yellow Panicum and 1 part white French Millet.  Your birds will survive on 1 seed only – either Red Panicum or Yellow Panicum however it is better to offer variety. Other seed mixes are available commercially. A popular mix is “Tonic Mix” which contains Linseed, Niger, Rape, Maw and Lettuce seed, both Black and White. Feed these in small containers.


In conclusion, dry seed is a BASIC DIET only, and extras in the form of greens such as Endive, Celery, Apple, etc. should be offered to your birds along with Shell Grit, Cuttlefish, Crushed egg shells and Charcoal.






We now come to a part of breeding Zebra Finches that may be confusing. To be a dedicated Zebra Finch breeder you should have an understanding of the basic genetics involved. Don’t worry if you have trouble understanding just ask a recognised breeder to help out.






Many writers have attempted to explain and detail the rules relating to Sex-Linked inheritance in Zebra Finches, but the illustrations as shown on the following pages should make it easier to follow.


Birds that belong to this group are Fawn, Chestnut Flanked White, Marked White & Cream Backed Zebras.


The term “Sex-Linked” is used because the sex and colour of these birds is determined by their genetic (or internal) make-up. Therefore it is imperative to realise that the colour of the male and the character of his genes for another colour (if any), and also the colour of the female, will play an important role in transmission of colour to young birds in the different sexes.


One example shown is when a Marked White male is mated to a Grey female. If the male is pure Marked White and the female is pure Grey, their young will be Grey-coloured males and Marked White females. The young Grey-coloured males will carry hidden genes for Marked White and are termed “split Marked White”, which is written as Grey/Marked White; the visible colour being shown before the hidden colour form.


It should be noted that, females CANNOT be split for a Sex-Linked colour, i.e.they cannot carry hidden genes for any Sex-Linked colour form. Where birds are shown on the illustrations as Greys or Marked Whites, this refers only to PURE Greys and PURE Marked Whites.


If the breeder wishes to breed Fawns, all they need do is substitute the word “Fawn” in each instance, where the words “Marked White” are shown in the illustrations.


The same method of substitution can also be used for the other Sex-Linked mutations.


Zebras of both sexes can carry Recessive genes such as Pied or White or any of the other Recessive mutations, which may not show in their feathering. If these colours appear in your young birds their parents are not of a pure Sex-Linked colour form, or are not pure Greys.









Zebra Finch Dominant mutations comprise Greys, Dilute Blues, Silvers, Creams, Dark Creams, Black Faced and Black Bodied.


The word “Dominant” means, prevailing or controlling – for example, capable of exerting a prevailing or controlling influence. If we relate these meanings to our Zebras it is obvious that a Dominant character parent would have a prevailing or controlling influence on the colour of its young birds.


In theory the Dominant mutations should be the easiest of all to breed, for a healthy bird of Dominant character is capable of producing birds of its own particular colouration IN ITS FIRST MATING regardless of the colour of its mate.


When a pure Grey is mated to another Dominant character bird, young birds of each these varieties can be produced, but NONE of these young Greys can be split for the visual colour of the other parent because it is not possible for a bird to carry hidden genes for another dominant colour form. What you see is what you get. The colour (or markings) of the bird indicate what the bird actually is.


If one bird of a mated pair is of a Dominant variety there should ALWAYS be a percentage of young of that Dominant variety in their nests. One variation of this rule is the Cream and Dark Cream, which must be mated to Cream, Dark Cream or Fawn (or in the case of a Cream or Dark Cream female – a male split to Fawn) to produce Creams or Dark Creams of both sexes.


If a Black Faced Grey male is mated to a Grey female, or a Grey male to a Black Faced Grey female, you will often find in their nests some young Greys which are not Black Faced. The young Greys will be pure Greys. It makes no difference which of the parents is the Black Faced bird.


However it is possible for a bird of either sex of a Dominant variety to be split for a Recessive colour form, also a male of a Dominant variety can be split for a Sex-Linked form.






Next we deal with the Recessive method of inheritance. The Recessive Zebras are White, Pied, Grizzle, Black Front, Charcoal, Slate, Beige, Yellow Bill, Isabel, Carabel and Alumina.


As with Sex-Linked birds the same method is used to describe a bird that carries genes for a colour that is not visible in its feathering.


A Grey male carrying hidden gene for White is known as a Grey split White, which is written down as Grey/White. The visible colour is always shown first, and the hidden colour form second.


The major difference with Recessive mutations is that BOTH MALES AND FEMALES can be split for a Recessive colour or a number of Recessive colour forms and the sex of the parents does NOT control colour of the young as it does with Sex-Linked Zebras.


Example(1) shows the mating of a Grey male to a White female, but the same results can be obtained when a White male is mated to a Grey female. Similarly, a Grey/White male can be mated to a White female or reverse to produce the same expected results as shown in Example (2). The same rule applies for the other two examples given.


The Examples shown on the following pages show that young can be expected when Breeders attempt to breed the White mutation, and if any other colour form appear it is obvious that one or both of the parents is/are split for another colour.


In Examples (3) and (4) where some Grey birds and some Grey/White birds are bred, they are identical in general overall colour, so it is impossible to know which are split birds; except by future mating.


NOTE: that Grey birds split for another colour ALMOST appear identical to pure Grey birds. The illustrations show them as being different for ease of explanation of their breeding expectations only.


If you wish to breed a Recessive mutation other than White it will be necessary to substitute the name of that mutation in each place where the word “White” appears in the illustrations.


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