Zebra finch breeding isn't nearly the same as it is for a dog or cat, or even for a chicken! Unlike mammals, birds do not go through a period of pregnancy after breeding. Successful mating in birds results in fertilized eggs, while unsuccessful mating results in unfertilized eggs that do not hatch. With larger animals like chickens, you can shine light into the egg to check for fertility (a process called candling), but with tiny zebra finch eggs, it's best to use a more hands-off approach.
Female Zebra Finch vs. Male Zebra Finch
The very first consideration in zebra finch breeding is ensuring that you have a pair of birds that can actually reproduce. You'll need one male and one female zebra finch to potentially produce eggs and chicks. Zebra finches are usually monogamous, which means that they breed with the same partner each year for life.
You can easily tell the difference between a female finch and a male zebra finch once the birds reach adulthood. A female zebra finch has duller feather coloration, is typically uniform in color and lacks some of the characteristic markings that male finches bear. You can recognize the male zebra finch by his bright orange cheeks, dark stripes on his throat and black bar on his breast. Male zebra finches also have brown feathers on their sides with white spotting.
Once they have chosen a partner, the zebra finch breeding pair begins building their nest. Both the female and male zebra finch aid in the construction of the nest. They both collect building material, but the male focuses primarily on the construction of the structure of the nest while the female directs her efforts to the inner cup where she lays the eggs.
Though in nature these birds construct their nests using grasses, you can purchase pre-made nest cavities for these birds at pet stores. You should also provide the birds with nesting material, which you can also purchase at pet stores or online. Grasses or hay work well for nest construction materials and females like to line their nest with soft materials like wool and feathers.
What do zebra finch eggs look like? Zebra finch eggs look similar to a standard white chicken egg – just much smaller. The female finch lays anywhere between four and six eggs, which both the female and the male incubate. The incubation period lasts just two weeks.
When a baby zebra finch hatches, it is blind and naked, requiring full care from its parents. Both the male zebra finch and the female will assist in feeding the young and keeping them warm, a process known as brooding. However, generally the female broods the young while the male collects food for them.
It takes about three weeks for the young to begin learning to fly, or fledge. At four weeks old, the baby zebra finch no longer relies on its parents to feed it and becomes fully weaned. Most chicks reach sexual maturity by the time they are two or three months of age, though they generally do not begin breeding until they reach at least six months old.
Zebra Finch Life Span
How long do zebra finches live? The zebra finch life span varies based on where the bird lives. Birds in the wild have to face the danger of predators and successfully search for food to survive. For this reason, wild zebra finches generally only live two or three years. However, birds in human care with unlimited access to food and safety from predators can reach between five and seven years of age.
- Provide nesting material for the birds, if they start trying to build a nest.
- Do not handle the eggs too much. It could damage them or stress the parents.
- Do not hold the candling light up against an egg for too long. It could heat the egg.
About the Author
Marina Somma is a freelance writer and animal trainer. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology & Policy from Monmouth University. Marina has worked with a number of publications involving animal science, behavior and training, including animals.net, SmallDogsAcademy and more.