Thursday, November 10, 2011

What I'm learning from the Zebra Finches

On July 7, 2011, we purchased what we thought was a pair of zebra finches (i.e. a boy and a girl).  I asked the store owner how he differentiated male from female and he pointed out the lighter coloring of one of the birds.  Knowing that female birds tended to be less flashy than their male counterparts, I relaxed and took our birds to their new home. 
They quickly adjusted to their new home, grooming each other and snuggling together in the evening.  By the next day, they started to chirp in their unique voices and respond to any bird-like sounds around (including car alarms, phone ringers and sirens).  Like a good pet owning homeschooler, I settled into the idea of a long term unit study and googled zebra finches to see if anything was missing from our initial setup.

A sinking feeling settled over me as I studied photos of male and female zebra finches.  Although one of the birds was undoubtedly lighter than the other, HE also had the characteristic orange cheeks, speckled breast and brown spotted sides.  He was just overall lighter colored.  We had 2 boy zebra finches.  I had to break it to Simonne, who was already planning for eggs and the like.

"That's ok Mommy.  We just need to get 2 girls now.  We can't send one of these back to the pet shop.  Look how happy they are!"

So off we went to another pet shop the next day (we didn't trust that guy any more).  We arrived home with 2 girls to add to what was becoming our mini aviary.

The ruckus!  The flying around!  The fighting!  The 2 chummy boys were no longer chummy!  A dominant male arose and the other male was ostracized, his movememnts limited to a corner of the cage.  The 2 girls had their pick of the perches and roosting spots in their new home. 
Janie promptly lost her feathers. What could it be? The options were:
  1. pests
  2. deficiency
  3. the male bird is using her feathers for nesting materials
  4. she's ready to mate
Although item number 3 was very likely, the correct answer was 4.  Soon, Zario, the dominant male, had made a personal connection with Janie.  They enthusiastically built a nest with everything they could get their beaks on.  Their nest was a colourful conflagration of string, yarn, straw, yarn, stick, yarn,... did we say yarn?  The children provided an endless supply of all colors and thicknesses and lengths of yarn.  I was startled to see Zario flying with about 12 inches of yarn one day, and, while circling the swing, wrapped it around his foot and tripped in mid flight.  I encourage the children along the lines of imitating more natural nesting materials.
Although Zeke is still the odd man out, he is allowed on the communal perch at night.  Things calmed down a little, minimal fighting between the boys, then...

Ruckus!  Fighting in the air! Screeching!  After watching them for a few minutes, I had a thought and forcibly removed Janie from her nest.  And there it was:  an egg!  That was in August.

It's been really interesting to get up every day and watch our birds.  The kids and I have learned more than we would every have known by reading a book on zebra finches.  And it's only the beginning!  After some 24 eggs that did not hatch (each clutch has 4-8 eggs that are incubated for 16 days before being ignored as defective) our last batch had one hatchling!  He or she is 9 days old, eats and sleeps around the clock and is still mostly naked and blind looking and growing in leaps and bounds.  Marya is also very busy with the baby.  She incubated when the parents couldn't, feeds the baby and sleeps in the nest as well.  A hybrid family...

To help out lonely Zeke, we added Snow White a few weeks ago.  She really had a rough time.  The other 2 women made her life hell.  I really should not have added a bird while there were eggs in the nest.  Zeke saw his opportunity, and in a few days, started enthusiastic nest building with Snow White, and they now have 4 eggs incubating (they look like duds, I'm now an expert!).

I may need a bigger cage.


  1. I love it! I am sitting here giggling. You made my day :-)

  2. LOL, I love zebras, but they can be nasty little things to each other!!!!! I hope all has worked out by now!

  3. Zebra Finches are astonishing, Its good see your love towards towards this wonderful breed.
    Marshalls Petzone is a online pet shop in India, it has a wide range of pet supplies.


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