How to Care for Zebra Finches

Zebra finches (Poephla guttata) are ideal for beginning bird-keepers as they are simple to care for and require a very low time commitment. Their name comes from the black and white markings on their tails and chests. If you decide to wind up with a flock, buy pairs of the different mutations so that you can easily tell the birds apart from one another.

Zebra Finches on a Branch

Availability, Size, and Lifespan of Zebra Finches

Zebra finches are popular due to their wide availability and affordable price. They are commonly found in local pet stores, bird rescues, adoption agencies, and bird breeders. Research a breeder’s reputation before adopting a pet from them. They can be found in a variety of color mutations. Depending on the color mutation, zebra finches may cost anywhere between $20 and $100. Finches only live around 5 to 10 years, although some can live as long as 15 years. They grow up to four inches long, making them one of the smaller finches.

Photo: Dave Brown. Take your partners: Dave has found time to run some zebras through the show cages 

Zebra Finch Caging

An aviary, or large flight cage, is ideal for zebra finches. Wires of the sides of the aviary should be about ¼ or ½ inch apart, or possibly smaller to prevent the finches from escaping. Zebra finches can squeeze through surprisingly small spaces. The height of the cage is not as important as its horizontal space. A pair of finches should be happy in a cage 30 inches long, 18 inches high, and 18 inches wide.

Long cages suit zebra finches better than round cages since the long cages give the finches more space to fly. Zebra finches are highly active as they fly and hop about, which is why they need so much space relative to their size. Place the cage in a quiet place, as finches don’t crave social interactions with people. Include a variety of perches, but make sure the cage is not overly cluttered so the finches cannot fly back and forth. Dowels in a few sizes and natural branches can be placed at various angles so that the finches aren’t gripping the perches the same way all the time.

Cage Cleaning

Clean the cage and its perches once a week with a bird-safe cleaner. Remove your finch to a secure, secondary area while you clean, as they can be frightened and stressed by it. Replace the substrate as often as needed. Replace furnishings and dishes when they wear out. If your finches interact with toys, rotate new toys into the habitat to keep your birds mentally engaged. They may enjoy small bells and hanging toys, although many finches don’t pay much attention to toys.

Avoid toys and furnishings that include zinc, lead, and lead-based paints, as they can cause medical problems if accidentally ingested. Protect the bottom of the cage with sand sheets or loose birdcage bedding. Loose bedding gives your finches something to shuffle around, much as they would in their natural habitat. However, finches can make more of a mess with loose bedding than with sand sheets.

Lighting and Temperature

Zebra finches can live in a range of temperatures, but keep them out of direct sunlight and drafty areas and away from air-conditioning and heat ducts. If you live in a warmer area, you can acclimate your birds to outdoor aviaries.


Zebra finches do well with pelleted diets designed for finches, supplemented with fresh vegetables, seed mix, and grubs. Acceptable vegetables include dandelion greens, kale, and fresh fruits. Some birds eat fruit, while others go for the seeds and leave behind the rest of the fruit. Avoid avocados, onion, and citrus fruits as they are toxic to many birds. Egg food, a supplement for birds, is also well-loved by finches. You can purchase commercial egg food or make it yourself at home. Popcorn Nutri-Berries and millet sprays make nutritious treats but should be offered sparingly.

Feed your birds one or two teaspoons of fresh, quality seed mix or pelleted food every day. Check that the seeds are fresh by sprouting some of the seeds. If the seed doesn’t sprout, they are too old to feed your birds. Place a food dish on the floor, away from the perches. Otherwise, attach a feeder to the side of the cage. Clean the food dish every day. Experiment with what foods you offer to see what your finches prefer and keep a wide variety. Provide cuttlebone pieces as a calcium supplement and as a tool for your birds to sharpen their beaks.

Water and Bathing

Keep filtered, chlorine-free, lukewarm water available several times a week for bathing. Remove the water once your bird is clean. Alternately, you can clean your birds by misting them with lukewarm water from a gentle houseplant sprayer. Remove any open water sources before night, as wet finches chill easily overnight. Always provide fresh drinking water.

Zebra Finch Handling

Zebra finches are not particularly trainable and generally don’t like to be handled. Occasional finches are hand raised, and they will be more comfortable interacting with people, perching on your hand or shoulder. Don’t force your finch to interact with you, as this will stress or frighten your bird. You may be able to coax your birds to eat from your hand, but not to perch on your hand. Be aware; if you have a male/female pair, they will probably breed prolifically! If you don’t want to care for new finches regularly, you can purchase a same-sex pair or group. Zebra finches should be kept in social pairs, and you can play the radio or talk to your birds to keep them company.

Zebra Finches. Copyright Shutterstock


Zebra finches have a sweet, inquisitive nature and are beautiful to watch with their bright colors and high activity. They are very social with other birds and are highly vocal. Their vocalizations are quiet chirps and trills, which are pleasant to hear.  Young finches learn songs from their parents and improvise changes. Some finch owners play music for their birds to inspire new calls.


Zebra finches can develop a scaly face, which is caused by skin mites. If you see white, scaly areas around the eyes, beak, and legs, take your finch to the vet. They also can contract air-sac mite infections, particularly when they are stressed. Air-sac mites are serious problems for finches and also require immediate medical care. Overgrown nails and beaks can be attended to by a vet or an experienced bird groomer. Regular trimmings help prevent injuries to your birds. If you notice your bird has breathing problems, take them to a vet immediately.

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