The Beginner’s Guide to Looking After Zebra Finches

Zebra finches can make wonderful pets, being sweet-tempered, ornately-patterned and highly active. Their call is little more than a happy “chirp” and they will readily socialize with a wide range of other birds, such as budgies and cockatiels. In short, these are sociable and inquisitive little birds which seem to bring a smile to every face.

zebra finch photo
Photo by Aero Pixels

Zebra finches are small birds that occur naturally in the wilds of Australia. Indeed, they’re often found in flocks, flying alongside wild budgerigars. They naturally feed mainly on grass seed, moving across the dry outback, looking for fresh seed to enjoy.


As with so many other domesticated pets, breeders have selectively bred zebra finches over the years to produce a dizzying array of different colour forms. To many, though, the classic “wild type” is still the best of all.

zebra finch photo
Photo by MunstiSue

At its most basic, a zebra finch is a small grey bird with red/orange legs and bill. They are perhaps most notable for the black “tear drops” found beneath the eye.

While the female is reasonably drab, the males can be positively resplendent with bright orange cheek patches and attracting barring across the chest. Often the bill will also be a much deeper shade of red than seen in the females.

On average zebra finches will live to around five years in captivity.

Housing Zebra Finches

zebra finch photo
Photo by quinet

There are two different ways to house zebra finches; in aviaries or in a cage.

Wondering how to keep zebra finches? These stunning little birds are easy to keep as pets when you follow these simple steps to success...Of course, an aviary provides the best accommodation, allowing them to behave far more naturally.

All the same, many people successfully keep “zebbies” as they’re often known in cages within the home.

If you are to do this then it is important to appreciate that these are birds that tend to fly and hop about all day long; they tend to be far more active than many other popular cage birds.

As a result, despite their diminutive size, they ideally require a good-sized cage.

Long cages are far more appropriate than round cages, allowing them to flap from one end of the cage to the other.

At the same time, keepers should be careful to ensure the bars of the cage are close enough together to prevent escape; zebbies can squeeze through surprisingly small gaps!

Many larger cages are designed more for cockatiels and the like, so be certain to choose one specifically designed for finches.

The base of the cage should be protected, either with loose cage bird sand or sand sheets. In truth, loose sand represents the kinder option, as the birds can scuffle around in it like they would in the Australian outback. At the same time, this can create a surprising amount of mess and dust, as the sand is tossed out of the cage during normal daily activity. For this reason, some keepers opt for the rather more clinical (but cleaner) sand sheet.

Feeding Zebra Finches

zebra finch photo
Photo by Jim Bendon

Zebra finches do best on a base diet of seeds. Most pet shops sell a special “finch mix” which tends to be the best option.

Alongside this seed, a drinker of fresh water (changed at least once a day) should be available at all times. A small pot of grit should also be available, in order to help your birds grind down the seed in their gizzards, as should a cuttlefish bone as a source of essential calcium.

This basic diet can then be supplemented with a whole range of additional goodies. Most fruits and vegetables are perfectly suitable, though avoid lettuce, avocado, rhubarb, onions and citrus fruits which can be toxic. Millet sprays can be purchased from pet shops and represent another exciting treat.

General Care Advice

zebra finch photo
Photo by Darling Starlings Flying the Nest

Zebra finches are sociable birds, so it is unkind to keep one on their own. They will readily accept other zebbies, and there are no issues with mixed or same-sex groups. Therefore, be sure to purchase at least two zebbies to live together and keep one another company.

Like most cage birds, zebra finches also appreciate a regular bath to keep their feathers in tip-top condition. There are a number of ways this can be provided. Firstly, a saucer of water can be placed into the cage, or a large clip-on water bowl can be used for the same purpose. Alternatively, the birds may be gently sprayed with a houseplant spray gun using tepid tap water.

Either way, be sure to remove any open water long before dark, allowing your birds time to dry out and warm up before they start their evening roost. A wet bird can easily chill over night.

Lastly please be aware that zebra finches tend not to tame down, as would a budgie or lovebird. They are almost entirely birds to enjoy from a distance, and won’t learn to sit on your finger, come when called or to mimic the human voice.

Therefore if you’re looking for a pet bird to build a relationship with then an alternative species may be more appropriate.