Taeniopygia guttatazebra finch

Geographic Range

Zebra finches are native to Australia and inhabit most regions of the continent. They have become naturalized in parts of Indonesia and occur in captivity as domesticated animals throughout much of the world. ("Taeniopygia guttata", 2006; Fischer, 1997; "Taeniopygia guttata", 2006; Slater, et al., 1993)

Habitat

Zebra finches live exclusively in savanna and subtropical dry habitats, specifically in broad expanses of non-vegetated terrain or areas with scattered shrubs and small trees. They have, however, adapted to many human disturbances, including water holes and land that has been cleared of vegetation for commercial purposes. Zebra finches are also widely domesticated and are frequently kept in captivity by humans. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; "Taeniopygia guttata", 2006; Slater, et al., 1993)

Physical Description

Zebra finches are relatively small, with a length of only 10 to 11 cm and a mass of about 12 grams. They are said to be dimorphic because male and female birds differ in coloration. Males are more distinctly marked, with gray heads and backs, striped white and black tails, striped throats, and patches of orange on the cheeks. They also have a spotted chestnut coloration to their sides. The females are less distinctive, having only gray coloration on the entire body. Beaks of zebra finches also vary according to sex. Males tend to have a red colored beak, whereas the beaks of females are orange in color. The eyes of wild finches are also red. Before reaching maturity, young finches often look like females but with a black beak. Dimorphic coloration appears by the time these finches are 90 days old. ("Zebra Finch - Taeniopygia guttata castanotis", 2005; Vriends, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    12 g
    0.42 oz
  • Average mass
    12 g
    0.42 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    10 to 11 cm
    3.94 to 4.33 in

Reproduction

The breeding season for zebra finches is variable. They can mate at any time of the year following substantial amounts of rainfall. Zebra finches are monogamous and pair bond for life. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Vriends, 1997)

The songs of the finches play an important role in the mating process. Females do not sing, but males have a truly original song, incorporating sounds of their relatives and their surroundings into their tunes. They also produce a hissing noise when protecting their territory and mates. Along with song, males also perform a courtship dance as part of the mating ritual. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Vriends, 1997)

An increase in the gathering of materials and resources to build nests can indicate the time of mating. Nests are usually built of grasses and lined with feathers or even wool. They can be found in many different places ranging from trees, bushes, and animal burrows, to cavities and ledges of commercial buildings. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Vriends, 1997)

Although zebra finches are monogamous and maintain a pair bond for life, DNA fingerprinting shows that infidelity often occurs within the species. DNA fingerprinting is a method used to determine the biological mother and father of an offspring. Both male and female finches engage in extra-pair mating. (Symanski, 2000)

Breeding flocks contain approximately 50 finches, whereas non-breeding flocks are about twice the size. Since finches breed after large amounts of rainfall, the breeding season is not specific, but once they breed, nest building will begin about a week before laying starts. During the period of nest construction, the pair will spend the nights in the nest together. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Austad, 1997; Vriends, 1997)

The average number off eggs in one laying may be from four to six over a period of a few days. Both males and females incubate the eggs until hatching, which occurs after about two weeks, according to laying time of each egg. During this time, males are extremely protective of females and will not allow any intruders near the nest. After hatching, both parents take turns sitting on the nest and gathering food for the young. After about three weeks, the chicks are able to leave the nest and often perch with the parents, but often return to the nest at night. Approximately two weeks after fledging, the chicks will become independent of the parents. At this time, many parent finches may be ready to rear another clutch of eggs. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Austad, 1997; Vriends, 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Zebra finches breed after periods of heavy rainfall, at any time of the year.
  • Breeding season
    Zebra finches can breed continuously as long as conditions are appropriate, with each clutch taking approximately 2 months to rear.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 6
  • Average time to hatching
    2 weeks
  • Average fledging age
    3 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    5 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2.5 to 3 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2.5 to 3 months

Both males and females invest a large amount of time in parental care. During the period of nest construction, both sexes contribute to gathering materials, but focus their individual building efforts on different areas. While males focus on gathering most of the materials and general construction of the nest, females focus on the inner nest architecture. Once the eggs are produced, most incubation is carried out by females, while males protect the nest. Both sexes, however, stay in the nest at night. Once the eggs hatch, females primarily incubate and brood the young, but males gather most of the food. (Vriends, 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The expected lifespan of zebra finches in the wild is 2 to 3 years depending on availability of resources and presence or absence of desired living conditions. The expected lifespan in captivity, on the other hand, is 5 to 7 years. (Austad, 1997; "CNC Animals", 2006)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    4.5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 3 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5 to 7 years

Behavior

Zebra finches are sedentary and diurnal. Zebra finches are very social, living in flocks of around 100 individuals. During breeding, however, large groups break into smaller ones of approximately 50 individuals. These smaller groups remain in contact with each other. Zebra finches recognize members of their group by their songs, allowing friendly members to visit their nesting sites and chasing away members of foreign groups. Although zebra finches often travel over large distances in search of food and resources, their defended territory is relatively small, restricted to the area directly surrounding the nest site. Social dominance hierarchies are often established after the introduction of females to the group. Appearance does not seem to be a factor determining the basis for the dominance in social groups. (Fischer, 1997; Swaddle, 1996; Vriends, 1997)

Home Range

Zebra finches often forage in groups, flying to feeding grounds. (Vriends, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Zebra finches use vocalization and body movement to communicate. They are well known for their complex and unique songs. Individual finches sing alone and in groups. Zebra finches use a variety of calls to communicate with others in their group. Male mating calls are often described as soft and trilling, whereas warning calls are said to be more urgent and powerful. These latter calls are used when dangers are perceived near the nesting territory. Both sexes produce a nasal 'tang' call but male zebra finches use more vocal communication than do females. The chicks also produce a chirping and scratching noise to stimulate the feeding response of the parents. (Loftfield, 2000; Slater, et al., 1993; Vriends, 1997)

Food Habits

Zebra finches eat primarily various types of seeds. Their beaks are well adapted for dehusking seeds. Although they prefer a diet of seeds, they also eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and live food such as insects. A diet that varies in nutritional content is important for the overall health and well being of a finch. Eating insects during breeding is especially important to ensure healthy young. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Fischer, 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Many small mammals are common predators of zebra finch eggs. In their native habitats it is likely that they are preyed on by small dasyurids, birds of prey, and snakes. Outside of their native range they are also preyed on by mice. (Maier and Degraaf, 2001; Maier and Degraaf, 2001)

Ecosystem Roles

Zebra finches perform a minor role as seed dispersers in the ecosystems they inhabit and act as prey for small predators. (Vriends, 1997)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Red mites (Dermanyssus avium)
  • feather mites (Acari)
  • feather lice (Anoplura)
  • shaft mites (Acari)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Zebra finches are widely domesticated around the world. They can be tamed from a young age and become familiar with humans, sometimes even eating directly from the hand. Zebra finches are desired for their sociable behavior, beautiful songs, and colorful markings. Zebra finches are also important model organisms for studying pair bonds, mate choice, and the complex song structures of birds. They are also desirable study organisms because of their rapid and reliable breeding. ("Zebra Finch", 2006; Crook, 1970; "Zebra Finch", 2006; Crook, 1970)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Zebra finches may be considered pests when nests are built on commercial structures or other buildings. ("Zebra Finch", 2006)

Conservation Status

Zebra finches are described as abundant and populations are not declining. Consequently, this species is listed by the IUCN as of least concern of becoming threatened or endangered. ("Taeniopygia guttata", 2006)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Rossi White (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

choruses

to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Cayuga Nature Center. 2006. "CNC Animals" (On-line). Accessed November 11, 2006 at http://www.cayuganaturecenter.org/animals/animal_choices.html.

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2006. "Taeniopygia guttata" (On-line). Accessed October 14, 2006 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/53323/all.

Roy Beckham/eFinch.com. 2005. "Zebra Finch - Taeniopygia guttata castanotis" (On-line). Accessed October 13, 2006 at http://www.efinch.com/species/zebra.htm.

2006. "Zebra Finch" (On-line). Accessed October 14, 2006 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zebra_finch.

Austad, S. 1997. Birds as models of aging in biomedical research. ILAR Journal Online, 38 (3): 137-141. Accessed November 11, 2006 at http://dels.nas.edu/ilar_n/ilarjournal/38_3/38_3Birds.shtml.

Crook, J. 1970. Social Behaviour in Birds and Mammals. New York: Academic Press Inc.

Fischer, R. 1997. Guide to Owning a Zebra Finch. New Jersey: T.F.H. Publications Inc.

Loftfield, E. 2000. "Vocal Communication" (On-line). Accessed October 16, 2006 at http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/bionb424/students2004/el92/behvior.htm.

Maier, T., R. Degraaf. 2001. Differences in depredation by small predators limit the use of plasticine and zebra finch eggs in artificial nest studies. The Condor, 103 (1): 180-183. Accessed November 12, 2006 at http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1650%2F0010-5422(2001)103%5B0180%3ADIDBSP%5D2.0.CO%3B2.

Slater, P., P. Slater, R. Slater. 1993. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Sydney: Lansdowne.

Swaddle, J. 1996. Reproductive success and symmetry in zebra finches. Animal Behavior, 51: 203-210. Accessed November 12, 2006 at http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:CiFDUzkNxTEJ:jpswad.people.wm.edu/Zebaviary.pdf+social+dominance+in+zebra+finches&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1.

Symanski, R. 2000. Black-Hearts: Ecology in Outback Australia. Michigan: Sheridan Books.

Vriends, M. 1997. The Zebra Finch. New York: Howell Book House.