Zebra Finch

by Alex Waterman
Science Center Volunteer

We have 4 zebra finches in the Science Center, two males and two females.
Because of the cheerful beeping noises that they make, we call them The Beeper Family.

Scientific name: Taeniopygia guttata

Habitat: Zebra finches inhabit a wide range of grasslands and forests, usually close to water. They're distributed over much of Australia and the Lesser Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara), which are northwest of Australia.

Diet: like most estrildid finches, they're primarily seed-eating birds, preferring millet, but they'll also eat egg food.

Life Cycle: The zebra finch can reach up to five years in its natural environment. If they are kept caged, they normally live for 5 to 9 years but may live as long as 12 years.

Activity: zebra finches are diurnal.

Other interesting facts:
  • It has two subspecies, the Teniopygia guttata guttata (Timor zebra finch) and the Taeniopygia guttata castanotis.
  • Their calls can be a loud beep, meep, oi! or a-ha! Their song is a few small beeps, leading up to a rhythmic song of varying complexity in males.
  • Each male's song is different, although birds of the same bloodline will exhibit similarities, and all finches will overlay their own uniqueness onto a common rhymic framework.
  • Sons generally learn the song of their fathers with little variation. Songs may change during puberty, but afterwards they are locked in for the life of the bird.
  • Scientific research at Japan's RIKEN institute has suggested that singing to females is an emotionally rewrding experience for male zebra finches.
  • Female zebra finches can't sing.
  • The male zebra finch produces estrogen, which is transformed into a testosterone-like hormone in the brain, which in turn leads to the development of the nervous system for a song system. Their songs begin as a few disjointed sounds, but as they experiment, they match what they sing to the memory of their fathers' song, and they rapidly mature into full-fledged songs.
zebra finch

Mr. Beeper, the Science Center's Male Zebra Finch
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