Feeding Zebra Finches

Feeding Zebra Finches
by Ellis W. Thornley

Feeding Seed: Zebras are primarily seedeaters, this being their basic diet. They are also known to spend a lot of time on the floor consuming a number of insects in picking over the soil.

The main seed that I use is the everyday garden variety of "panicum" or as it used to be called Hungarian millet. I supply a large dish full as a basic. To this I add a second dish of mixed seed: 10 parts red panicum, 10 parts Japanese millet, 5 parts white French millet, and 1 part canary. During the winter I increase the red panicum as they eat more of that at that time. Note: Young zebras when first weaned seem to consume lots of Japanese millet.

The White French I personally do not like as I feel that too much gives the birds loose droppings or scourers them out. Note: a lot of packaged seed is a base of white French millet.

As for Canary seed, zebras do not eat a lot of it and in fact generally push it aside to gain access to the other seeds. I've known breeders who are serious exhibitors to gradually change "grey" birds over to canary only. The reason seems to be that the oil content of the seeds makes the feathers shiny and darker. I have tried this and it works, it does not make the bird any healthier or a better bird, but great for showing.



The black seeds such as Niger, Rape and Maw I have tried (I even gave Linseed a go), and are just a waste as they do not appear to touch them.

It's been said that Zebras can be "shown the way", but from observation when in a mixed collection, they still do not touch those seeds. I have even tried lettuce seed. Again, none was eaten.

Therefore, I am convinced that if you just feed them yellow panicum they will be just as happy and healthy.

Feeding Greens: There are many plants that come under the heading of greens. Just about anything that grows in your garden can be thrown onto the aviary floor for the birds to pick over.

Over the year I have used: spinach, lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. All of these plants should be home grown as these days growers use large amounts of insecticides, some of the newer ones go into the ground and are taken up by the stalks and leaves and can cause a sickness in a small bird.

They will consume large amounts of spinach or silver beet if picked fresh, stalks and all. Lettuce becomes riddled as they pick small pieces out. Cabbage and broccoli are only eaten if there is nothing else around.

Naturally, all seeding grasses, except the sticky types can be gathered from around the countryside. DO NOT pick anything from the side of the road, as councils are always spraying weedkillers.

Throughout the winter, one can always find chickweed. Just about anyone who has a vegetable garden has chickweed.

Feeding Live Food: That is up to you. White ants and mealworms will be eaten if birds have young and some will even take them out of your hand. I do believe that it puts size into your young birds but it's not necessary as the difference is not that great. If you use live food do not feed too much as it leads to "wet" nests and dirty birds.

Feeding Extras and Additives: Egg and biscuit mix is favored and they will consume large quantities if allowed. I have crushed dog and cat biscuits and also used chicken crumbs, but just wasted effort as very little was consumed. I did not notice any improvement in my birds anyway.

A mixture I use when the birds have young is as follows:

  • 400gm Egg and Biscuit mix
  • 200gm Farex (baby cereal) brand name
  • 200gm Ceravite (cereal) brand name
  • 20gm Powdered Milk

Mix and place in a screw top jar, use a little, fresh each day to those birds with young, after 3 weeks wean them off it. It gives the young a good start and they do not seem to have difficulty with hard seed.

A block of Madeira cake is always picked over if offered, no matter how dry it becomes. Some breeders make up their own cakes consisting of all kinds of ingredients.

The birds also have access to a piece of rock salt and usually a piece of horse lick brick, from which they get most of their minerals. It's possible to buy a mineral supplement in powder form that can be sprinkled over other foods (eg: seed, egg and biscuit, etc.) if desired.

Naturally there must always be available shell-grit and cuttlefish bone. There has been a lot written about the benefits of shell-grit if any, all I know is that a lot is eaten and as for cuttlefish they cannot get enough of it.

I have noticed that they pick over charcoal, so make some or go to the local pet store and buy charcoal used in fish filters.

Last but not least, the common eggshell. All mine go through the microwave and are cooked until very dry. They are then thrown on the bottom of the cage or aviary. Before you move away you can hear the birds cracking the shell apart. It is much appreciated.

Water must be available at all times, although they will exist without it for a day. Some reports say they will do without water for a week, but I don't wish to prove that.

I use ABIDEC and PETAVITE drops (brand names once a month to ensure the birds get their vitamins. This is put into the water over two days to make sure that they drink it. Mainly used for those birds that are kept in cabinets and don't get that extra fresh air and sun.

Feed Containers - Aviary: Kitty litter tray, that is used to hold up to four Chinese food containers full of various seeds. All split seed is held in the kitty litter tray and not all over the floor and after blowing away the husks the saved seed can be replaced in the container. Another useful tray, the base of a clothes basket after it has been used and started to break up on the sides. Never waste any container after all it saves money.

Other Containers: I use the various sized ice cream containers, 1 and 2 litre square types, the round ones tip over. Cut the sides to a depth of 5Cm. All plastic containers can be cleaned with boiling water.







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