rand avicultural society
conservation through aviculture
Bengalise and Zebra Finches
Ideal for Beginners by Gordon M Duncan©


The Zebra Finch (Poephila guttata) from Australia and the Bengalise (Lonchura domestica) from the Far East are absolutely ideal birds for anybody who wants to try his hand at keeping and breeding small birds. These tiny little birds (about 11cm from the point of their beak to the tip of their tail) are available in a big selection of colour forms. The Bengalise can only be sexed by their behaviour, but the zebra finch is easily sexed, only the pure white may be difficult for the beginner to sex. In all the other forms, the male has orange cheek patches, absent in the female.


Zebra finches and Bengalise will live and breed happily in an ornamental cage in the living room, a standard double breeding cage, an indoor aviary or a planted garden aviary.

The only requirements are that they should be sheltered from draughts, get a little morning sun (never full sun without shade!) and be at least 60cm long by 30cm high and wide. Use natural twigs as perches. The varying thickness will prevent the birds from suffering stiff feet. Position the cage about 1.2m above floor level where you can enjoy the birds. Not in the kitchen, steam and heat are bad!

OUTDOOR AVIARY: Any size and shape will do, as long as it offers sufficient sunshine in winter, shelter from the rain and, very important, shelter from cold winds. Plant the aviary with non-poisonous plants, decorate it with an ornamental bird bath, use natural branches as perches and you will have a thing of beauty. Ready-made aviaries can be bought.


Most pet shops and bird farms stock Zebra finches and Bengalise. Good stock can also be located via bird clubs direct from the breeder. Always buy a pair or small group, never a single bird. In a cage, one pair is a rule. In a large aviary many pairs can live together in harmony.


These birds are basically seedeaters but the extras make the difference between existing and living. Their diet should consist of:

Good mixed wild birdseed of millets.

Sold in dry powder form and only requires moistening. Offer a teaspoonful daily in a small dish when not breeding, and as much as they will take when there are babies in the nest.

A slice of fresh apple or pear once a week and parsley, lettuce, spinach or carrot tops fixed to the bars of the cage every day.

Always have a small dish of grit, available from your pet shop, in the cage.

CUTTLEBONE: Attach a small piece of cuttlebone to the bars with a clothes peg.

Clean water, changed every day, must always be available for both drinking and bathing. With food and water cleanliness is essential. ALWAYS wash the food and water dishes every day before offering fresh supplies. Lack of hygiene kills birds!

Zebra Finches and Bengalise should always be provided with a small nest box or wicker basket. Even when not breeding they will sleep in their nest. Hang the nest securely in a sheltered position in the cage or aviary, where it is not exposed to the weather and where they will have some privacy.

Fill the box or basket ®¯ full with soft grass and provide soft, dry grass (long lawn clippings, dried in the sun are fine) for building the nest. Small feathers or commercial canary nesting material are both good for the lining. They will soon build a neat little nest in their box or basket.

As long as you have a true pair and they are well fed and healthy, you can confidently look forward to eggs. They should lay from 3–6 eggs which will hatch in 12-13 days. It is now essential that you keep up a steady supply of fresh soft food for the babies.

Within about three weeks the chicks should leave the nest, becoming independent within another two weeks. At this stage you should remove them to their own cage, as their parents will want to start a new family. In an outside aviary they can stay together as long as there are enough nest boxes to go around.

If you wish to meet others who enjoy the hobby as much as you do then it is advisable to join a club.

The members of the Rand Avicultural Society meet at the Honeydew Country club Tennis club section, No 1 Boundary Rd Honeydew, Johannesburg on the LAST TUESDAY OF EVERY MONTH, except December.

If you wish to find out more about the club then click back to RAS introduction page.


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