Zebra finches breed throughout the year, they do not wait for a particular season, although in the wild they seem to prefer to mate and make their nests after prolonged periods of heavy rain. The birds are capable of breeding from 3 months old but most experts would advise waiting until your birds are at least 9 months.
If your birds are not mating or laying eggs then check with a specialist to make sure that you are providing the correct diet - this can have a huge impact upon zebra finches health and condition, some breeders also recommend that the birds are moved into a light and airy position.
When you have chosen your breeding pair you can then place them together in a cage. If your birds are normally in an aviary then the space should be smaller than the usual environment in which they are kept. If your birds are normally kept separately in a cage then you will need to put them in a slightly larger cage that is bigger enough for the two birds and their nest.
A breeding pair of zebra finches will begin to use a nest very quickly and you may have eggs within two or three days. You should check the nest every day to make sure that the eggs have not been damaged, however be careful to train the birds to know that you will be approaching their cage, move slowly and careful in order not to scare them and make them too nervous to mate.
It is usual to have three eggs and the birds will start sitting on them when enough eggs have been laid. If there are more than five eggs then it is unlikely that they will hatch as the parent birds are too small to create enough heat, in this case it may be best to discard the eggs and allow the pair to start again.
It will take approximately two weeks for the eggs to hatch and the parent birds should be fed with a specialist feed at this time. You will be able to buy this from the pet shop and it should be given throughout the rearing period to ensure that both the parents and the new fledglings receive the necessary nutrients to ensure healthy growth and development. Occasionally parent birds will eat the eggs, this could be because they are not getting enough calcium in their diet or it could just be bad eating habits. The only solution is to remove the nest and wait a few weeks before trying again or to increase the calcium content of the food that you provide.
Identification rings are usually fitted at around 9 days and they will help when you come to sell your new birds or plan further breeding. Show birds will need to be ringed to prove their pedigree and other birds will need to be kept separate from their immediate siblings in any further breeding plans.
From this point onwards it is a good idea to leave the nest alone as much as possible, too much human interference may mean that the youngsters leave the nest early and will be much more vulnerable to underfeeding and ill health. Most young Zebra finches leave the nest at about three weeks and shortly after this will begin feeding on their own.
Once the young birds seem happy to be feeding and flying on their own (around 6 weeks) you should consider separating the parent birds from their young and placing them in their permanent cages or aviaries. Domestic zebra finches should not be given access to a nest all year round as this will encourage breeding. It is generally considered correct practice to allow the nesting and rearing of Zebra finches no more than 3 times a year, any more than this will result in exhaustion and early death.Finally – do not breed more zebra finches than you want or can give away! Some buyers will be using the small birds as food for their snakes and other reptiles, make sure that you know what will happen to your young birds.