Letter 12: Ruthless violence

Problem Dear Mr. Martin,
I am a 14 year old girl from the state of Louisiana in the United States. My name is Tori and I've owned and breed zebra finches for about 6 years. I started out with one male named Strapper and got him a female and named her Marilyn, (after Marliyn Monroe). I bred 5 birds in all from this pair. The first brood had 2 birds, but one died shortly after birth. The second brood had 3 birds and they all lived. I kept two of those three and gave the others away. The ones I gave away became class pets at my school.

I was left with Strapper, Marilyn, and Strapper Jr., Pretty. Strapper Jr. is male and Pretty is female, as you can guess. Anyway, eventually Strapper died and Marilyn was given to my friend who had a lonely male zebra finch. I just had Strapper Jr. and Pretty who are brother and sister. Just last year, around August, I got the urge for something different. I wanted a white zebra finch. I bought one, along with a regular male and put them in a cage beside Strapper Jr. and Pretty. I bought these new birds from the same cage so I didn't have to separate them and wait until they got used to each other before I put them in the same cage.

I named the male Jade and the white female Ivory. These two got along great for a while. Then they started fighting. It got worse and worse. Finally, I followed some advice I had gotten from the Internet and tried toys. It didn't work. Then I tried putting all 4 of the birds in one cage. It worked for about a month. Then all of them fought! I separated the pairs again and Jade and Ivory continued to fight. They had bad fights with feather plucking and everything.

Finally, I tried to switch pairs. I put Strapper Jr. with Ivory and Jade with Pretty. Strapper Jr. and Pretty tried their best to get to one another and Jade and Ivory tried to get to one another. It broke my heart. After about a month of this, I put them back in their original pairs.

Everything went well, for a while, then Jade and Ivory fought more. I tried putting all 4 birds together again. It has been that way for a while now, and still is. Just recently, Jade and Ivory started fighting again. Both of them have feathers missing and I think Ivory has even bled just a little. What am I supposed to do? These birds try to kill each other one minute, and the next minute they are contact sitting and grooming each other, and mating. What is the deal? What can I do to stop this fighting before they kill each other? Please help me!


Comment Dear Tori,
you may also have read or heard that white Zebra Finches tend to be difficult: These birds lack the crucial marks that distinguish males and females, which can lead to abnormal behaviour (or should I say: behaviour as abnormal as the lack of colour?) towards birds of the same species. However, the colour my be the trigger, but not the cause for the strife you describe.

You are talking about "cages". That seems to be the main problem. In the Australian Zebra Finches have no territories since they are mostly on the wing – they only have a small "nesting site territory" around their nest. So, there are no fatal quarrels among Zebra Finches in nature.

In captivity however, especially in small cages, Zebra Finches cannot avoid coming close both to other birds which do not like them and to nests owned by other Zebbies. The question therefore is: Can you afford a much much bigger cage, i. e. aviary? Please have a look at the readers' letters no. 10 and also 16 for further details.

Hans-Jürgen Martin

It is funny that you asked if I could give them a bigger space, because my mom and I have just decided to build them a large cage so they can get away from each other if they need to. I hope that will solve the problems. It won't be an avairy, just a very large cage. Also, I believe I'll get them a few more toys and maybe place a potted plant or two in the cage. What kind of potted plant would be suitable to put in there with the finches?

Thank you for your help and I hope to hear from you again, soon.

As for toys that people often give to budgerigars: these are not really useful. Natural branches and twigs (unsprayed, of course), sand, maybe a big rough stone for the toes and beak, and of course all kinds of nesting material are much better.

A potted plant is OK if you make sure

  1. the plant itself cannot harm the birds (try chickweed, dandelion, plantain);
  2. the soil is "clean" (no mould or harmful bacteria) right from the beginning;
  3. one plant is regularly replaced by another (at least a second) one;
  4. the topmost layer of soil is exchanged whenever a plant leaves the aviary to recover.

If you live in an area where you can always find fresh unpoisoned weeds, cultivating them in a pot doesn't really make sense, though. The real advantage of a potted plant seems to be that the birds can take some of the soil to profit from the minerals and source elements in it.

Hans-Jürgen Martin

Dear Mr. Martin,
My name is Tori. I wrote you a while back for advice on my fighting finches. You suggested to give them a bigger space, like an avairy. Since then, we've gotten them a huge cage with plenty of room to fly around in and we haven't had any problems with major fights since! Thank you!

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