Letter 13: Murder?

Problem Hello. I am going into middle school soon and I have been raising Zebra finches since October '99. This letter is about an incident that occured several weeks before this letter is being typed. See, at the time, I had seven birds: two white males, three adult grey males, one young grey male, and one grey female (Mandy). My father said that he had found my female's mate (named Zebar) in the food bowl, dead. I have a feeling that it might be the older white male (Frostie) who killed him while they were feeding because he has been quite jealous lately because they each have had a turn to be parents. Now, one of Mandy's six-month-old chicks is her new mate, rather than Frostie! Do you think that he could have killed Zebar from jealousy, and is it okay that the female mates with one of her chicks? (I think she has two new mates, actually, both chicks from her first clutch). I'd really appriciate the help!

--Rebecca Shapey

Comment Hello Rebecca,
what you tell me there sounds like a model for a sex and crime movie classified "for adults only". Of course, I can't tell with absolute certainty if and (if yes) why Zebar died, I can only guess based on theoretical knowledge and long years of experience.

Judging from what people tell me by e-mail a lot more than what I know and have experienced seems to be possible. The question however always is: Have those Zebra Finch keepers really observed their birds closely and long enough, or have they made up their own stories when interpreting animal behaviour according to their knowledge of human behaviour? In the case of your birds:
– Have you really observed bitter fights going on?
– Does this female really mate with one of her own chicks?

A sudden death of a bird need not be the result of a fatal fight (which is very rare and can only happen in small cages), many reasons are possible. Even the white colour of a Zebra Finch may sometimes cause a problem.

As far as genetic health is concerned, it is, of course, not okay that the female mates with one of her chicks! Put the female into one aviary together with a male which is not related to her and which she seems to like most, and put the other birs into another big cage.

When remembering all the e-mails from German and English speaking bird keepers (only a minority of which have been published) I must say that a large aviary and a second big cage for the offspring are the keys to the solution of many of the problems I've heard about.

Wishing you good luck with Mandie ...

Hans-Jürgen Martin

Problem Thanks for your reply. So far, I haven't witnessed any serious fights, but some of my males often snap at each other's beaks. I wouldn't consider that a serious fight, but how do you think the chicks would turn out if the female mated with one of her six-month-old white chicks and another grey chick of the same age?

Comment You can never know! Often such chicks are or rather seem quite normal, but sometimes – and certainly more often than in cases of normal adults/pairs – they have some genetic defect, sometimes a minor one, sometimes a major one.

You can try to find that out, of course, but I wouldn't do that for the sake of the Zebra Finches. Bye,

Hans-Jürgen Martin

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