Although the zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata, has been a very important model system for the study of intrafamilial conflict and parental strategies, a detailed understanding of the variation in parental effort that can occur both within and between pairs is lacking. In part this is because many different methods have been used by individual studies to quantify parental care (i.e. nest visit rate, time in the nest and number of feeds per visit), but these have not directly been compared. We used nestbox cameras to monitor parental visit rate and the distribution of food among the nestlings in domestic, captive wild and wild free-living zebra finches. The percentage of nest visits by parents in which they fed the nestlings was consistent, with multiple feeds to different nestlings occurring within a single visit. The quantity of food delivered and its distribution among the nestlings, however, varied greatly both within and between broods. The number of regurgitations a brood received correlated significantly with the number of individual feeds when accounting for environment, but not with nest visit rate or the duration of time parents spent in the nestbox. In captive conditions, parents visited the nest at twice the rate of wild free-living birds, overall providing nestlings with twice the amount of food. Captive conditions also led to food distribution becoming less equitable among the brood, owing to changes in the number of regurgitations per individual feed and the number of overall feeds per nest visit.