The size and composition of social groups in the wild zebra finch

Luke S C McCowan*, Mylene M. Mariette, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    Despite the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) being used as a model species in behavioural science, the size and composition of social groups in which individuals typically live in the wild when they are not breeding is not well described. We observed the group size and composition of free-ranging zebra finches during two brief non-breeding periods near semipermanent water sources in the arid zone of Australia. We conducted 15 observation sessions at two artificial dams during late 2011, and five transects in April 2012. We found that individuals most commonly foraged, watered and travelled around the colonies in groups of two, the overwhelming majority of which (94.2%) were mixed-sex, which most likely reflected sexual partnerships, or in larger groups of 3-10 individuals, with few observations of groups larger than this observed. These observations indicate the central importance of the pair bond, even during periods outside of active breeding. We also saw very few single-sex groups, in contrast to the way in which they are often housed in captivity. Our results suggest that researchers working on captive zebra finches should attempt to keep individuals in pairs or small social groups to best emulate the social environment they generally experience in the wild.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)191-198
    Number of pages8
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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