Black-Faced Zebra Finch



© 1977 Poule d'eau Publishing

This mutation is completely different from Black Breasted. For some reason the similarity of names, Black Breasted and Black-face has led to some confusion, and uncertainly among breeders who are unfamiliar with the two different varieties. However, Black Faced Zebras have the entire facial area and most of the breast and underparts black. The flanking is frequently nearly all chestnut red with few if any white dots. An extremely black form of this mutation is often referred to as the Black-bodied Zebra. It is not a separate mutation, only a very black Black-Face, with all black underparts. The name Black- bodied Zebra should be abandoned and not used as it implies a separate mutation exists.

This is one of the few mutations whos origin can be traced to a wild bird that was caught and brough in to captivity in Australia. Black-Face is a dominant mutation, however, in reality the mutation is incomplete dominant. For example, breeding two Black-Face birds together can still result in a large number of young which are normal and non Black-Face.

Not so long ago (in the 1970's) Black-Face Zebras were very rare in US collections, yet many people claim to have had them from time to time. I too had produced some of the mysterious zebras, which suddenly appear and then died out leaving no legacy. The phenomenon of the sudden appearance of Black-Face Zebras was too frequent to be overlooked and warrants an explanation. In some cases certain environmental or developmental factors cause a change in an individual bird so as to produce effects which are identical in appearance to similar effects that are influenced by genes. Such a condition which mimics a genetic form but in reality is not due to genetics, is called a phenocopy. The melanistic (black) phase often encountered in Zebra Finches is a phenocopy of the Black-Face mutation. Melanistic Zebras are virtually identical to the Black-Face mutation. If you saw them side by side you would not be able to distinguish them. However, the difference between them is that the Black-Face mutation is inheritable and the melanistic phase has no genetic basis, and is not inheritable. The melanistic Black-Face phase if often encountered on birds that are somewhat less than thrifty, but it can occur on nice healthy zebras. If this is the case, as they age, the black pigment often disappears after successive molts have occurred but it may be retained for a long time. I too experienced "false" Black-Face zebras many years before I obtained the real thing. The photographs I took of these melanistic birds are indeed identical to the Black-Face that I have today.

I find the Black-Face mutation difficult to work with, often with pairs giving unpredictable results. My experiences in breeding this Zebra have been slower and more time consuming than any other variety I have worked with. However the rewards can be well worth the efforts, Black-Face Zebras are very attractive birds and make excellent show birds. People are always attracted to them.

I have bred Black-Face for a number of years and still struggle to produce well marked birds. New birds that I recently acquired from Europe, are not only larger, but have some of the best black markings I have seen so far. Oddly enough, the bird pictured above is one of the first Black-Faced birds I ever produced some 20 years ago, and it is also one of the nicest Black-Face birds I ever produced. Below are some of the varieties of Black-Face Zebras that I have produced. ©