Keeping zebra finches

12 October 2010

French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot first solo exhibition in the UK at the Barbican, takes the form of a walk-though aviary for a flock of 40 zebra finches, furnished with bass guitars and Gibson Les Paul electric guitars as perches, and cymbals as feeders containing water and seeds. As the birds go about their routine activities, plucking strings and pecking cymbals, perching on or feeding from the various pieces of equipment, they create a random and captivating live soundscape.

The above exhibition and the fact that finches played an important role in the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, inspired me to get my own finches.

I’ve had two male zebra finches since April 2010. They sit in their cage in my bedroom and are let out to investigate about 4 times a week, so much so that they have commandeered my bedroom light as their own. They regularly perch on my bedroom light and try to make a nest using torn up strips of newspaper from their cage- so far they have failed miserably. They also like to have a game of dares where each bird will fly as close to the window as possible (without hitting it) and fly back to the light… they also like to have flying routines or patterns where they fly from a light to the top of the wardrobe to my dressing table and then to the clock- starting again, whilst racing each other and knocking things over.

These birds are originally from central Australia and make the sound of a squeaky toy, so make a perfectly annoying alarm clock as soon as the sun comes up.

They are fascinating to watch and their calls are very infectious, often with friends repeating a song back to them. Finches find it emotionally rewarding to sing to female finches. After I purchased these two finches (still nameless but with many suggestions- daffy and squeak being amongst the list), I went back to the pet shop to record the remaining finches- which just happened to be two female finches. I played the recording back to the male finches to see what there reaction would be and to see if they would sing back to the recording.

Im not sure if I will ever know if this was an emotionally rewarding experience for the finches or just a form of torture? However, since the recordings were played to the finches they have been preparing the house that they sleep in at night by tearing newspaper and making a comfortable nesting area. The two males have also established their position- with one as the ‘hunter- gatherer’, in this case the one that tears the newspaper and makes the nest and gets to eat first and the other which also happens to be slightly smaller in size has taken on the less dominant role, spending his time close to the house/nest and following the dominant male when let out of the cage.

I will document their behaviour via video, photography and sound recordings.

Lucy Stevens’ artistic practice examines the acoustic ecology of the natural environment, using field recording, digital illustration, performance and printmaking as a tool to visualise sound produced by wildlife, weather and other natural phenomena.

1 comment on “Keeping zebra finches

  1. Congrats you’ve earned my respect

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