Abstract Young male zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, reared by their mothers alone showed no preference between males with red and with light-green colour rings in their choice of song tutor. Behavioural observations showed that the tutee associated more with the adult from which it was subsequently found to have learnt. In a second experiment, birds reared by both parents wearing either light-blue or light-green colour rings and then given a choice of tutors wearing these ring combinations also showed no preference between them. These young males did, however, more often approach the tutor ringed as their parents had been. This may explain why they did not show more interest in the tutor whose song they learnt. The majority of the tutors were used twice, with the ring colour swapped before they were used the second time. There was a strong tendency for the same male to be copied by the two young birds exposed to him. This could not be attributed to a difference in song rate between the two tutors. Further work will be required to discover the basis of that individual’s greater attractiveness.