Gouldian & Australian Finch Diet & Seed Mixtures

The Right Nutrition at the Right Time

For the Gouldian Finch, and many other Australian Finches, the availability of food in their natural environment varies and changes throughout the year. But what sort of a role does this play in the birds’ lifecycle?

In the birds’ natural environment of Australia there are only two seasons, the “wet” & “dry” seasons. The change in length of daylight swings only by a couple of hours between these two seasons, therefore it is the availability of nutrition that is the primary factor in determining when physiological changes should occur in the birds’ bodies. Not the availability of daylight and/or temperature changes, which is one of the primary factors for many species of European birds. What effect does this have on the birds?

The availability of food and food types will act as a trigger for the finch, telling the bird when it’s time to breed, when it is time to moult and when it is time to rest before the breeding season. Although placing your birds on a good quality seed mixture all year round can give them an adequate level of nutrition, it does not harmonise with the birds’ natural bio-rhythms that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to suit their natural habitat. As a consequence, incorrect diet, or even the correct diet but at the wrong time, can and will often contribute to poor breeding results which can include infertility problems, parents not sitting on eggs, and chicks being thrown out of the nest. There are also some health related issues that can occur in birds that are not on a diet which harmonises their bio-rhythms such as “stuck in the moult” where a Gouldian can begin to show signs of varying degrees of baldness due to its body being out of hormonal balance with the correct stage of its natural life-cycle.

Image result for bald gouldian

Mimicking Mother-Nature

When it comes to selecting the correct diet for our birds, I believe in mimicking Mother-Nature as closely as possible. It is through this understanding, and largely through the many years of research carried out by scientists in Australia who have been studying the wild bird’s nutritional requirements, that we have come to understand the diet of finches changes and varies throughout the year depending on what is naturally available throughout the different stages of the seasons. The wild finch already has an advantage over our captive bird, for their bio-rhythms harmonise naturally with the changes in food availability at different stages of the seasons. However, our captive bird’s bio-rhythms are completely dependent on what we feed them, therefore to get the most out of our captive birds we have to play the role of Mother Nature and guide the necessary physiological changes that need to occur in our bird’s bodies (moulting, resting & breeding) by controlling their diets for the correct stage of their yearly life-cycle. It is with all this in mind that we have based the formulation of our x3 different Gouldian and Australian seed mixtures upon. Included in the seed mixes are a selection of Australian grown seeds now available in Europe for the first time. They include, “Phalaris”, “Signal Grass” and “Silk Sorghum.” Wild Sorghum grass seeds form the main part of the wild Gouldian finches’ staple diet.

 

Gouldian & Australian Finch Austerity Seed Mixture

Ingredients: White Millet & Ryegrass Seed.

When do you feed it?

The Austerity diet begins after the Maintenance diet has ended and is fed for a total of 4 weeks only, after which the Breeding diet begins. This is Austerity period is known as the “pre-breeding Austerity Diet”

The Austerity diet can also be fed for a total of 2 weeks after the Breeding diet has ended. The sudden change in food will help trigger the moult once breeding has finished. This is known as the “pre-moulting Austerity Diet” and assists in keeping all the birds life-cycles synchronised. After the 2 week period has finished, the birds should be placed back on to the highly nutritional Breeding diet to assists them in getting through the moult. The moult is a stressful phase of a bird’s lifecycle, up to 80% of its feathers can moult into new feathers in as little as six weeks.

What else can you feed your birds during the Austerity diet?

No supplements should be offered during an Austerity phase of the bird’s life-cycle. Only fresh clean water and the Austerity Seed mixture should be offered during this time.

Gouldian & Australian Finch Breeding Seed Mixture

Ingredients: Canary Seed, Red Panicum, White Millet, Silk Sorghum, Japanese Millet, Yellow Panicum, Ryegrass Seed, Yellow Millet, Signal Grass, Pinhead Oatmeal, Phalaris, Hemp Seed, White Lettuce, Black Lettuce & Cocksfoot Grass seed (Knaulgras).

When do you feed it?

The Breeding diet begins after the 4 week Austerity diet period has ended. After 4-6 weeks of being fed the Breeding diet the birds are ready for pairing. The Breeding diet is fed for the duration of the breeding season, a further 5 months. (6 months in total). Once the breeding season has finished it is time to separate the youngsters from the parents. The juvenile birds should be kept on the breeding diet until they are fully moulted. Separating the parents into same sexed flights and placing them on an Austerity diet for 2 weeks will assist in inducing the moult. The first few pinhead feathers should now be noticeable on the birds’ bodies, place them back onto a full breeding diet for a further 6 weeks to assist them through the moult. Once they have moulted they are ready to move onto the maintenance diet.

What else can you feed your birds during the Breeding diet?

For best breeding results we recommend offering sprouted seed and/or fresh green millet daily, along with the scientifically formulated naturally for birds “Prima” and “Micro-nutrients” complete-food supplements. These can be offed separately or mixed with an egg/soft food. Oyster-shell is also recommended to be available daily for laying hens. My birds are also keen on Sam1's Thrive on omega3 as an additional treat.

Gouldian & Australian Finch Maintenance Seed Mixture

Ingredients: Red Panicum, White Millet, Canary Seed, Silk Sorghum, Japanese Millet, Yellow Panicum, Ryegrass Seed, Yellow Millet & Signal Grass.

When do you feed it?

The Maintenance diet begins after the birds’ have moulted and finished the breeding diet that sees them through the moult. The Maintenance diet is fed for 3 months. After 3 months of the maintenance diet the birds’ are ready to begin the pre-breeding Austerity Diet.

What else can you feed your birds during the maintenance diet?

During the first of the 3 months, supplements should be available every other day only. During the second month supplements should only be offered twice a week. And during the final month offer supplements just once a week. This allows for a smooth transition into the next phase of the bird's life-cycle which is the Austerity Period. Supplements that can be offered during the maintenance diet include the naturally for birds “Prima” and “Micro-nutrients” complete-foods. These can be offed separately or mixed with an egg/soft food. Oyster-shell is also recommended.

Image result for wild gouldians eating

All the above seed mixtures and the naturally for birds supplements are available from our online store and are available for shipping throughout the U.K and EU.

Peter Hindle  supplies our seed mixes and the Naturally for Birds supplements for the South West of the U.K.

Our seeds will soon be available from Sam1 Bird Products http://www.sam1birdproducts.co.uk/ for the Midlands. The Naturally for Birds range of supplements are also available from Sam1.

For those outside of the EU and in the USA, our Seed Mixtures will soon be available via Terri through the online store and shop "Glamorous Gouldains" http://www.glamgouldians.com/index.php Glamorous Gouldians also stock the full Naturally For Birds range.

 

By Paul Bancroft

Planet Aviary


COMPETITION: Help us name different flocks of birds & win a prize (Click to find out how)

A Parliament of Owls, A Gaggle of Geese, A Murder of Crows & A Charm of Finches. These are some of the names given to a grouping of animal species, while some of these well known, some are not so well known such as a “Bellowing of Bullfinches” or a “Cast of Falcons.” There are also some species of animals/birds that have yet to be given a “Grouping” name, such as Budgies, Canaries & many species of Waxbills and other finches …. That’s where you come in!! We want you to help us name 10 species of birds without a group name and we will be giving away prizes for the winners.

Here is what we are giving away:

1st Place £25 Planet Aviary Voucher

2nd Place £20 Planet Aviary Voucher

3rd Pace £15 Planet Aviary Voucher

4th-10th Place £10 Planet Aviary Voucher

Image result for competition birds

 

How do I enter?

Easy!

Step 1: “Like” our “Planet Aviary” Facebook page if you haven’t done so already.

Step 2: “Like” The “Naturally for Birds” Facebook page if you haven’ t done so already.

Step 3: This does not apply to existing customers (anyone who has ordered at least once with us) or anyone who has already registered a Planet Aviary account with us. For those of you who haven’t then simply share the competition link to your timeline or in a group. If you wish to share the competition to a group then please make sure that this is okay with the group before you share and only x1 share per group, so please make sure no one else has already shared the competition to the group.

To win any prizes in the competition you need to be from a country that we can ship to, this includes the U.K and Europe, sorry everybody else that this excludes.

 

What are the rules?

Simple! Only one entry per species of bird from our list of 10… This means you have up to 10 chances of winning so start getting creative! The competition ends 3pm Tuesday 4th July. IMPORTANT: only species of birds named on our “Planet Aviary” Facebook page will count as competition entries. Simply enter your suggested species group name on our Facebook page’s competition post. Vouchers will be issued via email to the luck winners on Friday 7th July. The winners will be announced on Tuesday 4th July. Vouchers will be valid until August 31st, 2017. To keep the competition in good spirits, we want to see at least x3 likes given out by you to other peoples competition entries.

Image result for flock birds sitting tree

How do I win?

Whoever gets the most likes for a named species will win overall 1st prize and will get the privilege of naming that species group/flock. 2nd place will be picked from the next highest amount of likes from the reaming 9 species on our list. 3rd place will be picked from the next highest amount of likes from the 8-remaining species. And so on until all 10 winners are picked. In the event of a draw we will decide the winner based on the name we favour the best. Note you cannot suggest a name that has already been suggested so please check the list before you enter. If you suggest a name that has already be suggested then your entry for that species will be deleted…But you will get another go.

What are the species of bird in on the competition list?

Please see the table below to find out which birds we want you to help us name.

 

Species Group Name Named By Prize won
Gouldians  Rainbow of Gouldains  Michelleand Liam £10 Voucher
Canaries  Chorus of Canaries  Andy Chaney  1st £25 Voucher
Budgies  Barrage of Budgies  Adrian Walls  2nd £20 Voucher
Lavenders (waxbill)  Scent of Lavenders  Andy Chaney  3rd £15 Voucher
Strawberries (Waxbill)  Punnet of Strawberries  Ian Leck  £10 Voucher
Black Cheeks (Waxbill)  Coalmine of Black Cheeks Duncan Bursell  £10 Voucher
Grenadiers (Waxbill)  Guard of Grenadiers  Ian Armstrong  £10 Voucher
Nuns (Waxbill)  Sister Act of Nuns  Adrian Walls  £10 Voucher
Star Finches  Constellation of Stars  Duncan Bursell  £10 Voucher
Hecks Grass Finches  Herd of Hecks  Greg Sercel  £10 Voucher

Good Luck & Enjoy!


Naturally For Birds Supplements & The Nutrition Revolution

What isNATURALLY for BIRDS”?

“Under the leadership of award winning Dr Sarah Pryke (at the Australian National University), the Save The Gouldian Fund (STGF) team of scientists has been working on the ecology, behaviour, physiology and nutritional requirements of a range of finches. Part of this work has been researching the wild diets of finches at different stages in their lifecycle (i.e. different times of the year).

Using both the wild and captive bird for research, a range of supplements has subsequently been formulated to meet the natural bio-rhythms of wild Australian seedeaters. When added to a traditional diet, the scientific trials showed dramatic and staggering results in improving general health and well-being of birds, as well as increasing fertility, breeding success, nestling and juvenile growth rates and survival, as well as a number of other health, survival and reproductive-related effects. This has led to the decision to extend this nutritional work across a range of different species, which have very different nutritional requirements. Of course, this means that the team of scientist face the difficulty that more funding is required.

It is against this background that NATURALLY for BIRDS was formed by Mike Fidler and Russell Kingston, with a view to raising funds for nutritional research by marketing the current products that have resulted from research to date."

PRIMA

Available for Finches, Canaries, Budgies & Small Parrots

What is it?

PRIMA has been developed to be used as a ‘predictable’ base supplement or soft food.

PRIMA has been scientifically formulated as a complete soft food that contains ALL the nutrients  that are available to wild birds and necessary to maintain healthy captive stock. With the exception of the AUSTERITY PERIOD, PRIMA is recommended for use throughout the year.

How do you feed it?

“Prima” may be fed by adding no more than 10% or 1:9 Prima with a sprouted seed/milk seed mix OR in a soft food mix OR with a dry seed mix to which an oil has been added as a carrier for the supplement.

Can Prima be overfed? The answer is NO.

How do you store it?

This product can be frozen or stored in a cool, dry container to maintain quality until used.

With the exception of the AUSTERITY PERIOD, PRIMA is recommended for use throughout the year.
To maximise results during the breeding period, we recommend the addition of PROTEIN BOOST and MICRO-NUTRIENTS.

 

MICRO-NUTRIENTS

For All Species

What is it?

MICRO-NUTRIENTS is formulated to simulate the nutritional diversity available to wild birds with ingredients chosen to specifically target the following:

  • Laying stimulant
  • Increased fertility and reduced dead in shell
  • Growth – nestlings with access to MICRO-NUTRIENTS gain weight faster and grow bigger.
  • Immune system – birds with access to MICRO-NUTRIENTS live longer and suffer less disease.
  • Combats worm infestation by inhibiting worm reproduction
  • May decrease or eliminate the need for regular worming
  • Combats – Coccidia, E.Coli, Salmonella, Avian Flu
  • Minimises egg binding –  contains Vitamin D3 which aids the intake of phosphorous and calcium
  • Enhances feather colour

MICRO-NUTRIENTS CONTAINS NATURAL PROBIOTICS
MICRO-NUTRIENTS CONTAINS ‘SUPER FOOD’ SPIRULINA
MICRO-NUTRIENTS IS RICH IN CAROTENOIDS
MICRO-NUTRIENTS CONTAINS TRACE MINERALS
MICRO-NUTRIENTS CONTAINS IMMUNE BUILDERS
MICRO-NUTRIENTS CONTAINS PARASITE INHIBITORS
MICRO-NUTRIENTS CONTAINS A NATURAL ANTIBIOTIC

MICRO-NUTRIENTS ALSO CONTAINS:

  • TRACE MINERALS
  • TRACE ELEMENTS
  • & ACTS AS A NATURAL WORMER. 

MICRO-NUTRIENTS is Rich in Carotenoids. As well as using natural medicines, birds also naturally supplement their normal diet with small amounts of other nutrients. Some species of birds which we keep in captivity never achieve the vibrancy and colour of their wild counterparts. This is due to a lack of carotenes in the standard diet we feed, and some people compensate for this by feeding the artificial colour food commonly given to canaries.

What is not commonly understood among aviculturist is that carotenes are possibly one of the most important components of our birds' diet and have a direct effect on fertility, the immune system, the endocrine system, cell membrane maintenance and, of course, eyesight.

How do you feed it?

“Micro-Nutrients” may be fed by adding 5% or 1 part to 20 parts of sprouted seed/ milk seed mix OR in a soft food mix OR with a dry seed mix to which an oil has been added (15ml/kg seed) as a carrier for the supplement. To enhance colour, during moult or during stress add 2 teaspoons of Micro-Nutrients per cup.

To maximise results during the breeding period, we recommend the addition of PRIMA (FINCHESCANARIES, BUDGERIGARS  & SMALL PARROTS) and PROTEIN BOOST.   With the exception of the AUSTERITY PERIOD, MICRO_NUTREINTS is recommended for use throughout the year.

 

PROTEIN BOOST

For Insectivorous

Image result for protein boost planet aviary

 

What is it?

Proteins provides the amino acids needed as building blocks for body growth, tissue repair and to maintain health. Of the 20 amino acids, three particularly important ones for breeding birds are Methionine, Lysine and Cysteine. “Protein Boost” provides all the essential amino acids through readily assimilated protein sources needed for growth and development of nestlings and particularly for more insectivorous species.

Protein Boost is a softfood supplement scientifically formulated to be added to a bird’s existing diet.

 

PROTEIN BOOST CONTAINS PLANT & ANIMAL PROTEIN

PROTEIN BOOST CONTAINS ALL 20 OF THE AMINO ACIDS

PROTEIN BOOST CONTAINS 11 CAROTENOIDS

PROTEIN BOOST CONTAINS 20 MINERALS

How do you feed it?

The quantity fed of this supplement will depend to some extent on the proportion of livefood in the species diet. Insectivores can be fed 50-70% Protein Boost in a softfood mix, while finches, canaries, budgies may be fed by adding 13% or 1:8 Protein Boost with a sprouted seed/milk seed mix OR in a soft food mix. Protein Boost can also be provided in a separate bowl to allow birds to select it as needed.

Many people think there is only one protein. Actually, there are well over 6,000 proteins, but each one is made up from just 20 amino acids. Most of these are derived from diet but some may be synthesised within the body and some may be created from a precursor element of the birds’ diet.

  • An amino acid missing from what you currently feed can cause a diet deficiency which may affect aspects of health, fertility, hatchability and growth.
  • A diet with insufficient protein content can lead to a sex imbalance with more males than females being produced.
  • Failure to rear nestlings is often caused by too low a level of protein in the breeding diet.
  • Only an average of one or two nestlings being reared out of a clutch of three or more is often a symptom of a low protein level diet.
  • The % CRUDE PROTEIN content of a nutrient is no indication of whether it is deficient in one or more amino acids and therefore is an unreliable source of information.

To maximise results during the breeding period, we recommend the addition of PRIMA (FINCHES, CANARIES, BUDGERIGARS & SMALL PARROTS) and MICRO-NUTRIENTS.

 

Sadly, outside of the work done by Save the Gouldian Fund (STGF) scientists, little or no scientific work has ever been done on the nutrition of ‘cage birds’. There has been some research on two or three psittacine species, but there has been no work, at least that we are aware of, that has been done on general avicultural species.

Consequently, the diets in general use today have been derived by a combination of experience and guesswork and are actually very little different to those which our forebears devised and used over 100 years ago!!

The research done by the STGF scientists was done primarily on the Gouldian, Longtail and Crimson Finches. The Longtail and the Crimson Finches were chosen so that the nutritional content of their diets could be compared with that of the Gouldian. Obviously, it was assumed that if the nutritional value of their diet was measurably better or different, then this could be a reason why the Gouldian was declining. Although the physical diet of the three species was different, the actual nutritional values were similar.

Subsequent to the field research, the STGF scientists decided to develop a diet for feeding to the captive research stock. They were concerned that a diet which was nutritionally significantly different from the birds' natural diets could seriously skew the results of some experiments.

Using the data from the natural diets, three supplements were developed (PRIMA, PROTEIN BOOST & MICRO-NUTRIENTS) which when added to a good quality soft food supplement would near replicate a natural diet.

PRIMA, PROTEIN BOOST & MICRO-NUTRIENTS are now available in the U.K and Europe from:

Planet Aviary:  https://planetaviary.com/product-category/supplements/naturally-for-birds/

Sam1 Bird Products: http://www.sam1birdproducts.co.uk/?shop=shopitems/naturally.for.birds/vitamins.and.minerals/index.aspx

And from Peter Hindle Bird Supplies.

The Supplements are also available in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and The USA.


Our Favourite Nest Box For The Bird Room

With the large variety of nest boxes on the market today, finding the right one for your birds can often be a case of trial and error. Nest boxes come in all shapes, sizes, material and price. So what qualities do you look for when selecting the right nest box?

If you are looking for an economical & hygienic nest box that can be reused over and over again for your birds, then look no further than S.T.A Soluzioni’s fantastic plastic nest box range. There are two nest boxes in particular that I favour in their range which have come to be known as the “wide entrance hole” nest box and the “round hole entrance” nest box. I find these nest boxes ideal for my Gouldian finches and I’ve been using nothing else but these nest boxes in my bird room. Here’s why these nest boxes are some of the very best available on the market today:

nest 5    nest 4

(Before cleaning)                                                        (After cleaning)

  • Plastic – Made from plastic means these nest boxes are very durable and not very easy to break. I still have my very first S.T.A Soluzioni plastic nest boxes in service today, some 5 years has passed since I purchased them. They can be re-used many times over.

 

  • Variety – This nest box comes in two main designs. “Wide entrance hole” nest box and the “round hole entrance” nest box. The wide entrance hole provides easier access for slightly larger birds and is suitable for birds that like to see what is going on outside the nest during incubation. The round entrance hole nest boxes is much more suitable for more private birds that wish to feel more secure within the nest box.

blog nest 2 

  • Adaptation – With the option to purchase a wooden concave, these nest boxes can be adapted for budgies. With the nest boxes dimension measuring 120mm x 110 mm x 135(h)mm it is the perfect size for medium to large finches and anything else up to budgie size.

 

  • Easy Access – With a spy hole opening and grill built into a separate opening lid, the nest box provides easy access to check on your incubating birds and get your hand into the nest box if any necessary reasons arise.

 

  • Air Flow – A few fine groves built into the base of the nest box provide a grill like opening allowing fresh air to circulate throughout the nest box. Fresh air can move between the entrance hole and base of the nest box preventing air stagnation for sitting parents and newly hatched chicks.

chicks 

  • Economical – Did I already mention that this nest box can be re-used over and over again? Well it’s certainly worth mentioning again, especially when you can expect to only pay between £3.75 -£4.50 per nest box. (2017 price range).  You get more than your money’s worth with this nest box.

 

  • Positioning – Both varieties of this nest box come with plastic hooks which allow for easy positioning and clipping to cage fronts. If you are breeding your birds in aviaries then these nest boxes work just as well positioned on shelves.

 

  • Hygienic - The plastic material of the nest box is very easy to sanitise and clean. Once left to soak in warm soapy water, any bird droppings soiling the nest boxes are very easy to clean. In-fact it is so easy to clean that a quick scrub can have your nest box looking like brand new. The plastic material prevents any type of staining or discolouration.

nest box 3

So there you have it! Some great reasons to be using S.T.A Soluzioni’s plastic nest boxes. 10/10 from me and highly recommended!

For anyone wishing to purchase this fantastic nest box please click here for the wide entrance style nest box and here for the round entrance hole style nest box. We only like to stock the best available products here at Planet Aviary, both these nest box varieties can be found in either a green or beige colour from our store. If you’ve not used these nest boxes before then all we can say is that you will not be disappointed, that’s for sure!

 

Author Paul Bancroft


The World's Largest Aviary

There’s always a mixture of excitement and overhanging dread when you begin making preparations for the new custom built aviary you have been dreaming about.

And if like me you have built an aviary from scratch, then I’m sure you would have been guilty of it at some point or other! Yes, I’m talking about fooling around in the back garden with the tape measure, wondering where to squeeze in that extra two feet to build the perfect aviary. But there’s a snag… Either the all-important garden shed, or the beautiful wisteria winding its way up the pagoda has got to go! (Wife permitting…or husband for some of you). It doesn’t matter how many time you measure it, you are still always that two-foot short. What you are able to envision with ease in your mind’s eye doesn’t always stack up on the design sheet when you realise the limitations of your garden.

birds-of-eden-birds-eye-view

Birds eye view of Birds of Eden

But what if that two foot didn’t have to be a problem anymore? What if you were told you could build an aviary as long, as wide and as high as you liked? How big would you go? And is bigger always better?

For the World’s largest aviary, “Birds of Eden, in Plettenberg bay South Africa”, bigger certainly means better. With over two hectares of aviary, that is the equivalent of x3 football pitches, the domed aviary spans over a gorge of indigenous forest.  Although forest makes up about 70% of the aviary, the sanctuary also has its own mysterious ruin, which incorporates a walk-behind waterfall. If that’s not enough to wet the appetite, another feature is its amphitheatre, which has the ability to seat over 200 visitors.

 

birds-of-eden-walk-way

Forest walkway inside the sanctuary

But what does such a vast and spacious aviary house? Personally, if I had an aviary of this magnitude then I would be filling it with my own flock of Gouldian finches and a mixed variety of several Waxbill species (one day). The “Bird of Eden” however is home to quite a range of species which includes around 220 different species. The list includes Parrots, (Blue and Gold Macaws, the Green Wing Macaw) Flamingos, Cranes, Ringnecks, Pheasants, Turacos, Billed Toucans, Black necked and Green Aracaris (toucanettes), Inca Jays, Parakeets, (budgies, lovebirds and cockatiels) Lorikeets, and not to mention moorhens and many species of duck.

birds-of-eden-knysna-loerie

Knysna Lorre

The sanctuary is home to a total of 3500 birds. I’m not sure I would like to pick up the food bill for that many medium to large sized birds so for the time being I am content with the much smaller aviaries in my more humble garden. Many of the birds that have made their home at “Birds of Eden” are ex pets and some have even been rescued from being kept in poor conditions. But before any new birds are released into the sanctuary, they have to undergo rehabilitation to improve their flying ability. If they were released straight into the sanctuary without being rehabilitated this could affect their survival chances as it would be the equivalent of trying to run a marathon with your only training having been running to the bus stop.

birds-of-eden-water-walk-way

Water walkway

 

Author

Paul Bancroft

 

 


A Review of "Sisal Fibre's" Fantasic Range of Nesting Materials

As our understanding of bird keeping has grown over the years, we have collectively become more experienced in understanding the needs of our birds. As a result, we have better insight in how to create the natural conditions of the wild with improved methods such as Full spectrum lighting, better food diets for breeding and moulting, and improved housing conditions with special attention to our bird room environment that includes humidity and temperature alterations depending on the seasons.

Perhaps one area that many of us need to understand more about is the needs of our birds when it comes to the type of nesting material they require. I myself have been guilty of offering my birds any old nesting material without properly researching the bird’s natural instincts of what they would need to build a nest in their natural environment.

A wild bird foraging for nesting material.
A wild bird foraging for nesting material

Birds can come under stress if they do not have the access to the correct types of nesting material when they begin to pair up and build nests. We can see evidence of stress birds when they pluck each other’s feathers to line the nest because they do not have any access to the correct softer materials.

There is however one pioneering Italian company called “Sisal Fibre” that understand the importance of the correct types of nesting materials for different species of birds. Not only do Sisal Fibre cater for a large range of bird’s nesting material requirements, but all of the materials in their products are finely selected and of the highest quality. Here are some great reasons why you should be using Sisal Fibre’s fantastic range of nesting material products for your birds.

CHOICE - With over 30 different types of nesting materials and combinations, Sisal Fibre are the leading manufactures in catering for our birds nesting needs.

Sisal Fibre's Animal, Vegetable and moss nesting material designed for native species of bird
Sisal Fibre's "Animal, Vegetable & Moss." for native species

 

QUALITY -   Sisal Fibre’s range of nesting materials are all finely selected, carefully packaged and are of the highest quality.

STRESS FREE - I remember many years ago when I once offered cotton for my Gouldian finches to build their nest with, of course they ignored the cotton and instead began to stress themselves by attempting to rip apart string that was tying millet sprays together in my aviary. Providing the right materials for the right birds is important as this keep their stress levels low during a more demanding time of their lives.

Sisal Fibre's "Jute & Cotton.
Sisal Fibre's "Jute & Cotton" for Canaries

NATURAL MATERIALS – With materials that include Moss, Coir fibre, Cotton, Goat hair, Maize Bract, Sisal and Jute to name but a few, Sisal Fibre provide us with the opportunity to offer the correct balance of materials that would be available to a wide range of different species of birds in the wild.

Hygienic – Nests are not always the most hygienic places for our birds to spend time. Nests can encourage mites, insects and even the spread of bacteria through the droppings of sick birds. But Sisal Fibre truly have thought of all these problems and come up with the perfect solution with their Antiseptic range of nesting materials. These nesting materials will keep your nests cleaner and healthier, and deter unwanted mites and insects.

Sisal fibre's "White she-goat hair". For exotic and native birds.
Sisal fibre's "White she-goat hair". For exotic and native birds

 

Stay tuned and be on the look out for Sisal's Fibre's amazing range of nesting materials once our Planet Aviary store is up and running. We aim to please by bringing you only the very best tried and tested products for your birds.

Author

Paul Bancroft


A review of one of the best feeders on the market

With the extensive range of bird feeders on the market today, finding which feeder is best suited to use in your bird room can often be a case of trial and error…unless you have had the pleasure of coming across the Mangiatoia TOP4 made by S.T.A Soluzioni.

A view inside the feeder
A view inside the feeder

This 4 slot gravity feeder is a perfect example of the kind of innovation and practicality that puts S.T.A Soluzioni one step ahead of their competitors.
Whether you are new to bird keeping, or whether you are in the market for better bird feeder than you are currently using, here are 10 great reasons why you should consider S.T.A soluzioni's Mangiatoia TOP4 gravity feeder over the traditional standard seed hoppers as well as other cage feeders.

1. Security – You don’t have to put your hands inside the bird cage to clean or top up the feeder with seed. This creates a more secure environment for the birds that scare easily, which is especially important when you are attempting to breed them.
2. Time Saving – The feeder clips on to the outside of the cage making topping up your bird seed easier than ever, simply lift up the lid and pour fresh seed into the container.

Topping up seed has never been easier than this
Topping up seed has never been easier than this

3. Effective - 95% of the feeder is positioned outside of the cage, only the feeding slots extend inside the cage. This makes it nearly impossible for bird droppings to stain the feeder.

4. Efficient – Because of the feeders gravity based design, the seed will always make its way to the feeder’s slots and be eaten by the birds. This eliminates the possibility for the seed to become old and stagnant.
5. Transparent – The clear plastic colour of this feeder allows you to see the amount of seed that is left in the container. Judging when it’s time to top up your seed has never been easier.
6.  Hygienic - The Mangiatoia TOP4 is easy to disassemble into 4 separate pieces making it easy to soak and thoroughly clean before re-use.

The feeder is easy to take a part for cleaning purposes and just as easily reassembled
The feeder is easy to take a part for cleaning purposes and just as easily reassembled.

7. Contamination Free – The seed inside the Mangiatoia TOP4 is encased inside a container. With the lid closed the seed is kept safe from any contaminating sources such as flying insects, airborne allergens, dust and any dirt containing bacteria.
8. Long Lasting – The Mangiatoia TOP4 gravity feeder is made of a tough durable plastic that can withstand continuous use over an extended period of time. This feeder has a longer life span than many other feeders which are made from less durable materials.
9. Cost Effective – For this 4 slot gravity feeder you can expect to pay anything from only £1.99 -£2.50 making it one of the cheapest gravity feeders available on the market.
10. Safe for Birds – Perhaps the most important factor. Not only is the feeder hygienic to use but there are no dangerous points or sharp edges that can harm your birds. Your birds will also quickly learn how to use and find food from the Mangiatoia TOP4 feeder, so the danger of slow to learn birds not being able to find food is eliminated.

A view from inside the breeding cage
A view from inside the breeding cage

Well there you have it. 10 great reasons why you should be using the Mangiatoia TOP4 feeder in your bird rooms and breeding cages. And as you can guess, I am a fond user of these feeders in my own Gouldian finch breeding room. I can highly recommend these feeders from my own personal experience as a breeder. If you have smaller finches or even keep only pairs of birds in your cages then you might also consider the Mangiatoia TOP3 feeder. This feeder is a smaller version of the Mangiatoia TOP4 feeder and will hold 100g of seed instead of the 200g that the Top4 holds. Whichever feeder you decide to use, they will both do the exact job they are designed for... and more.

Author
Paul Bancroft


Welcome to the Planet Aviary blog

We’ve have got some exciting times ahead planned for all you bird keepers, breeders and enthusiasts. With the launch of our Planet Aviary web site you can now access a free resource containing plenty of up to date information on the Gouldian finch, covering all the things you need to know from housing to breeding and healthcare. But the fun doesn’t stop there…

With our blog now active we aim to bring you posts that will take a look into the world of bird keeping. Whether it be someone’s garden set up or someone’s bird room, we will be reporting back to you on what people are keeping, how they are housing, and what they are breeding. And if we’re really lucky we might be able to squeeze a few secrets out of established breeders to share with you! By divulging and sharing knowledge we hope to help others recreate the right conditions for success with various species of birds. Our blog will however be focusing on more than just what goes in people’s gardens and bird rooms. We will also be looking at bird keeping itself and reporting back to you on which new developments are helping improve our much loved hobby. Here at Planet Aviary we believe that the better we can mimic wild conditions for our birds, then the better the success we will have with our birds. With this in mind our blog will be paying special attention to any new developments in the bird keeping world that help us recreate natural and wild conditions.

Planet Aviary is currently working hard to bring about some changes in birds diets that will improve the nutritional quality of available seed mixes and at the same time mimic the wild conditions of the Gouldian finch and other Australian finches. We will also keep you up to date on the upcoming launch of our store. Although no date has yet been set, we hope to bring you the online Planet Aviary store in July 2016. We have a few exciting announcements to make that will co-inside with the stores launch. I don’t want to give too much away just yet but I will say that one of our surprises will include making certain seeds available for the first time in Europe from our store. We will share more on this soon so stay tuned and follow our blog posts to find out more.

Author
Paul Bancroft


Part 6: my Gouldian finches

The bird room

Our garage was once used for collecting unwanted household items but now sees a much more interesting life as a converted bird room. Measuring 18ft in length and 7.5ft wide, the bird room acts as my current Gouldian finch breeding room. One wall length of the room is lined with 8 quad cages, each cage measuring 8ft in length, 20” deep and 20” high. Each quad has dividers so that they can be turned into 2, 3, or 4 separate cages. In the height of my breeding season a full quota of 32 cages measure a total of 2ft x 20”x 20”, which provides enough housing for one Gouldian family to be raised without perching space becoming an issue. Each cage has its very own arcadia full spectrum 18” bird light, which provided the necessary lighting for the birds to synthesise vitamin D3, and allow them to see across a fuller spectrum of colours. Gouldian’s really come alive under the correct UV lighting and their fantastic colours really do shimmer with a whole new vibrancy. Each cage has a pull out tray at the base that slides out easily for cleaning. I have a spare tray which can be prepared with fresh litter and then swapped for a dirty one in a matter of seconds. The dirty tray is then cleaned and prepared with fresh litter before being swapped with another dirty tray once again. Birds that are very light sitters may abandon nests if overly disturbed, but this cleaning process allows me to clean the cages whilst keeping unwelcome disturbances down to a minimal. All my cages were built by the talent Barry Staff at BJS of Worcester.

On the opposite side of the room from the cages is my sink and supply cupboards. A white board hangs on the wall to help me stay on top of which birds are paired with which. I also use the white board to assist me in recording the ring numbers of my bird’s offspring for future linage and bloodline purposes. It is important to keep records of your breeding to prevent any future inbreeding which can sometimes lead to weaker birds that suffer from health problems.

My birds are moved into the breeding room for pairing up at the beginning of October. They will remain here in the bird room for the duration of the breeding season which finishes at the end of March. The Gouldian finches that are quick to pair up and lay eggs will normally have the first round of their chicks hatching in as little as 5 weeks, though 6 to 7 weeks is more of an average time period for the birds. This allows them time to settle into their new environment and feel secure enough to begin the breeding phase of their life cycle. Once the first round of chicks are weaned, they remain in the same cage as the parent birds so they can observe the the next round of chicks being raised. It is not uncommon for the occasional chick from the parent’s first clutch to assist in feeding the second clutch of chicks, though this sort of behaviour will only happen once the second clutch are big enough to stick their necks out of the nest box and call for food. Chicks that behave in this sort of way are good birds to keep and will generally make good parents themselves when they are old enough to raise their own young. I will often make a note of the leg ring number on such chicks. Once the second round of chicks have been out of the nest for around a week to ten days I will move the first round of chicks into a different holding to create more space for the parents and new fledglings.

Once the breeding season is over, all the birds are moved into the aviary flights where they will have plenty of room to exercise. The adult birds will begin the moult and the youngsters will fully colour up. With the bird room now empty I have the chance for a full clean, as well as a chance to paint and repair anything that needs maintenance.

The room is only used between October and April, however, if I need to bring in new birds for the following breeding season then this bird room will double up as a quarantine room while main flock are safely well away and living in the aviary.

The aviary

When it comes to housing the Gouldian finch, or any other bird for that matter, I find nothing compares to an aviary with plenty of room. Watching a flock of Gouldian finches in a well-designed aviary as they go about their business can bring hours of marvel. However, space can be limited so as bird keepers we have to make the most of what we have available to us. By making your aviary look good for both your birds and yourself; you are creating a place you will enjoy and like to spend time in.

Hand built from the bottom up, my current Gouldian aviaries are under the same roof of a specially designed building. The building has an 18” thick plywood floor base with a 3”x2” wooden frame structure. 150mm wide cladding lines the outer walls of the building while 12mm thick ply lines the inner walls. Loft insulation sits packed between these two walls. The interior space of the building finishes at 12ft x15ft and there are three Gouldian flights within it. The two larger flights are “L” shaped and measure 3.5ft at the top end and are 5ft in width at the boot end of the “L”. These two flights run parallel to each other and are separated at their boot end by the main entrance into the building. There are 4 detachable windows, x2 inside each of the larger flights. The windows can be taken off in the warmer months to reveal wire mesh, this provides the birds with fresh spring/summer air and direct sunlight which they love to bask in. My third Gouldian flight sits between the top ends of the two larger flights. This flight is 8ft long by 4ft wide. At either end of this flight there is hatch that can be open or closed into the other flights, thus allowing the three flights to open up into one supersize flight. By being able to open up and close the aviary flights in this way I can separate the cock and hen birds from each other, and the youngsters during the maintenance and austerity periods of the Gouldian finch’s lifecycle.

There are x4 double breeding cages that are encased under the lower section of the 8ft x 4ft smaller aviary flight and run the length of it. These cages are used for holding purposes and are especially useful when I have Gouldian finches at different stages of their lifecycles, which require different diets. This can happen with birds who decide to moult early or when I bring in new birds who need to adjust to my Gouldian finch lifecycle and nutrition programme. The holding cages give me a chance to keeps birds separate until they are all synchronised with the main flock’s diet before they go on to join them.

All three aviary flights and the holding cages have full spectrum bird lighting installed, these all run off of timers. There is also a night light attached to the ceiling that comes on in the evenings and stays on throughout the night. The ceiling itself is built with 12mm ply sheets screwed into the joists. Insulation is packed between the joists while sitting on top of the joists are 18mm ply sheets that form the roof. The roof is waterproofed by felt and bitumen tar.

My bird aviary flights are kept warm by heating that will kick in should the room temperature drop below a pre-set level. A small 80 litre economy friendly freezer is kept inside the building which stores all my fresh green millet, and a supply of sprouted seeds for the breeding season. My bird seed is stored in a silo dispenser which helps to improve the hygiene by preventing bugs such as moths from gaining access to it and laying their eggs.

Inside the flights themselves I have arranged variety of perching that include 12mm wooden dowel rods crafted into fixed ladders or swing designs. I also have tree branches that I have spotted on country walks and thought “that will look superb in my aviary!” After it’s left to soak and cleaned properly of course. As well as it looking more aesthetically pleasing, natural perching from tree branches can help keep birds toenails trim and prevent any overgrowing that will otherwise need your attention with the nail clippers. Stress perches are included in my Gouldian finch flights and are welcomed by all the birds in the flock, these are placed in a high favoured position. They are designed so that birds may spend time alone perched between compartments where more dominant birds cannot bother them.

The largest deposits of bird droppings inside your cages and aviaries are always directly under the perching positions. It is always worth bearing this in mind when you are considering where to place/arrange your perching, especially if you are going to have food and water sources contained on the floor of your cage or aviary. Strategic perch arranging is a good hygiene practice.

Inside my flights I have also taken care when arranging my perching and food/water containers to allow for wide open spaces. This gives the birds the opportunity to stretch their wings and get plenty of exercise without to the need to dodge objects in their flight paths.


Part 5: Gouldian finch health care

If you have been a bird breeder or keeper for any length of time then you will be no stranger to having crossed paths with various health issues that can affect your birds. There is no other aspect in the world of aviculture that is worse than to lose a bird and then find out you have a bacterial infection or diseases running rampant in your aviary.

When it comes to the health care of our gouldian finches, or any other bird species for that matter, there’s an old saying which has been said a thousand times before and no doubt will be said a thousand times more, “Prevention is the best cure!” Like any saying that has stood the test of time it has done so because there is truth to it. But before we look at ways to prevent your bird becoming ill, let’s first look at how to tell if your bird is sick.

Identifying a sick bird

Gouldian finches that become ill may display one, or a combination of symptoms. Listed below are some of the more common signs that your bird could be sick and in need of medical attention.

  • Fluffed up
  • Largely inactive (depressed)
  • Sleeps during the day
  • Has a dirty vent
  • Has a bloated stomach
  • Constantly eating but losing weight
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sneezing and/or coughing
  • Clicking when breathing
  • Loss of voice
  • Loss of balance
  • Unable to fly

Not so many years ago it would have been fair to say, when it came to health, that the Gouldian finches had a reputation of being closer to fragility than that of hardiness. Although the balance of the scales has now tipped in favour of Gouldian finches being a lot more hardy, there are still some health issues that seem to pop up with Gouldian finches more than most, they are “air sac mites, “balding” and “going light.”

Air sac mites

Air sac mites are microscopic mites that can live inside your bird’s air sacs. Gouldian finches have nine air sacs with very thin tissue walls, this allows the mites to feed off of the bird’s blood through these thin walls. Air sac mites will pass from bird to bird mainly through parent birds feeding their young. It is however believed that the mites can live for a limited amount of time in the cage/aviary environment. They will hang around food and water containers after being dropped off by their previous host, and when presented with the opportunity for new host they infect another bird. If your aviary is free of air sac mites but you introduce one bird into the aviary that is carrying air sac mites, then in a matter of several weeks you can bet that most of your birds will have air sac mites.

Symptoms of air sac mites

  • Difficulty breathing and open mouth breathing
  • Fluffed up and/or sleeping during the day
  • Clicking sounds when breathing
  • Sneezing and/or coughing
  • Loss of voice

Treatment for air sac mites

The mites are persistent but treatable with a course Ivermectin or a product called “Scatt,” which contains moxidectine and belongs to Ivermectin family. Both Ivermectin and Scatt will also rid your birds of other types of mite, including scaly feet and face mites. When a bird is heavily infected with air sac mites, the bird’s immune system may become compromised which will make it vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections. Healthy birds can sustain air sac mite infestations for longer periods of time, however, prolonged infestations will usually ultimately result in death unless treated.

Balding

Gouldian finches that go bald are not a pretty sight. Balding birds will show signs of balding anywhere on the face, though the back of the head, and above the neck, is often the most common place for birds to go bald. Balding birds can range in severity from mild feather loss to almost complete loss of feathers all over the face and head, this can make your bird look almost unrecognisable without its normal colourful facial mask. There are four possible causes as to what may be causing the bird in question to go bald. The possible causes are “scaly face mites, Stuck in the moult, Inadequate diet, and genetics.”

Scaly face mites

Scaly face mites live on the bird’s skin, mainly on bird’s face and feet. They burrow under the surface where they cause skin to look rough and discoloured in appearance. They can also be the cause of overgrown beaks and nails. When birds show symptoms of scaly face mites it is common for their facial feathers to become damaged and fall out, thus making the bird look bald. Scaly face mites is easily treatable with a course of Ivermectin or Scatt. Left untreated the mites will continue to infest the bird which can cause serious harm, often resulting in death.

Stuck in the moult

During the gouldian finches’ lifecycle they will go through an annual moult where they grow new feathers. In as little as 6 weeks the bird may change up to 80% of its feathers. One of the reasons behind the cause of Gouldian finch balding is that the bird has shed its old feathers but has not begun to grow any new ones, in other words it has become stuck in the moult. Birds that are fed the full Gouldian finch lifecycle diet (Austerity, Breeding and Maintenance diet) are highly unlikely to become stuck in the moult. This is because we know that the physiological changes that take place in our Gouldian finches’ bodies are triggered by the availability of foods. The varying availability and nutritional quality of foods are what tells the bird’s body what it should be doing. From an evolutionary perspective the Gouldian finch has adapted and evolved to suit its wild conditions over hundreds of thousands of years, so by us mimicking the seasonal availabilities and nutritional quality of wild foods in our bird room and aviaries we assist the bird in staying synchronised with the correct breeding, resting and moulting periods of its lifecycle. This will help prevent certain problems that may otherwise arise.

Inadequate diet

There is the belief system encompassed within the gouldian finch keeping world that an iodine deficiency is the cause of balding and that it should be treated with an iodine supplement in the bird’s diet. In my experience with gouldian finches I’ve never known a bird to go bald as a result of an iodine deficiency. I believe it to be unlikely that an iodine deficiency can be a sole reason why gouldian finches would go bald, especially if they share a diet and an aviary and with other Gouldian finches who show no signs of balding. If your birds are lacking in iodine then it is likely there are other nutrient deficiencies it may be suffering from. Rather than providing just an iodine supplement, an all-inclusive vitamin and mineral supplement that also contains iodine would be a much better choice to use. A bird deficient in nutrients will mostly likely not grow new feathers in the facial region, as these feathers are the least important for the bird to grow in order to survive. This physiological survival mechanism allows the bird to adapt in harsher environments when not enough nutritional foods are available, so it can get by and survive until there is an improvement in the availabilities of food.

Genetics

Unfortunately, much like male pattern baldness, there is little that can be done for a bird that is balding due to genetic reasons. Although balding gouldian’s will moult out and grow new feathers at some point during their lifecycle, they can spend as many months with feathers as without, and the process of balding repeats itself all to soon.

A bird that is not suffering from scaly face mites, has been on a diet programme mimicking the natural seasonal change in its wild environment, and has access to all the necessary supplements, then there can be only one other known reason why this bird is going bald, and that unfortunately is bad genetics. Bird’s that are partial to balding often pass on their genetics to their offspring who can begin to show the same signs of balding within a year of hatching.

A big factor that can cause bad genetics (not just in birds) is the result of inbreeding. Inbreeding is the root cause of what forces the different types of mutations in the Gouldian finches appearance. Inbreeding any species of bird should be avoided at all costs. Not only can this harm the genetics pool of aviculture, but it can also breed weaker birds that are more prone to illness and disease. Birds that are partial to balding should be removed from all breeding programmes and retired from breeding.

Going Light

The important thing to understand hear is that going light is not a condition of illness but rather a symptom of an illness. In other words the bird is exhibiting symptoms upon a spectrum of possible illnesses yet it has not been diagnosed by an avian vet and treated accordingly. Possible conditions of illness can range from “worms” to “salmonella,” and beyond. A bird with going light can be identified primarily by the bird losing weight and the keel bone begins to protrude against the skin to the point it will feel quite sharp and defined. There may also be a wastage of muscle upon the breast bone of the bird and it will feel quite light if you pick it up to handle. Birds that are going light will also seem weaker when handled.

Accompanying symptoms of going light

  • Bloated stomach
  • Dirty vent
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lethargic
  • Listless and unbalanced
  • Sleeping during the day
  • Constantly eating but losing weight

Perhaps more often than not, bird keepers will avoid taking birds to the vets as the vet fees can cost more than the worth of the bird. However, it is of paramount importance to understand that there are some possible conditions of illness in which “going light” will not only result in the death of your bird but the infecting and killing of all other birds that have come into contact with it. This can happen over a short or long period of time depending on the nature of the undiagnosed “going light” condition. One thing is for sure, if you start losing birds and don’t seek out the help of an avian vet, the cost of replacing your birds in the long run will end up costing more than the vet fees.

Handling sick birds

If you spot a sick bird in your aviary, acting quickly and in the right manner improves the likelihood that the bird will make a full recovery. The first thing I would advise anyone to do should they spot a sick bird is to isolate it away from any other birds that are in close proximity to it. Place the sick bird in a cage and bring them indoors or somewhere where it will have access to a heat source.

Temperatures of around 26oc are ideal. Provide clean water and food for the bird. I practice using white tissue paper to line the cage floor with as this will show up anything unusual within the droppings, which may later, if necessary, assist the vet in making a quicker diagnosis. Check the bird for air sac mites. If you are 100% certain the bird has air sac mites then this is easily treatable without the need to see a vet. If you are certain that the bird does not have air sac mites then list down any symptoms the bird has, this will be useful should you need to speak/see a vet. If the only symptoms your bird exhibits is being fluffed up and a little sleepy then you should notice an improvement in the isolated bird’s condition between 24 to a 48 hour period. However, if the bird has a dirty vent, and/or other symptoms then I would recommend seeking the help of a professional avian vet.

Prevention is the best cure

There are several proactive practices we can do as bird keepers within our aviaries/bird rooms to improve overall health and minimise risks of illness and diseases spreading throughout our flocks. Prevention is the best cure. Good husbandry will breed healthy birds. I’ve listed what I consider some key points below to promote good health and hygiene in the bird room.

  • Clean and sanitise water containers/dispensers regularly.
  • Only use water and food containers/dispensers that birds cannot soil in.
  • Provide working ventilation for your bird room. Air purifiers that target airborne bacteria/moulds are a great idea.
  • Do not neglect bird’s nutritional needs. If your bird’s diet does not contain all the essential nutrients then provide the necessary supplements which do promote heath.
  • If you have a walk in aviary then keep a pair of clean shoes by your aviary for whenever you need to enter the flight. I use a pair of slippers which never leave my aviary. Their purpose is to not tread any bacteria or dirt into my bird flights like my day to day shoes will from the street.
  • Clean your aviaries, cages and birds rooms regularly. Using sterilised woodchips as litter will make the environment safer for the bird if there are longer periods between cleans.
  • Avoid positioning perching directly above any food or water source.
  • Remove any green foods, egg foods and sprouting seed that the birds have been given before the end of the day. This will prevent any protozoa from manifesting in harmful numbers.

Quarantine

Whether you’re looking to add new bloodlines into your flock’s gene pool, or simply wish to try your hand at a different species of bird, there should be one fast and hard rule to live by when the time comes to introduce new birds into your bird rooms and aviaries, and that is “quarantine, quarantine, quarantine”! I cannot stress it enough how important it is that the temptation is resisted to add new birds straight into your set up without any period of quarantine. Failure to do so is like playing Russian roulette, you spin the barrel and pull the trigger and hope you don’t get the deadly bullet that will bring disease into your bird room.

It is advisable that all new purchases undergo a minimum of 4-6 weeks quarantine. I prefer to quarantine for 2 to 3 months depending on how healthy the new birds act while under my observation. Only after this period of time, and without showing any sign of illness or disease, will my new birds be allowed join the main flock.
You don’t need any special laboratory or clinical space to quarantine your birds. A cage not housed under the same roof as your bird room will more than suffice. This is because some bacteria can travel from host to host via being airborne. It is advisable to feed and care for your main flock first each day before any quarantined birds. This will help minimise the risk of contamination should any of the quarantined birds be carrying a disease.

Final note

I would advise anyone who has a sick bird(s) to seek out professional help from an avian vet. At the end of the day it is better for the suffering bird and better for your own piece of mind to get a diagnosis and treatment for the bird in question.


Part 4: Gouldian finch breeding

How do you know when your Gouldian finches are ready to breed?

If like me, you have your Gouldian finches on a lifecycle diet regime that mimics their natural availability of foods in the wild, (austerity diet, breeding diet, and maintenance diet) then you already know that all your birds will come into breeding condition at the same time, which is a few weeks after beginning their breeding diet. This makes for a much smoother breeding season as all birds have transitioned into a state of breeding readiness, and their bodies are synchronised with the changes in hormones throughout the courtship, egg sitting, and chick feeding and weaning stages of the breeding cycle.

Indicators that tell if you’re Gouldian finches are coming into breeding condition can include a darkening of the beak colour on the hen which will deepen to a dark charcoal shade. Hens will also become a lot more vocally active, they will tweet a lot more as they call out for any potential suitors. Cock birds will spend a lot more time singing and will approach hens with beak wiping on the perch before narrowing their gaze upon her and singing. If kept in same sex flights you might witness cock birds practicing this behaviour on each other as they begin posturing one another displaying their readiness to breed.

Gouldian finches will go through a courtship ritual to form a pair bond. This involves the male pointing his beak toward the ground and shaking his head rapidly from side to side before dancing up and down on the perch whilst singing to the hen. If interested, the hen will watch the cock bird intently and she will signal her pleasure by tweeting him on, pointing her tail in his direction, and in some instances she may even shake her head back to the cock bird. Eager hens may even instigate the courtship ritual by shaking their heads toward the desired cock bird. The whole process can go on continuously for a couple of minutes and is a pleasure to behold.

Cage or aviary breeding?

So now you have your birds ready in breeding condition, what next? Do you colony breed or cage breed them in selected pairs?

This question is probably best answered with a pro’s and con’s style response as there is no clear right way or wrong way to breed your Gouldian finches. Although wild Gouldian finch pairs can occasionally be found up to 10 miles away from other members of a flock, we know that they can also co-exist and breed in our aviaries as a colony. There may however be some fighting between birds protecting the area they consider their nesting territory from any intruder birds. Intruder birds are Gouldian finches that just simply can’t resist having a look at what their neighbours are up to in their nest boxes. Anyone who has kept and bred Gouldian finches will know that they are probably more nosy than curious and love to poke their beak in for a look.

Colony breeding

For colony breeding:

  • Birds can chose their own mate. Many believe this makes a stronger pair bond that leads to better breeding.
  • Other birds (juveniles and adults) in the aviary are known to sometimes feed fledged chicks. This can help take some of the pressure off of all the parent birds who may be preparing for another round of chicks.
  • With an aviary you only need to supply one fresh water and replace/check/top up one lot bird food a day. Also maintaining cleanliness in one aviary flight is a lot easier than cleaning multiple cages. This makes colony breeding a lot less demanding on your free time.

Against colony breeding:

  • If chicks are found alive on the floor, it can sometimes be difficult to work out which nest they have been thrown/fell out of. Especially if you have multiple pairs at the same stage of breeding.
  • Inbreeding can become can issue if too many related birds are kept. Keeping it in the family is not a deal breaker for Gouldian finches who are looking to choose a mate.
  • Fighting can happen over best nesting sites. Make sure 2 nest boxes are provided per pair to keep neighbourly disputes down to a minimal. A lack of nest boxes can result in chicks being thrown out of nests by other birds looking for a nesting site.
  • It is more difficult to be 100% sure of the genetics of any young produced as Gouldian finches can sometimes be promiscuous.

Cage breeding

For cage breeding:

  • There is greater control over which birds you are breeding. This can prevent weaker genes being bred from the inbreeding of any colony related birds.
  • Breeding pairs don’t have to stress about defending their territory from other birds and instead can focus on breeding.
  • Bacteria that spreads through close contact from bird to bird, or from faeces to bird, cannot spread so easily to infect other birds if they are isolated from one another in breeding cages. Juveniles that are just past the weaning stage can be especially vulnerable to bacteria due to the fact their immune system is still developing.

Against cage breeding:

  • The more cages you need to manage, the more time consuming it will be. Each cage will need attention when it comes to cleaning otherwise bacteria and moulds will soon become rife.
  • Birds relish an environment with more room and things to explore. And can suffer in smaller spaces if all they have to do is hop from perch to perch. Larger cages of at least 18” height, 18” width and 2ft in length are more ideal. However, large clutches soon fledge and can quickly make the space more cramped.
  • Birds that are made jumpy by your presence, or by other people’s, may become light sitters on their eggs. If they start to feel insecure they can be known to abandon the nest. As a personal rule I make a note of which birds will exit the nest boxes whenever I enter the breeding room. Once the light sitters are identified, I will avoid checking the nests of these pairs and cleaning their cages is kept to an absolute minimum until the nestlings have grown to a size where the parent birds no longer need to brood them.

Going to nest

When selecting pairs of birds to cage breed things don’t always go as expected. Sometimes the birds will just not pair up for whatever reason. It is advisable to give birds in breeding condition 5 weeks, no more than 6 weeks, to build a nest and lay the 1st egg. A cock bird may build a nest and think he is paired up with the hen just because they are in close proximity to one another. He may even become aggressive toward the hen if she refuses to breed once the nest is built. In such situations the birds should be separated. If after the 6 weeks there is no signs of pairing, then try swapping the birds around with other pairs who also did not form a bond. If this second attempt doesn’t work in my bird room I will move all unpaired birds back into the aviary and allow them to select their own mate, this will sometimes to the trick.

In my entire Gouldian keeping experience I have only ever know one bird to need some medical attention due to an overaggressive cock bird defending his nest in the aviary. The injured bird was a recently weaned juvenile that hadn’t learned to stay well away from the nesting cock bird’s particular nest box. A suspected broken wing turned out to only be bruising. The injured bird was moved into a cage so it could heal and in a few days it was flying well enough to return back to the aviary. However, this does not mean it is impossible for more serious injuries to ever occur when colony breeding and It is something I would not like to try in a more confined space like in a cage. Make sure you do provide plenty of room if you choose to colony breed, so that when misunderstandings do happen between breeding birds there is always somewhere for the less confrontational bird to fly away to. On the whole I find the vast majority of breeding birds to be fairly passive and as long as there are enough nesting sites. Gouldian finches seem to abide by an unwritten rule that if there are enough nest boxes available then they will honour the nesting sites already taken by other birds and they will stay out of these nests, even if these nest boxes are in more preferred locations.

Eggs and Incubation

The cock bird is the nest builder in the family, although I have known 1 or 2 hens to also collect nesting material and assist with the nest building. Depending on the birds, nests can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks to be completed. In some instances for the slower builders, the nest will continue being weaved for a few days after the first egg is laid.

Once your birds have paired successfully the hen will begin to lay eggs from around 3 days after copulation. Egg are laid once a day and clutches can vary in size from 3 to 7. Sometimes a hen may skip a day between laying each egg. This is believed to be because the hen isn’t quite in full breeding condition. Don’t panic if this happens. Let the hen finishing laying and see how things progress for the pair with incubating and raising young. Pairs that skip a day when laying eggs can still go on to raise perfectly fine and healthy chicks. When you believe the hen has missed a day and not laid an egg, it’s always worth checking the cage floor. Sometimes one of the birds has broken an egg and ejected it out of the nest, although they will do a good job of eating up the evidence you may find some yolk residue on your cage floor/litter. Broken eggs are a sign the hen may not be getting enough calcium grit or shell in her diet, which should always be available during the breeding season.

The incubation starts from the first night that the hen spends inside the nest. This can begin anywhere from when the third egg is laid to the last, though generally I find the fifth or sixth egg to be the favoured starting point. Both birds seem to instinctively know when incubation has begun and unless disturbed, either the cock or hen bird will be sitting on the eggs during the day while the hen will sit overnight. I have known the occasional cock bird to spend the night in the nest with the hen but this occurrence is not so common.

Chicks

Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of bird keeping is witnessing the birth of new life. This happens in a fairly short space of time. Once incubation is underway you can expect the eggs to hatch from anywhere between 14-16 days later. This can however seem like the longest 2 weeks in the world when you are eagerly awaiting the first chicks of the breeding season to be born. But no matter how long it seems, make sure you keep fingers out the nests and resist the urge to check inside the nest box every day. If the hen begins the incubation process toward the end of her egg laying cycle, then all fertile eggs should hatch within 1 day, and no later than 2 days of each other. This gives all the chicks the best possible chance of survival.

Chicks can grow fast and double in size very quickly, so any chicks hatching later than 48hrs from the first may struggle to compete for food. The chicks are born with light reflecting nodes on the side of their mouths. This makes it easier for the parent birds to find their mouths inside dark nests. The nodes begin to disappear once the chick is weaned. If only 1 or 2 eggs out of a clutch hatch I will leave any infertile eggs inside the nest for 1 week after hatching, especially if the parents are light sitters and easily spooked. This is because the eggs will give off some warmth to the chicks when the parents are not in the nest. Fertile eggs will have a pinkish hue after the first few days of incubation. The inside of a fertile egg will darken in colour, and by the 10th day of incubation the egg will lose all transparency and have a whitish matt hue to the shell. In contrast unfertile eggs will have an off white yellowish hue to them and this becomes more obvious by a degree of transparency when they are held up to the light.

Fledging chicks

Gouldian finch chicks can spend anywhere from 21 days to 25 days in the nest before fledging, though I generally find 22-23 days being the average marker from hatching to fledging. Good parent birds who feed their young often and spend more time in the nest keeping the chicks warm will help speed up the chick’s development. Another factor in determining how long it will take chicks to fledge is the size of the clutch. Smaller clutches will often grow faster than larger clutches because there is less competition for food. Even as I write this now, I have in mind a clutch of 3 chicks who I just closed rung today at 7 days old, while another nest of 6 chicks at 8 days old where just a little too small to be closed rung today. I now expect the smaller nest that hatched a day later to fledge ahead of the larger nest. Occasionally you might find a slightly underdeveloped chick on the cage/aviary floor before their due fledging date. This can happen because a hungry and over eager chick has fallen out the nest while hanging out of the entrance hole calling for its lunch. If you find such a chick replace it back in the nest and hopefully it will have learned not too lean so far out of the entrance hole next time. Once the last chick has fledged the nest, the nest box should be removed and replace with a fresh one. Adding a little nesting material inside the new nest box will assist the busy parents in preparation for the next round.

Weaning

Chicks are normally independent from their parents at around 35 days old. However, if you plan on removing the youngsters from the parents at the earliest opportunity then wait until the youngsters are at least 40+ days old. It is advisable to spend some time watching any removed youngsters to make sure that they have most definitely learned how to feed themselves. During the period leading up to the chicks being weaned it is normal for the hen bird to stop feeding the young before the cock bird. This is because she now needs to conserve energy in preparation for laying the next round of eggs. Laying can happen in as little as a week from when the last chick left the nest, though closer to the 2 week mark is more of a common time frame before parents begin the next round of egg laying. My preferred method is to not remove weaned youngsters from the parent birds, but instead leave all youngsters with them until the next round of chicks have just fledged the nest. My reason for doing this is to allow the 1st clutch of chicks the opportunity to learn nurturing (how to feed chicks) from their parents. Although we don’t know to what extent the Gouldian finches’ ability stretches to when it comes to being able to learn a skill by watching and imprinting, we do know that a species ability to adapt and survive can be dependent on the skills it has learned from mimicking its own parents when it was young. Thus by leaving chicks with their parents to watch the next round being raised can only lead to positive impact.

Chick pitching

Gouldian finches have somewhat earned a reputation for being bad parents, primarily due to the throwing of newly hatched chicks out of the nest. However, I believe a lot of heart ache can be avoided and kept to a minimum by taking several steps and precautionary measures in the lead up to the breeding season as well as during the breeding season itself. This will then give your birds the best possible chance of raising their own young successfully. Although chick tossing has yet to be completely eliminated from breeder’s bird rooms, we are gaining a better insight into the Gouldian finches’ behaviour. By the sharing of information we have learned we can hopefully one day prevent this type of unwanted behaviour from happening in all bird rooms. Before I share with you the secrets of my own breeding approach, which greatly reduces chick pitching in my bird room, it is important for us to first gain an insight into the problem behaviour before any such preventative measures are implemented to counter it.

Fostering

If a Gouldian finch, or any other bird for that matter throws chicks out of the nest, then there is something in the bird’s psychological make up that is creating the propensity for them to do so.

In the wild, natural selection would prevent any emerging properties sensitive to the pattern behaviour of chick pitching from being passed on through genetics. This is because any birds that inherit the pattern behaviour for chick tossing, will simply throw their young out of the nest. Therefore such birds would not be able to successfully pass on their genes, and therefore this pattern behaviour is eliminated from the wild stock.

However, this is not the case in aviculture. Although fostering once had its place in helping to sustain viable breeding populations of the Gouldian finch when their reputation as a hardy species was far removed, continual fostering of young today may contribute to the Gouldian finch eventually losing the ability to raise its own young. This would be a true tragedy indeed if one day the already endangered wild population of Gouldian finches should become extinct, outlived only by their captive cousins who are dependent on the intervention of fostering to keep the entire species from going the same way as the Dodo. This idea is far from farfetched and one only has to look at a species of Japanese quail for proof. This Japanese quail has been hatched in incubators for multiple generations due to their reputation of being bad parents, this has perpetuated the problem which now results in the bird’s distinct lack of ability when it comes to raising its own young.

We know that there are two ways a living being can learn behaviour, and they are called nature and nurture. Nature being inherent imprinting, (genetics) and nurture being learned imprinting (mimicking).

When a Gouldian finch is fostered by another species of bird, it misses out on the opportunity to experience first-hand how a Gouldian finch behaves when it raises its own chicks and instead it can only learn to mimic the adopting parent’s behaviour pattern (nearly always Bengalese finches). More often than not, these birds are being fostered in the first place because they are victims of chick pitching themselves. This now becomes a double edged sword for not only are you left with a bird that may be unsure how to correctly care for the young of its own species, but could potentially be carrying genes with a propensity to want to pitch chicks out of the nest. For this reason alone I have never fostered any chicks that my Gouldian finches have hatched under a different species of bird. Personally I consider fostering to be one of the primary causes of chick pitching, especially over multiple generations.

Diet

By looking at what is nutritionally available in the wild during different seasons, we can see how diet controls physiological changes in the Gouldian finches’ body. Changes in the bird’s body can include increased and decreased levels of hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. These Physiological changes in your birds body will have a profound effect on their behaviour, which then plays a vital role in indicating whether it is the right time for the bird to look for a mate, commence courtship, build a nest, sit on eggs and raise young. A bird that has an elevation, or a decrease in their hormone levels can come out of sync with the correct stage of breeding it should be at. This is thought to lead to the bird ultimately throwing chicks out of the nest so it can begin building a nest for a new round of egg laying. I have seen first-hand how a pair of Gouldian finches threw chicks out of the nest and in as little as 2 days begin laying a new round of eggs. Witnessing a cock bird trying to mate with the hen bird during mid incubation is another sign that the bird has come out of breeding sync.

Getting the diet right can help avoid bad parenting problems for many birds. Adhering to an “Austerity diet” in the lead up to the breeding season, followed by a “Breeding diet” will synchronise your birds’ bodies to be physiologically ready to breed. This puts each bird on the same page so to speak, and when they are on the same page there are less hiccups in breeding room. A “Maintenance diet” is also another important part of the Gouldian finches’ lifecycle, as it contains the correct nutritional balance for indicating to the bird that it is time to rest from the vigour’s of breeding and the demands of moulting. Get the whole Gouldian lifecycle right with the correct diet at the correct times, then your already halfway there to improving your breeding results.

Pair bonds

It is generally considered that a well bonded pair have a better chance of parent rearing their own young. While I am a firm believer that this is the case, I have witnessed what I would consider a strongly bonded pair to pitch their own chicks out of the nest, however this is a rarer occurrence. On the other end of the spectrum, I have witnessed a lot more Gouldian pairs with weaker bonds tossing their chicks out the nest. I will consider a pair bond to be weak if I have not witnessed the full courtship ritual between the pair, or if the birds show little interest in any courtship ritual yet eggs appear in the nest very quickly. It is not uncommon for the Cock bird to show little or no interest on sitting on the eggs should this happen, and when he does go into the nest he may only spend several mins at a time sitting in there. Be wary of this behaviour, often these cock birds are eager to start the nest build process all over again and chicks that hatch are likely to be pitched. The cock will almost inevitably start the building of a new nest on the same day he pitches the chicks out, this can be an indicator that the cock bird is out of breeding sync. This is more typical of younger birds, especially if they have not been on a lifecycle diet programme. I believe another reason for this sort of behaviour occurring is because both birds are broody and ready to breed but they are not however compatible, and when put in close proximity (cage breeding) to one another they will settle for each other without forming a strong bond through the courtship ritual. This vital step is more or less skipped as they are too busy trying to satisfy their desire to breed. If your birds show a lot of interest in the courtship stage when first paired then take this as a positive sign that they are compatible and will more often than not make good parents.

Age

Another factor that can play a role in whether or not your Gouldian pair will make good parents is how old they are. Younger birds do have tendencies to behave in ways that more mature birds do not. For instance I find younger birds to be lighter sitters, they can sometimes abandon a nest of fertile eggs at any point during incubation period for what appears to be no reason at all. Whether they lose interest, are startled, or something else happens is any ones guess. However, one reason for young birds abandoning their eggs, which I have experienced myself, was simply because one of them accidently cracked an egg shell and they seemed unsure what to do about it. A careful examination of the abandoned eggs can sometimes reveal a cracked egg which may be barely noticeable. Older birds will quickly remove the damaged egg before it causes problems. More often than not Gouldian finches will even enjoy eating up the evidence of a broken egg on the cage floor. It is advisable whenever possible to pair an experienced bird with an inexperienced bird. If one bird already knows how to raise young then there is a chance the inexperienced bird will follow the lead of its more confident partner. In the Gouldian finches’ natural environment the survival rate for a newly hatched chick making it to adulthood is around 1 in 6. Perhaps the reason these birds have survived to adulthood is due to their ability to learn faster from parent birds. Avoiding predators and finding food and water sources during the tougher months are important skills the bird need to learn in order to survive. Therefore it’s a safe bet to assume that smarter birds in the wild may well go on to get breeding right the first time. This kind of natural selection does not take place in our bird rooms/aviaries. Our birds have a much higher survival rate due to our control over their environment.

Environment

When it comes to cage breeding versus aviary breeding, I find that there is little difference in whether a bird is likely to pitch its chicks out of the nest or not. Although each method of breeding has it’s positive and negatives, I find they counter balance each other when it comes to breeding success. For instance, an aviary provides more space and cover from any predatory activity that may make nesting birds feel insecure enough to abandon their eggs. However, they will spend more time defending their nesting site from nosy neighbours, which can interrupt the incubation process more frequently then you or I would when we carefully and efficiently tend our bird’s needs in a breeding cage. Gouldian finches are not as timid as most other species of finch and can appear to be closer in their confidence to the likes of more domesticated species of bird such as Canaries. They will often tolerate you getting up close to them as long as there are no sudden movements, especially those that involve arms raising. However, this is not true of every bird and some Gouldian finches can be jumpy around sudden loud noises as well as the close proximity of people who are moving about. Sometimes when you enter your bird room you may notice a warning signal given off by several birds, although there is no counter evidence to suggest this isn’t just your birds getting excited about the imminent arrival of breakfast, we know they do have a call they sound to each other when your presence enters their personal space. I find birds that are light sitters can sometimes be problem parents, especially if they and not in a hurry to return to the nest box after they have forgotten about being spooked. By respecting our finches’ personal space and keeping the handling of birds down to a minimal, your Gouldian finches will soon learn to tolerate your presence with a certain level of acceptance.

Fact or myth?

There is a current understanding amongst many Gouldian breeders that it is always the cock bird whom throws the chicks out of the nest. While this is largely true, I have witnessed hens exhibiting this same unwanted behaviour. However, if you find the chicks on the floor then you can assume the cock bird is most likely the culprit. In the past when I have kept notes on chick pitching behaviour I found the cock to be the culprit in 9 out of 10 cases. When bringing in fresh blood for my Gouldian finch gene pool I try to avoid bringing in any cock birds that have been fostered, and instead look for parent reared birds only.

The Safe Pairing Identification Guide

When the breeding season rolls around it can be an exciting time of the year. However, always in the back of many a bird breeder’s mind is the worrying thought “I hope my best pairs don’t throw their young out the nest!” There’s not much that can make a day start worse than going to check on your birds and finding your most anticipated nest empty of chicks, and the cage floor littered with the little guys. Worse still is when you find some of those chicks are stone cold and void of life. After my own fair share of disappointment and heartbreak over the years, I devised the “Safe Pairing Identification guide”, or S.P.I guide for short. The S.P.I guide has helped me to improve the odds of matching up my most prized birds in order to safeguard their genetics via successful breeding. I have designed the S.P.I guide with a number of key problem factors for chick pitching in mind, these factors are recognised throughout the Gouldian breeding world. I have also added my experience of key problem factors to this guide from my years of personal trials and tribulations in breeding the Gouldian finch. There are some breeders who would much rather keep their success with breeding certain species of bird a closely guarded secret, which they would rather take with them to the grave. Although this is there entitlement, I’m more of the mind that knowledge should be shared and built upon, so that we can then create a better all-round experience and sense of achievement for ourselves and other bird lovers. Heartache and disappointment with failed attempts to improve breeding survival rates is not something I wish upon anyone’s bird room.

The S.P.I guide is an easy to use point based system that I use for pairing up my birds and for risk assessing the likely hood they will chick toss. I recommend anyone to give it a go and I hope you benefit from the S.P.I guide as much as I have.

Take the questionnaire

Once the incubation of any laid eggs is underway, a Gouldian finches’ behaviour during this period can also be a telling indication for whether they are more likely, or less likely, to toss chicks out of the nest. I have listed below some of the positive and negative behaviour signs to watch out for.

Positive signs

  • The birds are tight sitters on their eggs. Tight sitters are not spooked out of the nest by your presence in the bird room/aviary, or by any of the usual sounds as you go about your bird room, business.
  • The birds refuse to leave the nest, even when you open up the nest box to peek inside.
  • Both birds are often sitting in the nest together.
  • Incubation during the day appears to be evenly shared. This is a sign that both birds are in good breeding condition.
  • The cock bird likes to roost close to the nest box, often perched by the entrance hole at night.

Negative signs

  • The birds showed no interest in the courtship ritual yet eggs appear in the nest within 3 weeks of pairing. Note this only applies to birds kept in same sex flights prior to breeding, birds from a mixed sex flight may have already paired up with each other, hence why no courtship has been witnessed.
  • A poor effort has been made of building a nest, or it is incomplete. An exposed nest box floor is a good indicator here.
  • One or both of the birds are light sitters. They are easily spooked out of the nest and neither bird is in a hurry to return.
  • The cock bird shows little interest in sharing incubation duties during the day. Good indicators are if the hen has to relieve herself to feed before returning to the nest, and if the cock spends less than a few minutes at a time in the nest by himself.

Chick Pitching Intervention

When newly hatched chicks present themselves in a nest, the first 48 hours are crucial. If after this 48 hour period has passed with all chicks having hatched and safely being cared for, then the chances of the parent birds rejecting their young are greatly reduced. However, if there are going to be problems with bad parenting, it is likely to happen within this first 48 hour period, and more often than not chick pitching problems will begin from the moment the first chick hatches.

Although there is no guaranteed way of rescuing every abandoned newly hatched chick, there are some steps that can be taken which sometimes do have a happy endings. I’ve comprised this information into and intervention programme which if followed correctly can help to increase survival rate of newly hatched chicks, as well as improved chances for the parents 2nd round of chicks to not go the same way.

Chick Pitching Intervention programme

Step 1: Identify the situation

The first thing to do is identify what sort of chick pitching parents you have. There are two types, I call them the “throwers” and the “biters.” The throwers are the more passive type of parents out of the two, they will simply pick up the chicks in their mouths and throw them out of the nest.

The biters will harm the chicks and there will be noticeable bite marks, bruising and in some cases even blood on the chick. I believe they do this because they don’t know how to respond to the change in nest environment and may well even see the newly hatched chick as an intruder.

Step 2: Intervention for the throwers

If you have identified parents who are just pitching the chicks (“throwers”) out of the nest then place the chicks back in the nest and continue to do so over the first 48 hour period if you find any other chicks on the cage floor. There is a chance that the parents will figure out what they are supposed to do once they have adjusted to the change in their nest conditions. This requires you to check the cage every couple of hours as abandoned chicks can go cold very quickly if they are left for too long on the cage floor. It is important here to check the cage first thing in the morning and last thing at night, right before lights out in your bird room. If after 48 hours the chicks are still being pitched out of the nest then follow the same procedure in step 3 for the “biters”.

Step 3: Intervention for the biters

Gouldian parents that attack or harm their newly hatched chicks should be dealt with in a different manner. Harmed chicks that do go on to survive this crucial period of their lives can grow to be deformed from the wounds that their parents can inflict, therefore the priority is to now identify which one of the two parents is harming the young and throwing the chicks out of the nest. This is done by following the procedure of first removing the cock bird to another cage, and secondly replacing the young inside the nest for the hen bird to continue to raise them. Removing the hen from the cage instead of the cock bird during the hatching period will almost certainly result in the nest being abandoned by the cock bird. It is more than likely the cock bird is the culprit so assume he is. If after several hours the hen is still caring for the chicks then this is a positive sign. Keep an eye on her over the next few days and after the fifth day replace the cock bird back into the cage but keep an eye on him to see what he does. If he assumes parental duties then all is well. If he continues with his original behaviour then he needs to be removed again to prevent the chicks coming to harm. If the hen bird continues to raise the chicks successfully then you can try to replace the cock bird back into the cage a second time when the chicks are closer to fledging. By this point it is unlikely any harm will come to them and the cock bird may well even follow hen bird’s lead and begin to feed the youngsters.

Should the hen be the culprit who is biting and throwing the young then it is advisable you consider fostering the chicks by other birds or even yourself. There is little that is worse than feeling helpless if you have no other options on how to raise the chicks. This is why I keep hand raising formula handy just in case such a situation should arise.

Step 4: The second attempt

All birds deserve a second chance at breeding if they don’t get it right the first time, especially if they are birds who have yet to rear their own young and are still trying to figure things out. For the second attempt things should be handled differently. Once the hen starts to lay eggs, remove the egg food and any other protein source or protein supplement, excluding the seed which you continue to give as normal. Only return to giving them egg food again once the chicks have hatched. Too much protein can cause birds to be in a heightened state of breeding and when the chicks hatch, or even during incubation period, the parents may abandon the nest or toss out the chicks/eggs in favour of mating and nest building all over again. I find the removal of the egg food over this period to be particularly effective at counteracting chick pitching behaviour in older birds, especially if they have raised their own young in previous seasons. It is also advisable to include a second nest box in the cage so that the cock bird has the option to busy himself preparing the next nest while the eggs are still being incubated in the first nest. This can sometimes help in preventing chick tossing. Should the second attempt to breed the pair in question fail, it is worth considering changing their environment from a cage breeding one to that of an aviary before attempting to let them have a 3rd try. Some birds are a lot more successful at breeding in an aviary colony setting, while other pairs do better in a cage all to themselves.


Part 3: Gouldian finch diet

With the large variety of different seed mixtures available on the market today, selecting the right seed mixture for your gouldian finches can be a little confusing at times, and for some even a little overwhelming. While it holds true that a good quality foreign, tropical or Australian finch seed mixture can be provided for your birds all year round, gouldian finches are a little more demanding than that if you want to get the most out of them.

In the gouldian finches natural environment the availability of seed and types of seed varies and changes throughout the year. But then what sort of a role does this play in the gouldian finch’s lifecycle?

Unlike the availability of daylight, nutrition is the primary factor that determines when changes should occur in the bird’s lifecycle. The availability of food and food types will act as triggers by telling the bird when it’s time to breed, when it is time to moult and when it is time to rest before the breeding season. In my Gouldian set up I do my best to accommodate for all these changes in diet by altering, increasing, and cutting back on seeds and supplements to mimic what is available in the wild seasonally. My current nutrition programme is based on the advice and recommendations of the Gouldian research facility in Australia and notably Mike Fidler, who is arguably the world’s leading expert on the Gouldian finch. The Gouldian finch research centre and Mike Fidler have studied the finch in both the wild and in captivity and have published books and articles with information on how we can mimic wild conditions to create the ideal environment for housing our Gouldian finches.

The Gouldian finch lifecycle

The austerity period

There are only really two seasonal climates in the Gouldian finches’ natural habitat and they are known as the “wet” and “dry” seasons.

The Austerity period represents the part of the gouldians diet that it is near the end of the dry season and just into the start of the wet season. Seed has become very scarce and what is available lacks in nutritional quality. The limited seed variety and lack of quality has a physiological effect on the birds by the shrinking their ovaries and testis. This plays an important role as not only does it gives the bird’s sexual organs a rest, it also allows for the synchronising of their bodies to be ready to breed at the same time once the availability of food becomes more rich and abundant.

Although changing seasonal conditions can sometimes create quite a harsh environment for birds to survive in, we needn’t go to those sorts of lengths in our aviaries and bird rooms, and I certainly wouldn’t dream of going so far as to letting my birds go hungry. However, what I do ensure is that no supplements of any sort are given to the bird during the Austerity period. I provide only fresh clean water given daily and a highly specialised Gouldian Finch Auterity Seed Mixture  (Click on the link to find the seed mixture in our store) which is limited to only 2 types of seed, White Millet & Ryegrass Seed. The mix does not have a high protein contnet. An Austerity diet period “can” and “will” help to play an important role in improving breeding results later in the Gouldian finches’ lifecycle when they are ready to breed. This is becuase both the cock and hen bird are then at the same stage of readiness now that their bodies have been rested and synchronised. This creates a harmonious hormonal balance between the birds which improves fertility rates and creates a reduced likely hood of chick tossing in many birds.

My gouldians are fed the austerity diet in September for the duration of the whole month. During this austerity period both the cock and hen birds are kept in same sex flights to avoid any premature bonding between the birds before they are in full breeding condition.

The breeding period

The arrival of the wet season in the wild starts to bring about a change in availability of foods which creates a more abundant and varied diet for the Gouldian finch. These changes in the bird’s diet bring about transformations in the bird’s bodies and their ovaries and testis begin to swell. Hormones trigger a change in behaviour as the bird start coming into breeding condition. The cock birds begin to sing more and the hen also becomes more vocal as she calls out trying to attract the attention of any potential suitors.

For the duration of the breeding season I use the “Planet Aviary” Gouldian Finch Breeding seed Mixture. The seed mixutre includes a high ratio of canary seeds which are renouned for being one of the best seeds becuase of its good protien levels and for it being a firm favourite amongst most finches. The Goudian Finch Breeding Mixture also consists of a good quality Red Panicum, Yellow Panicum, Silk Sorghum, Signal Grass, Phalaris, White Millet, Yellow Millet, Hemp Seed, Balck Lettuce, White Lettuce, Pinhead Oatmeal, Ryegrass Seed, Japanese Millet and Cocksfoot (Kanulgras). The wide variety of seeds within the mixture represent the abundance of varity during the Gouldian Finches breeding season in its natural wild environment. The Gouldian, like most other species of finch is by nature predominantly a grass seed eating bird. Many of the seeds within the mixture I use are grass seeds. Silk Sorghum Grass Seeds form the main part of the stpable diet of the wild Gouldain Finch, which is why I went to the length of importing Silk Sorghum directly from Australia espcially for my Gouldian Breeding and Maintenace seed mixtures.

As an adition to the dry seed mixtures you make available to your birds, providing fresh green millet and sprouted seed daily will really get your birds in the mood for breeding, each seed containing 300-400% more energy than dry seed, these foods really act like an aphrodisiac and get your birds rearing to go. I keep fresh green millet stored in a freezer in my aviary, so that I can make it last the duration of the breeding season by dishing out a small amount each day for my gouldians, which they quickly gobble down with relish.

I germinate my breeding seed mixture for sprouting seeds as this contains all the seeds that the bird is familiar with which is perfect for gouldians who are notoriously fussy eaters. The speed at which your sprouting seed grows, and the percent of it that grows, is a good quality indicator of the seed. I also make sure my birds have daily access to egg food and every other day I will sprinkle a little Neckton E (Vitamin E) on the egg food. Vitamin E helps to promote health and also gives a boost to fertility, especially with the males. Calcium, grit, charcoal, mixed herbs and thrive and gloss are also provided daily, along with fresh greens, normally in the form of watercress.

After 6 weeks on this diet the birds are ready for pairing. My Gouldian finches will stay on this breeding diet until the end of March/beginning of April. (6 months in total)

End of breeding period

The end of breeding period is perhaps the trickiest part to get the timing right on. When the 1st of April rolls around not all of my birds have finished breeding and some may have even started moulting early. Birds that have started the moult are put into a holding flight/cage and kept on the breeding diet for 6 weeks, this should see them through the moult. Birds that have not started the moult but have finished breeding are put into same sex separate holdings and are placed on the austerity diet for x2 weeks. The separation from their partners and the sudden change in diet will usually trigger the moult. After this 2 week period they are then put back onto the breeding diet to assist them in completing the moult. The late finishes from the breeding season will also go through the same routine as this to help induce the moult.

The moult is a very stressful time for the Gouldian finch. They will shed their old feathers and become quite rugged looking as pin heads push through their skin to form new feathers. In as little as 6 weeks a finch will grow around 80% new feathers. This becomes a demanding phase of their lifecycle and even more so if they have been busy breeding and raising young for the past 5 months. Once again the bird requires a high levels of protein to complete the moult. Hence why they are placed back upon the rich in protein breeding diet. The majority of my birds should have completed the moult by the end of May and are then ready to begin the maintenance diet in June.

Maintenance period

The maintenance period represents the dry season in the wild. This is a time for the bird’s bodies to rest from the vigour’s of breeding and the stresses placed upon them from moulting. With no longer any high energy or nutrient demands placed upon the birds, my gouldians are now fed on a maintenance diet.

For a maintenance diet, I use the same tropical finch mixture for my birds as when I was breeding them, but without the increased ratio of canary seeds or added herb seeds. A good quality tropical finch mixture will suffice for your bird at this stage of their lifecycle. A decent seed mixture should consist of no more than 20% canary seed and no more than 5% niger seed. The reaming seeds should be made up from a mixture of millets, panicum, and grass seeds, this will be adequate for a maintenance diet. During the maintenance diet, my birds have access to girt and charcoal with the latter in smaller amounts. I cut right back on the availability of egg food and only offer it twice a week, a Wednesday and a Sunday. A small amount of fresh greens are also provided on these days. Any other supplements are also only made available twice a week in small quantities. My birds will remain on the maintenance diet from June to the end August.

My Gouldian nutrition programme

✔ Foods that are offered during that month’s period.
X Foods that are not offered during that month’s period.

Juvenile birds

M juvenile birds are handled a little differently to the adult birds, they are placed in a separate fight where they join several adult birds who were not selected for breeding. These adult birds are teacher birds for the juveniles to observe so they can learn certain behaviours off of them such as how to sing. The Juvenile birds stay on the breeding diet until they have completed the moult. This ensures they are receiving the best possible nutrition for aiding them through this stressful period on their bodies. Once the moult is completed they are moved to the same sexed adult flights where they join the main flock on the maintenance diet.

Food for thought, seed for thought

Research and studies completed by observing the gouldian finch in its natural environment have taught us that sorghum grass seeds are the main part of their stable diet. (Note this is not the larger sorghum seeds also known as “Dari” and “Milo” which is available for purchase in the U.K or other parts of Europe. Dari and Milo are gains and they are much larger seeds than sorghum grass seeds. They are too big for Gouldian finches to eat).

Sorghum grass seeds are currently unavailable in Europe as they grow in much warmer climates and for this reason it is not currently shipped in any known quantities, however this is something I am currently working on trying to change. I’m hopeful that we will be able to provide sorghum grass seeds, as well as other native Australia grass seeds, in highly specialised Gouldian & Australian bird mixtures by the end of 2016. Until then there are alternative grass seeds that we do have available to us in Europe which gouldian finches enjoy. “Cooksfoot” or “Knaulgras” is one such example. Unfortunately, at present, these grass seeds are quite expensive for manufactures to produce and so are uncommon in most tropical, foreign, or Australian finch mixes as a result. Because of the extra expense of these seeds, the seed mixes that do contain these types of grass seed rarely come in the quantities and ratios I would like them to be in, and so I will often buy the required amount of extra grass seeds and then add this directly into my mixture. Don’t be fooled by a cheap 25kg bag of finch mixture that only costs £20 and claims to be the best seed on the market for your gouldians. While the allure of seed at bargain price is hard to resist, such seeds are unlikely to contain any grass seeds at all and will most likely have a lower ratio of the more expensive yet preferred seeds such as canary seed and the panicum varieties. The bulk of cheaper seed mixes will often have a much higher white, plate and yellow millet content as this seed is the cheapest for manufactures to produce as things currently stand in the U.K. Remember, manufactures still need to make a profit and keep their prices competitive, which they can’t do if their mixes contain the preferred higher ratios of more expensive grass seeds, canary seeds and panicums.

During the breeding season my birds are more demanding of the amount of seed they need to eat. Any newly fledged additions to the flock are soon weaned and this also ups the amount of seed that is consumed during the breeding period. At this stage of the gouldian finch’s life cycle I find that I can get through a 25kg of seed mixture every month per 100 gouldian finches. Now suppose that bag of seed cost me only £20. That would mean each bird costs me 20p a month to feed. Now imagine I decide to purchase a more expensive bag of seed mixture that contains a very high ratios of more suitable seed for my birds and then I top it up with all the extra grass, canary and herb seeds. If this seed now works out at double the price of the cheaper stuff then at £40 a month each bird is costing me 40p a month to feed. For the sake of 20p more per bird a month, I would much rather my birds have a more specific nutrition that suits their needs. Any extra costs will more than likely be reclaimed after a much more successful breeding season, when the sale of a higher number of surplus birds has helped to cover these costs. This is one of the reasons that I choose to personally research into the availability of seed mixes as well as additional straight seeds. I make my choices of what to feed my birds based on required nutritional content and not on the price. At the end of the day having an expense free bird room or aviary set up is a much more preferable choice than that of cheap bargain seed lacking in the type of nutritional quality your gouldian finch needs. Get the seed right, the environment right and hygiene right then there is no reason why your own bird room or aviary shouldn’t be able to pay for its self.

The importance of protein

Protein is an important building block of bones, skin, blood, cartilage, and muscle. Feathers are also made from protein in the form of keratin. Protein plays other important roles and is needed to make enzymes and hormones as well as some other chemicals in the body. Like most birds in aviculture, Gouldian finches need a higher amount of protein during the breeding season. Parent birds will then feed their chicks with the additional protein, which is vital for the building of new tissues. And necessary for assisting the chick’s rapid growth. To put this into perspective look at the pictures below. The first picture shows a newly hatching chick at 1 day old. The second picture shows the chick just newly fledged on its first day out the nest at 22 days old.

This demonstrates just how fast chicks develop. Larger clutches of gouldians can consist of 6-7 chicks, this is a lot of mouths for both parents to feed.

From observing my Gouldian finches over the years I have learned that the parent birds are very aware themselves that they need much higher levels of protein when they have chicks to feed. I began to notice that when my Gouldian finches had chicks in the nest I would find much more seed wastage on the cage and aviary floors, and the seed dispensers would need a lot more regular topping up. Stumped as to why my gouldians were throwing away perfectly good tropical seed mixture that they normally enjoyed during other times of the year, I spent some time watching their behaviour to try and understand why they were doing this. Before long I began to have an idea of what might be going on. The birds were purposely flicking through the seed and scattering it onto the floor. I collected this seed wastage and after combing through it my suspicions were confirmed. My birds were sieving through the seed mixture to get to the seeds higher in protein, such as the canary seed, which they knew the mixture contained. A lot of yellow millet, white millet and Niger seed was being left uneaten on the floor. Even with egg food provided as a supplement I would find my gouldians still creating plenty of seed wastage.

Although some might employ the use of a seed winnower at such times, personally I don’t like to use the machine which is designed to separate uneaten seeds from seed husks. Not only does this practice encourage bacteria on the replaced seed that may have been sitting near faecal matter, but the returned seed is likely to have already been thrown away by the birds so they can get to the seeds they actually want to eat. By returning discarded seed to our mixtures we then change the ratios of seeds in the mixture. For example, where once a bird was eating a seed mixture with 25% of a certain seed that it has been discarding, it is now eating a mix of seed that has been winnowed and 40% of the seed mixture now contains seeds that the bird doesn’t wish to eat. This ratio may increase for each further time seed wastage is winnowed. These numbers are not real and are just to show why I prefer not use a seed winnower.

To help avoid such seed wastage I prefer to use seeds that I know my birds will eat. I also practice the tried and tested method for upping the protein levels in my seed mixture when breeding by increasing the percent of canary seed, so that the total percent lies somewhere between 50-60%. This is easily done by the purchase of straight canary seed and adding the required amount to your mixture for the right ratios. However, all birds have their own unique preferences when it comes to choice of foods, and this may differ from aviary to aviary and from bird to bird. Although we can use valuable information done by studies and research as guidelines, only by observing our own bird’s behavioural responses to the changes we make in our bird rooms; will we find a happy median of what works best for ourselves and our birds combined.


Part 2: Gouldian finch housing

Featured image by Alwyn Simple

Housing

There is no absolute 100% right way to house your Gouldian finch. Space availability, geographic location and financial resource all play a role in determining how best we can house our birds, and what works for one person’s set up may not work for another. Having said that, if you want to get the most out of your Gouldian finches then look no further than Mother Nature for inspiration on how best to house her most prized jewels.

A good philosophy to adopt when it comes Gouldian finch husbandry, or any other species of bird for that matter, is to mimic the bird’s natural environment as best as possible. If you can meet all of the finch’s needs and requirements and then go that extra mile then your birds will thrives under your care. And thriving birds are indeed absolute pleasure to keep. To mimic Mother Nature means to be aware of and act in accordance to the changes in seasons that can affect the finches life cycle. This includes the length of daylight, or light quality and availability of your bird room, the availability of foods and the temperature.

In the wild the Gouldian finches habitat is somewhere between the tropic of Capricorn and the equator. This means that there isn’t such a diverse change of seasons like we have here in the U.K or other places in the world that don’t fall between the tropics and the equator. As a result the availability of daylight in the Northern part of Australia is little affected between the summer and the winter months… In fact the difference swings between only 12 hours and 14 hours of daylight at the highest and lowest points of the summer and winter equinox. What we can learn from all this is that light availability isn’t the key factor in telling Gouldian finches when it’s breeding season…but more on breeding triggers later.

Lighting

In my Gouldian breeding room, Gouldian aviaries, and in my waxbill flights, I use arcadia full spectrum bird lighting. I have found these lights to be some of the best lights to use as main lighting for the following reasons…

Gouldian finches, like most birds, can see the colour of ultra violet. This is quite amazing for it means they can experience more hues upon the colour spectrum than either you or I. Now try to imagine that for a moment, being able to see a completely new and different colour to anything you have experienced before. Then try to imagine how this new colour can also mix in with the colours we do know, such as blues and reds, to create a wider variety of shades and hues. It’s quite remarkable to think about yet paradoxically not so easy to think about what you have never experienced.

Another important aspect worth taking into consideration when deciding whether to use full spectrum bird lighting is that the birds can synthesise vitamin D from the rays that the bulb emits. The only other options for not using full spectrum bulbs is direct sunlight for at least 2-3 hours a day or to use a vitamin d3 supplement in the bird food.

Gouldian finches have a preen gland above the base of the tail which secretes oil. This allows the bird to spread the oil over its feathers when grooming. This oil contains a compound that produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays. So when you see your bird grooming under an ultraviolet light source, it’s actually spreading with its beak a new healthy batch of vitamin D on its feathers. The bird then ingests the vitamin D when it next grooms their feathers that are coated in oil. The vitamin D that is ingested into their system is then converted in the liver and kidneys to active vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient for all your birds that helps fight against disease and keeps the bird healthy.

As well as all the full spectrum bulbs I also provide a standard low watt night light for all my birds. I would recommend this as an important must for any bird room or aviary. Your Birds can and will die from night fright if something panics them while they are asleep. Without a light source they won’t be able to find the perches but they will be able to find the walls, and flying into walls can lead to broken necks or other serious injury.

Temperature

Depending on how you design and build your bird room, or aviary, will affect how well you can control its environment. Because the Gouldian finch is a tropical bird, I have designed both my bird room and aviary in a way that gives me greater control over the temperature regulation.

My aviary is completely protected from the outside elements during the winter months. Being well insulated and with double glazed windows, my aviary allows me to run an energy efficient convection heater on a thermostat with a much lower than average running cost. In fact, the aviary is so well insulated that even when the temperature is 3-4oc outside it can maintain a temperature of 21oc-25oc without the need for the heater to even be on all the time. The heater will come on for just a couple of minutes before switching itself off and staying off for around 8-9 minutes at a time.

For during the warmer summer months the aviary has x4 large double glazed windows which can be detached completely to reveal a mesh front. This allows the birds to feel the fresh summer air and gives them access to direct sunlight.

Although there are many Gouldian keepers and breeders who allow their birds access to an outside area all year round without problems, this is something that hasn’t worked out so well for me in the past. I no longer allow my birds access to an outside area during the colder months as I have lost birds on the occasions they did not go back inside their shed area to roost when the weather deteriorate overnight. Gouldian finches are especially vulnerable to cold drafts and do not have the type of feathering to help insulated them that certain British wild species of birds have evolved to have. Whilst it is true that birds can become hardier over generations of being kept in tougher conditions, it can take many more generations before a species physiologically evolves enough to suitably adapt to tougher conditions.

In the wild, the Gouldian finch has evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years to suit their natural environment. The graph below shows the difference in seasonal climates between England and Wyndham Australia, which has the largest known population of wild Gouldian finches remaining. I have also shown the minimum temperature that my bird room and aviary are kept at to demonstrate the extent you are able control a bird room environment when the space has been designed to allow for the required temperature control.

All my heaters are on a thermostat that prevents them from dropping below 21oc. They will heat up my bird room and aviaries to maximum temperatures of around 25oc. Although in the wild the Gouldian finch is used to much higher temperatures, this would be rather costly to maintain and not mention no very comfortable when you go to spend time with your birds. I have found keeping the temperature between 21oc to 25oc to suit both my birds and myself very well. Being aware of the temperature is more important during the breeding season as any prolonged drops below 18oc can kill the embryos of fertilised eggs thus stopping all chick development, this will lead to chicks becoming dead in their shells.

For those of you who live in colder climates here is an interesting fact to put into perspective just how much the U.K temperature differs from that of the Gouldian finches’ natural environment in Northern Australia; Since 1875, when we first started keeping temperature records in the U.K, the highest ever recorded temperature has been a freak 38.1oc recorded in Kent. This was phenomenon weather event that happened just once during a hot August afternoon in 2003. The average maximum temperature for the U.K in August currently stands at 20.7oc. To put all this into perspective the average high temperature during the start of the Gouldian breeding season in Wyndham Australia is 39oc. This means that Wyndham regularly has hotter days than the hottest day ever recorded in the U.K.

Humidity

n the wild, Gouldian finches will experience varying levels of humidity depending on which area of the Northern belt they inhabit. Using Wyndham once more as an example we know that the humidity levels can drop to around 25% during the non-breeding season but rarely peak above 35%. During the breeding season however, the humidity levels rarely drop below 35% and peak at around 55%. It is important to take note of the humidity in our bird rooms and aviaries during the breeding season as levels of humidity that are too high can drown forming embryos before they hatch. A high number of dead in shell and half formed chicks can be a sign of excessively high humidity levels. Humidity levels that are too low can also have devastating results. This can dry out the eggs killing the embryos. Hatching is also a problem as the shell of the egg becomes a lot harder for the chicks to break through when the humidity level is too low, meaning that chicks which do survive to reach the final stage of development can suffocate before they break out of the shell. It is a grim picture to paint but humidity can easily be monitored by the purchase of cheap hygrometer (humidity monitor) for less than £4 ($7 dollars) on eBay. As a rule, I accede the humidity levels between 30%-65% to be acceptable in my breeding room, though I prefer to keep it at around 45- 50%. I have never yet had to use a humidifier in all my years of breeding Gouldian finches, however I do keep a dehumidifier on standby as my breeding room humidity has been known to creep above acceptable levels.


Part 1: An introduction to the Gouldian finch

Featured image by Alwyn Simple

Although commonly known today as simply the Gouldian finch, this bird was first named “The Lady Gouldian Finch” in 1845 by an ornithologist called John Gould. Like most of us, if not all who first lay eyes upon this finch, John Gould was so struck by its beauty that he dedicated the naming of this finch to the memory of his late wife.

The Gouldian finch is a small seed eating bird, about 5” in size from tip to tail, and belongs to the family of birds known as Estrildidae. Native to Australia, the finch’s natural habitat ranges across the country’s northern belt, which includes Kimberly to the west, the Northern territory, and the northern parts of Queensland. Although they were once more prominent in numbers this is no longer the case and the 20th century saw a rapid decline in the numbers of these wild birds. With today’s wild population estimated to be less than 2500 adult birds remaining, the finch is now recognised globally as a near threatened species.

In the earlier years of the Gouldian finches discovery it was unknown if the colour variations were of the same species or of different species. The three naturally occurring colours in the wild include the black headed, the red headed and the Yellow head, although the yellow head actually appears more orange in colour. Both genders of the Gouldian finch can occur in these 3 different head colours.

In the finches’ natural habitat the black head is the most common variety at around 70% of the population. The red head population is at around 30% while the yellow heads are very rare and are thought to only make up about 1 bird in every thousand. Today the naturally occurring different head colours of this finch are understood to be morphs of the same species. It is believed that the change in climates over many generations forced the Gouldian finches’ ancestral bird into the three separate most northern tips of Australia, one in Western Australia, one in the Northern Territory and one in the peninsula of Queensland.

With these 3 populations now separated from each other, different forms (head colours) evolved in isolation from one another. But as the climate became wetter, and the savannah habitat expanded southwards, so did these three different populations of birds. The newly expanded savannah now put the black, red and yellow headed Gouldian finches back into contact with one another. These three different head colour morphs of the Gouldian finch shows us quite remarkably how a species evolves over extended periods of time.

Captive bred Gouldian finches have an average life expectancy of 5 to 6. It is not uncommon however for birds that are well cared for to live beyond this age and I have personally experienced a couple of my birds live up to 9 years of age. The wild Gouldian finches’ life expectancy is much shorter, this is attributed to the hardships of surviving predators, lack of food availability during the tougher months, and droughts. This is the higher price wild Gouldian finches will pay for living in their natural environment compared to their captive bred cousins who (if looked after properly) can enjoy more creature comforts throughout their longer lives.

The Gouldian finch is a relatively easy bird to sex. The primary visual indicator to look for when sexing this finch is the cock bird is much brighter in colour and the hen is more pastel in her tones. This is most noticeable upon the finches’ breast, where the cock has more of a medium to dark purple colouring and the hen has a more pink to light purple colouring. Other indicators include the cock bird having a much more defined and brighter blue colour than the hen as well as a longer tail. With the red and yellow head coloured birds the cock has a noticeably brighter facial mask than the hen.

The Gouldian finch can also be sexed vocally. Both birds have a series of tweets and sounds they use to express themselves but it is only the cock bird who sings. Some cock birds have a much more beautiful and flowing song than other cock birds do, but regardless of the bird’s singing ability it is relatively easy to identify a Gouldian finches’ song from the tweets and whistles it makes.

There are several Gouldian finch mutations that are known throughout aviculture today. The most common being the white breasted variety. Aside from the lack of any colour pigmentation on the birds breast the bird appears otherwise normal in its plumage. This mutation can occur in either sex. Other known mutations include the silver, the dilute, the yellow back and the blue. Some of the Gouldian finch mutations are easier to sex than others but all can still be sexed either visually or vocally.