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.
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.
The above table simplifies my personal nutrition regime that I place my Gouldian finches on.
- Green – A Green background with a tick represents foods that are provided daily.
- Purple – A Purple background with a tick represents foods that are given every other day.
- Blue – A Blue background with a tick represent foods that are provided twice a week. However some foods such as Fresh greens are provided only on availability.
- A cross (x) represents that no food from that category is given during that period, regardless of the background colour.
- Note that although my Month 1 begins in August, any month can be chosen to run a 12 month Gouldian finch lifecycle nutrition programme.
The supplements named “Prima, Protein Boost & Micro-nutrients” are from the Naturally For Birds supplement range.
Note the I only begin to add the Protein boost to the egg-food, Prima and Micro-nutrients mixture once chicks from the first round have hatched.
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.