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.