A lot of people own Gouldians for the sake of their beauty, the eye catching colorful finches that has no match in the nature. The existing varieties and mutations made them even more attractive. I recall people visiting my bird room and asking me as how amazed they are to see how good I painted the birds in so different colors that they could not even count!!!!
It was not only their beauty which attracted me to the Gouldian finches but also their soft nature and challenges in breeding them made all the difficulties in owning them worthwhile.
I believe most of you will agree with me that the ultimate joy of owning Gouldians is when they thrive and breed happily then we assume our task accomplished.
Most of the people believe breeding Gouldian are difficult compared to other birds including other Australian finches. Having owned and bred many other types of finches I could partially agree to what it is said about them, yet I believe the beauty lies within the challenges and difficulties exist in breeding them that is what make us special. And what make us more special is to breed them in quality and mutation that we planed for.
I started breeding the Gouldians about 8 years ago with disastrous results losing most of the hens due to egg binding. This year none of the 200 or more hens I own was lost while breeding. Instead my problem had been limited by over breeding issues. From then and now and with 8 years between I have gained basic knowledge as how to obtain a healthy bird and then how to prepare them for breeding.
There are few issues about the Gouldians that made them unique and to some degree sensitive that should be taken into consideration before breeding. This might be also true with other finches but when it comes to Gouldian we need to be sure that we start on the right path.
I have categorized the breeding cycle of Gouldians into 4 main parts for sake of discussion and included the adult molt that the juvenile birds will go through into the breeding topics since no breeding would be considered successful until the bird survive the first molt. The four categories are as follows:
1. Selecting the right bird and the right mutation:
Breeding Gouldians need a healthy pairs as not all the Gouldians are suitable for the task. Most if not all the Gouldians found in pet shops are not suitable for breeding since the birds are weak, commercially produced and may carry disease that may kill the birds during the stressful period of breeding. Typically a quarantine procedure will be required before bringing in any into the bird room. Attention should be given in selecting the Gouldian pair as what product in terms of mutation we are expecting to see. In this case we need to select the mutation of the Gouldians that we wish to pair in order to obtain the desired result in the offspring’s.
2. Pre-breeding preparations:
This stage starts at least 6 weeks before the breeding season by separating the pairs so that hens can be given slightly different attention than cocks. The hens are gradually introduced with calcium and fatty acid rich feeds while the cocks are given some extra vitamin E to enhance the fertility.
I usually house the hens into flight cages for at least two weeks for exercising purposes in order to make them healthier with stronger muscles that they need specially when laying eggs to avoid egg binding. Older males of more than 2 years of age will usually be given the same exercise to bring them into a healthy condition suitable for breeding.
I breed the Gouldians around the year since I manage my breeding under controlled environment. Otherwise it is best to breed them from October to April. Many factors including the temperature, humidity, light and diet will dictate the start of the breeding season for the Gouldians.
I select the right mutation from the birds that I have already prepared for breeding. Males are first introduced into the breeding cages after which within 3-4 days the hens are followed. Nest box is added to the cage along with nesting material after few days. Generally within 3-5 days after introduction of the nest box the first egg will be laid at sunset or early morning which will be followed the same way in the next 5-6 consecutive days. Gouldians generally lay 5-7 eggs, more or less than this number also exists. Diet at this stage should include a higher protein content as it is required for egg making. We will later discuss in details the diet of the Gouldians for all the seasons.
The eggs are incubated after the third or fourth egg is laid and will take about 13-14 days to hatch. Healthy Gouldians can lay up to 4 clutches of eggs each season. It could go even beyond that as well; however, I found this to be the limit at which to insure a healthy off springs as a result. In this context a program at which the Gouldian hen will have a month break of breeding so that she gains her strength back after she laid her second and third clutches of eggs will be favorable.
When it comes to Gouldian eggs there are 3 options one may have to consider when dealing with the incubation:
- The first option is to let the parents incubate their own eggs.
This however, might be risky if the parents are young and inexperienced. In fact this might be even more risky when the eggs are hatched as the baby tossing is very common. I have managed to overcome this by housing the inexperienced Gouldians in aviary where there is less stress to the birds. A good aviary atmosphere stimulates the nature to the birds in better fashion and encourages them to raise the babies by themselves in stress less manner. Generally I will leave the parents to incubate and even raise their babies for 1 or two clutches. Thereafter I will transfer them to breeding cages as experienced and proven parents. Alternatively I mate an experienced bird that raised babies before with a young and inexperienced bird that I am introducing to my breeding flock. The result obtained so far was very promising in fact most if not all of the Gouldians that raise their own babies successfully have gone through the same process.
- The second option is to incubate the eggs under foster parents.
I usually use either Bengalese or Zebra finches for this purpose. Before I enter into this I should emphasis that not all Bengalese or Zebra finches are good foster parents. However, in most cases they are and one has to manage the proper timing when we decide to use these birds as foster parents. Zebra finches for example are very sensitive for incubation timing. A day earlier or later might not make much different but anything more than that and the foster parent might either not except the hatched eggs or leave the eggs and stop incubating when the time is over. Therefore a proper synchronizing is a must in this case though Bengalese are less sensitive to timing depending on their individual personality which differs from one to another. For example many of the Bengalese that I use as fosters can incubate the eggs even for a month long so I have more options in this case. Some may even accept the hatched eggs directly without incubating. But again this is very individual case that one has to bear in mind.
- The third option is to use incubator machines for this task. I will only use this method when I run out of other options.
I have used incubators for many years with mix results. However, I had found that with so many birds that I have it was must to have incubator around for emergency purposes. My first experience with incubator goes back several years when I purchased Brinsea Octagon with Auto Turn incubator. However, the result obtained then was not promising. One has to understand that small eggs such as Gouldian with diameters of 10-14mm have very little mass and are sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Aside from temperature and humidity one has to understand that many other factors effect the end result. For example the humidity at first day of incubation is less than when eggs are supposed to be hatched. The egg turning pattern may also differ with time. Most of the small incubators that are available in the market are designed to distribute the heat by airflow; this however, might not be as good as the contact type incubators that are generally more expansive. Another issue that I have come across was the egg catching trays that I found not suitable and practical in holding the smalls eggs firmly while allowing a good heat distribution all over the eggs. I was forced to custom design my egg trays with sizes ranging between 9-14 mm in diameter in order to accommodate varieties of Gouldian and other small finches while maintaining the proper heat and humidity distribution all over the eggs. After using many types of incubators I finally settled with Brinsea Octagon 20 Advance EX with humidity pump that in my opinion is the best in its category so far. However, as in most incubators I was not satisfied with the egg trays provided with the unit as well and had to custom make my own.
For the sake of comparison I have come with the following statistics regarding the incubating the finch eggs that I have collected over 5 years. The result of the first year as I have mentioned earlier was very poor. Only 41% of Gouldian eggs and 52% of Zebra eggs hatched while on the 5th years 91% of the Gouldian and 94% of the Zebra eggs hatched. This show that I have been learning during these years by incorporating a better incubator design with a better understanding as how it should work. Of course I have assumed that all eggs were fertile since they came from fertile parents.
Comparing the results obtained in the 5th year with the natural incubating method that in best scenario only 90-95% of the eggs hatch is a very close call and a one very accepting to me. Yet as I said earlier it is not my favorable option and I would not go for it unless I am choice less for not having any bird to incubate the eggs at the right time. The main problem in this method is what will happen with the hatched eggs?
One of other reasons for me for using incubator is when I have unproven parents that I wish not to risk their eggs not knowing whether it will be properly incubated or not. In this case I will generally exchange the original eggs with some plastic ones and transfer the original eggs either to a foster parents or the incubator while still observation the parents if they can incubate the eggs (plastic in this case) properly so as not to repeat the same next time. I will then transfer the hatched eggs to the original parents hopping that they can take over and raise their babies. I will monitor the chicks to see that the parents are taking care of their off springs properly. Alternatively I will try to find foster parents if possible and in worst scenario cases I will be forced to raise the chick by my self. This however, is a time consuming, delicate job that I have come many times across. I have raised hundreds of birds by my own yet try to not to repeat the same each time. In fact my reason is not only for the difficulty in raising these small birds especially in the first days in their lives but the problem associated with their adaptability in future to be acting as birds that can mate and raise their own offspring’s rather than birds that are tamed as pets.
4. Raising the baby Gouldians until their first molt:
I found the baby Gouldian easily growing strong when the original or foster parents are doing their job providing warmth and food. In fact I see no difference here whether the babies are Gouldian, Zebra or even Bengalese. Perhaps the Zebra babies grow faster for the first 2 weeks, but later on the Gouldian will catch up soon after. Gouldian babies will started weaning in about 3-4 weeks and will go through the adult molt some weeks later depending on many factors including general health, diet and supplements , temperature and the housing.
The most challenging period in Gouldians life I believe is the adult molt where attention should be made in order to make sure this stage is passed smoothly. Having understood the vulnerability of this stage for the juvenile Gouldians one should prepare him or her with list of procedures that will make sure this is passed safely.
I usually house the Juveniles in a cage 60x40x40 cm in dimension with easy to get water and food. The diet is rich in proteins, vitamins and other elements needed to build a strong and healthy body as well as to cater for urgent needs of molting.
The temperature is usually 2-3 C° above the normal (26-28 C°) to speed up the molting processes. A full molt will take 8-12 weeks to complete if the condition is right otherwise it might take even longer than that.
At around one year of age the Gouldian will be ready for breeding.