Over the many years that I have been breeding Gouldians, I have come to fully appreciate the challenges we face in producing healthy birds with no visual flaws. I try to do both for two reasons: I feel badly for the genetically-compromised babies that come from poor pairing choices in the parents, and I really enjoy looking at no-fault birds. Maybe I’m getting fussier, or maybe I’m finally being realistic about the type of stock quality that is required to accomplish my goals, but for whatever reason, I no longer work with birds that have aesthetic or health flaws that I can see. Since mutations tend to have more genetic weaknesses than “wild-type” (purple breasted, green backed) Gouldians, I prefer to work with the wild type. Finding high-quality new stock is challenging, and encouraging the birds to form strong breeding bonds based on my (rather than their) choices can take several months and a great store of patience. But it’s worth it!
Once I have purchased or produced good quality breeding stock, I wait until the hens’ beaks are dark, which indicates that their hormones are ready for breeding, and then place single pairs in individual 36 by 24 by 20 breeding cages under a 15 hour light period. Three clutches is the maximum number I will allow each pair to raise before resting them. If the pairs do not bond right away , I might have to wait up to four months for the bond to form and breeding to begin. But if I am patient, I find that the birds will eventually pair to my choosing. After that point, I don’t break the bond unless one of the pair becomes ill or dies.
Each of my breeding cages contains second or third cutting grassy hay as bedding and a five inch or larger wooden nest with a round hole entrance and a perch underneath the hole. My best results have come when the nestbox holes are invisible from the cage door opening so that the birds have optimal privacy. For nesting material, I suspend bundles of dried seeding grasses around the cage walls and spread coconut fiber, sisal and jute among the hay bedding. I place greenery around the nest as well as surrounding the outside of the cage. Kaytee HiCal mineral grit, eggshell powder and cuttlebone are always available. Once or twice daily I will offer eggfood, sprouted seed and dark greens hung with clothespins from the time of pairing until babies have weaned and been removed to aviaries (see “Feeding” page). This type of grass-filled, food-filled environment readily stimulates the breeding cycle. My Gouldian pairs especially love to forage among dried seeding grasses, which are amply available in their wild breeding habitat.
Most Gouldian breeders prefer to leave their birds alone throughout the nesting process, but I always attempt to clean out and refresh nest bedding two or three times before the babies fledge – as long as the parents will readily return to the nest after each cleaning. I feel that this cleaning process dramatically reduces disease and death in nestlings, fledglings and juveniles, thus reducing the need for antimicrobial treatments after problems arise.
Many people feel that the use of Society finches as foster parents for Gouldian babies is dangerous due to the presence of diseases in the Societies and also due to the possibility that fostered Gouldians will not make good parents when they reach maturity. I have never had either of these problems, so I do use Societies in emergency situations when Gouldian parents fail to raise their own chicks.
I believe the reason I have never had a problem with Society finch diseases causing mortality among my Gouldian babies is related either to my feeding practices, my nest-cleaning routine, my use of herbal medicines, or all three. I have found Societies to make wonderful foster parents in times of need, and I have found that fostered Gouldian babies grow up to raise their own babies most of the time with no trouble.
In the past I always lost a significant proportion of baby Gouldians after fledging. Having worked on this problem through the years I have reduced the number of chick fatalities dramatically. I might lose two or three babies out of fifty at this point, whereas before it was more like eight or ten. I believe the improvement is based on my having learned the importance of intense vigilance. I watch my fledgling chicks closely multiple times per day, and continue to monitor them throughout their juvenile molt. Ample bundles of spray millet are tied near favored perches whenever I see a puffy or sleepy baby; and if that fails to produce tight feathers within a few hours, I immediately isolate the puffy baby in a quiet cage, offer a heat lamp overhead and begin an herbal antimicrobial treatment (see “Healthcare” page). Usually chicks will recover the minute they don’t have to compete for food and water. Gouldians are simply more gentle and more delicate than other finch species, and we notice this particularly in Gouldian chicks. I never put off treating a puffy Gouldian baby or juvenile, even if it may be a false alarm. When problems are caught early, fatalities are readily avoided!
Young gouldians are playful! If offered hanging grasses, small bird toys, foraging materials, swings and ropes, they will play acrobatically throughout the day. It’s a true blessing for me to watch them playing in aviaries, learning to fly and forage…and enjoying their new lives.
For more information, please see the Gouldian breeding article at my sister site, essentialbird: https://essentialbird.com/breeding-gouldians-for-health-and-happiness/