HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.


GOULDIAN FINCH (Chloebia gouldiae Gould)
Pictures at bottom

None of the Australian grassfinches are talented songsters, but these birds are highly valued for their attractive coloration and markings. Some color mutations are known, but remain relatively scarce. Many species are domesticated in aviculture.

Feeding: A seed mixture comprised of the smaller cereal seeds, whenever possible augmented by seeding grasses is recommended. It is important that a variety of live-food should also be offered, particularly when birds are breeding. Gouldian finches appear to require a relatively high mineral intake. Rock salt, available from many bigger supermarkets, can be provided for them. Cuttlefish bone and iodine nibbles, as well as grit, should be available to the birds at all times.

General Care: Gouldians especially have a reputation for being rather difficult birds to maintain and breed successfully, usually being housed in individual pairs in cages for the latter purpose. In Australia however, they are free-breeding when kept on a colony system. In Europe, their accommodation may need to take account of their desire to breed out of season. It is highly recommended that they be provided with heat and lighting during cold winter months.

Accommodations: Goulds can be housed in cages, flights or aviaries, either on their own or with companions. If you use a cage, be sure it provides room for exercise. A cage with a length of at least 30 inches usually satisfies this requirement. Larger enclosures are better, however, because small birds benefit from spacious quarters. Always give small birds the largest enclosure you can. If you house Goulds with other species in a mixed flight or aviary, avoid crowding and do not add aggressive, self-assertive or overly rambunctious individuals to the community. Goulds, which are relatively gentle birds, clearly should not share space with aggressive neighbors, such as Australian shafttails, which could take advantage of the Goulds' quiet ways. Instead, house Goulds with other peaceful Australian finches (owls, stars or zebras), good-natured mannikins (societies or silverbills) and many popular waxbills (blue-capped waxbills or green twinspots).

Once you have selected the cage or flight, add some natural tree branches for perching. Although Goulds do not need heavy camouflage, they may appreciate a little plant cover. Your birds also need a bathtub, so they can enjoy a daily bath, which helps keep their plumage in good condition. Like their wild relatives, captive Goulds also like sunbathing. If possible, position the enclosure so that sun hits part of it during a portion of the day. At the same time, locate the cage or flight in a secure spot, so the birds will not be stressed by unnecessary disturbances. Some question still exists about where to set the thermostat for Gouldian finches. In the wild, these birds are found in northern Australia, a tropical region that experiences two seasonal extremes: a rainy season and a dry season. Some people argue that Goulds are delicate and require high temperatures; others claim Goulds are hardy enough to survive significant temperature extremes, including fairly low nighttime temperatures, without difficulty. For many of us, a safe middle ground makes the most sense: Try room temperature (65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

I keep my Goulds around 70 degrees during winter, and they are quite comfortable. Newly acquired birds, though, should receive extra heat (75 to 80 degrees) to combat the stress of adjusting to a new home. Once new birds are acclimated, gradually turn back the thermostat. Regardless of where you set the thermostat, avoid sudden temperature drops. If you live (as I do) in the northern part of the country, be prepared to provide emergency heating if you lose power during a winter storm. This applies to all small birds accustomed to room temperature (or above), not just Goulds. Sudden temperature drops under these circumstances can be dangerous. Concerning humidity, my Goulds accept average household humidity with no difficulty. In general, if the environment is comfortable for you, it should be comfortable for healthy finches, too. However, if your wintertime humidity is low (below 50 percent) and you plan to breed your birds, consider investing in a humidifier, because low humidity can reduce a chick's ability to develop and hatch from its egg. Your Goulds will also enjoy the increased humidity while they are nesting.

Healthy Foods: Healthy dining to keep Goulds eating well, provide a diverse and interesting menu. Begin with a finch seed mixture that contains a variety of seeds, including millet and canary. Also try giving your birds a little niger, which is easy to obtain in canary-finch song food mixtures. In addition, serve millet sprays, a favorite treat of my Gouldian finches. Along with hard, dry seeds, provide some soaked seeds or soaked millet spray, which will approximate the soft, ripening seeds feral Goulds eat during the rainy season. Better yet, offer your birds some fresh, green seedling heads, including cuttings of clean, chemical-free chickweed, crabgrass, goose grass or knotgrass. To help balance the menu and supplement the nutrients in seeds, your birds should also receive some soft foods. Try commercial nestling foods; mashed, hardboiled egg mixture or commercial egg food; and complete (pelleted) foods. My Goulds accept complete foods, but they prefer those that contain seed-shaped morsels or crumbles, rather than tube-shaped pellets. If your Goulds eat soft foods, it is probably not necessary to serve live food. However, you may want to offer a little live food so your birds can decide if they want it. (In the wild, Goulds eat a variety of insects.) As a test, try serving a few small mealworms (not over inch in length).

Many Goulds also enjoy fresh greens. Try spinach, lettuce or dandelion leaves with their stems secured in water to keep the leaves crisp. Goulds also benefit from a cuttlebone, some mineral mixture for small birds and a little grit. Fresh, clean drinking water should also be part of the daily regimen. Goulds drink by sucking, a trait shared by other Australian Grass Finches that inhabit arid environments. (In contrast, most captive finches drink by sipping the water, lifting their heads and swallowing.) It is believed that the ability to suck water helps these finches exploit the limited water supply that is available during the dry season.

Colorforms: There are three recognized color forms of this species, they are distinguished from each other by black, red or yellow coloration of the upper part of the head. Originally they were considered to be three distinct species, but they seem to be merely three different color forms of the same species. That is, they are not three geographically restricted races. In the wild all three forms can occur within the same population, and they are found over the entire geographic range of the species. Furthermore, all three forms will mate indiscriminately with each other. The black-headed form appears to be more widely distributed than the red-headed one, while the yellow-headed forms is rarely encountered in the wild. Because of breeding in captivity the yellow-headed form seems to be increasing in numbers, but there appears to be no significant difference in the frequency of occurrence among the three forms when bred in captivity.

Red-Headed Form:
Adult male: General color above, including upper wing-coverts and inner secondaries, grass-green; primaries and outer secondaries brown, edged dull grass-green; rump and upper tail-coverts bright cobalt blue; tail feathers black; lores, cheeks and ear-coverts, forehead and occiput dull scarlet, bordered by narrow line of black, widening into black patch on upper throat, and followed by band of bright cobalt-blue, broader occiput; fore-neck and chest lilac, margined below with narrow yellowish-orange band; breast, sides of body and abdomen rich yellow; center of lower abdomen and under tail-coverts white; beak grayish-white, tipped red; legs and feet yellow; eyes dark brown. Total length about 15 cm.
Adult female: Similar in plumage to adult male, but much duller.

Black-Headed Form:
Adult male: Similar to red-headed form but without scarlet on head, lores, cheeks, ear-coverts, forehead and occiput, these being entirely black.
Adult female: Similar in plumage to adult male, but much duller.

Yellow-Headed Form:
Adult male: Similar to red-headed form, but having regions of yellow instead of dull scarlet.
Adult female: Similar in plumage to adult male, but colors are seldom as distinct as they are in males; also have a fair amount of black pigmentation interspersed, similar to redheaded females. The beak is horn-colored, with a yellow tip.

Immature birds: Head, cheeks, sides of neck and hind-neck ashy gray, shading into greenish-olive of back, wings and tail; primaries blackish-brown, margined on outer webs yellowish-olive and on inner webs buffy white; undersurface ashy brown, paler on chin, center of breast and under tail-coverts; upper mandible blackish with nodules of opalescent coloring around nape, lower mandible reddish-white, tipped red; legs and feet light brown; eyes brown. The first molt starts at an age of six to eight weeks, and it is normally completed in three to four months, which can become extended under unfavorable conditions. Gouldian finches should not be bred until they are a year old.

Distribution: Northern Australia, from approximately Derby in northwestern Australia eastward through northern Australia to the southeastern shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria and into northern Queensland, except Cape York Peninsula. Southward the range of Gouldian finches extends into a latitude of 19 degrees. Thus Gouldian finches occupy the warmest regions of Australia, with temperatures of 40 to 45C in the shade during the breeding season. This information was provided by Professor Immelmann, who has studied this species in the wild for some time. He observed that Gouldian finches have the greatest need for elevated temperatures of all Australian grass finches. Therefore, during the breeding season temperature must never drop below 22C, even better 25 to 30C; during the remainder of the year Gouldian finches should never be exposed to temperatures below 18C. It is also of paramount importance that an adequate humidity be maintained, which should be about 55% at 20C and about 70% at temperatures of about 25C or more.

Breeding: An open nestbox, partially filled with suitable material is usually provided. It is vital to ensure that hens receive adequate calcium, and if necessary, cuttlefish bone should be grated over their food. As many as six eggs can form the clutch, and the chicks should hatch about a fortnight after the start of the incubation period. They fledge at around three weeks of age, and begin to molt for the first time several weeks later. Losses of youngsters after fledging are not uncommon (in the case of gouldians), the affected birds going light. A suitably varied diet, and a comprehensive food supplement should help to prevent this problem. Take care to ensure that the young birds can feed themselves adequately. This species is particularly sensitive during its molting period and while eggs are being laid; it is therefore pointless to experiment with low temperatures during these critical periods for the birds. Whoever wants to work with such interesting but rather difficult species must do an extensive literature review on the subject and seek advice from experienced aviculturists. This way disappointments and set-backs can be avoided. Gouldian finches should be bred as individual pairs separately in large box cages of about 120 cm to 150 cm length, 50-60 cm width (depth) and 80 cm height. Inside the cage we place different nesting facilities such as canary boxes, half-open nest boxes of similar size or wire nests, at different levels inside the cage. Apart from pencil-thin perches, some branches and twigs among which the birds like to climb about should be attached to the wails of the cage.

This species can also be bred in aviaries, jointly with several other pairs, provided at least 1 to 1.5 cubic meters of space is available for each pair. As food we offer predominantly canary seed and stalks of spray millet as well as other kinds of millet, because it is important that the diet be kept variable. Germinating canary seeds and similarly sprouting stalks of millet must be offered daily. The latter is a particular delicacy for the birds. If possible we should also offer half-ripe seeds of different grasses, chickweed seeds and dandelion seeds, as well as the leaves of chickweed, dandelion and young lettuce. In the wild the young are being raised mostly on insects--flying termites, ants and others. In captivity we replace natural insects with fresh ant pupae, egg food and small mealworms. In order for new birds to become accustomed to such insect 'substitutes' it often helps if they are temporarily kept together with other birds that are already well familiar with this type of food; their feeding encourages the new birds to feed on these unfamiliar foods. Gouldian finches can be bred successfully in suitable cages if favorable temperatures and humidity are maintained and a variable diet are offered. The females have a tendency to become egg-bound easily, so the diet has to be heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals. In the wild, Gouldian finches tend to breed in hollow logs, crevices, etc., and thus in captivity they prefer prefabricated nesting facilities. Since they use a variety of nesting materials in nature, they should also be given ample choice in captivity, such as green and dry grasses, straw, coconut fibers and other plant fibers. Long threads should be cut down to 10 or 12 cm. Gouldian finches do not cushion their nest with feathers or hairs. Generally speaking, a clutch consists of four to five eggs. The incubation period lasts about 14 to 15 days, and the young will normally leave their nest 22 days later. Once they have left they begin to gather food on their own within a few days, however, the parents will continue to feed them for another two weeks. As soon as the youngsters have left the nest, the female will begin to lay eggs again, yet the adults should only be permitted two or at the most three successive broods before they should be given an extensive rest period. Most Gouldians are ready to be banded at 10 days.

Breeding in captivity, particularly by Australian aviculturists, has produced a number of color mutations such as albinos, lutinos and blue colored specimens. The lutinos have a yellow plumage with a red head mask and red eyes. The blue specimens have sky-blue instead of green back and wing feathers. According to my information nothing so far has been published about the genetics of these mutations, and in fact, such birds have never been imported, presumably because of the Australian export ban. The genetics of the three different head colors have been fairly well documented and should be mentioned here briefly. The hereditary factor for red-headedness is sex-linked and is dominant to that for black-headedness (Immelmann). Black-headed birds, therefore, are always pure black-heads; red-headed females are always pure red-heads, while red-headed males may either be pure red-heads (have two factors for red-headedness) or split for black-headedness (have one factor for red-headedness and one factor for black-headedness). As both types look exactly alike, the hereditary basis of a red-headed male may be penetrated only by breeding experiments.

Experiences have proven that the Gouldian Finch in the correct environment is as easy to breed, keep & handle as the Zebra Finch and will breed just as prolifically.

When pairing Gouldian finches the following breeding results are possible:


1. Black-headed male X black-headed female = black-headed males and females.

2. Red-headed male X red-headed female = red-headed males and females.

3. Red-headed male X black-headed female = red/black-headed males and red-headed females.

4. Red/black-headed male X red-headed female = red-headed males, red/black-headed males,

red-headed and black-headed females.

5. Red/black-headed male X black-headed female = red/black-headed males, black-headed males,

red-headed females and black-headed females.

6. Black-headed male X red-headed female = red/black-headed males, black-headed females.

The yellow head color is recessive to black as well as to red head color. The theoretical expectations are as follows: 1. Yellow-headedness X yellow-headedness = all off-spring are yellow-heads. 2. Yellow-headedness X normal colors = all offspring are normal (split to yellow-headedness). 3. Yellow-headedness X normal (split to yellow-head) = 50% yellow-headed and 50% normal (split to yellow-head). 4. Normal (split to yellow-head) X normal (split to yellow-head) = 25% yellow-head, 25% normal, 50% normal (split to yellow-head).

----Black Headed Gouldian---------Red-Headed Gouldian-------
Gouldian Gouldian

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E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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