I keep hearing that feeding finches is complicated because chop is “hard” and “time consuming”. I want to show you that simply isn’t true!
Chop can be as hard as you want it to be, but it can also be easy. If your finches have never eaten chop before, and you want to get started, go to the grocery store and buy a sweet potato. Bake or boil it, however you normally like to cook yours. Let it cool. Then spoon out a little and feed it to the birds. They will LOVE it!
The following photo is from one of my lazy days. I gave them pre-chopped kale from the grocery. I’m pretty sure the yellow/orange middle part is cooked sweet potato. That’s it! Finches fed in a couple minutes. See how they are gobbling it up?
Here’s another easy way to make chop.
Walk over to your fridge, open the door, and see what vegetables you have on hand.
Take them out ** see note and wash, rinse, and chop them up. Hopefully you have a food processor – if so just throw em in there and turn it on. Chop to tiny pieces, but not mush. Gouldian finches in particular don’t like wet/mushy stuff.
If you want, add your vitamins, supplements, and/or cooked egg. Eggs can be scrambled or boiled. Egg shells can be sprinkled right on top, they’re great for calcium. These additives don’t have to be used today — maybe tomorrow!
**Note: Please do not feed them onions, avocado, or other unsafe foods.
Feeding finches doesn’t have to be hard work, and the benefits far outweigh the small bit of time required to give them fresh foods. Bookmark this page and visit again – I’ll be sharing recipes and more variations on chop, as well as hints for streamlining the process.
At this point, the finches have (hopefully) lost excess fat and spent time flying in aviaries or large cages to become stronger. It’s time to get them ready for breeding. That means increasing the dietary nutrients to include protein, fat, carbohydrates, and amino acids, for starters. In addition to the seed diet they’ve been eating, add some oil seeds like niger. Begin serving CHOP or soft food mix every day.
These changes should bring on a hormonal change, much like Gouldians have in the wild when experiencing rainy season. At this point they are still in same-sex aviaries. Experts advise that this season last 4 weeks. I live in an area where there are hurricanes; at least one year recently, a hurricane threw everyone off including the passerines, and the pre-breeding diet, for mine, did not seem to have them adequately ready to breed. When ready, the males do the mating dance to each other and the females begin to bicker. NOTHING was happening. I extended it another 4 weeks, wondering what I had done wrong (until other breeders started saying the same thing). They still had a strange, slow start. The point is, don’t be afraid to extend the pre-breeding term if needed. If they aren’t ready there’s no point in trying to rush things.
At this point the birds are paired for breeding. The same diet is continued, with maybe a slight increase in the egg food mixture or other CHOP. When the eggs hatch, increase this further to sustain the hen through the rigors of feeding babies.
Breeding season lasts about 4 months, during which time it is best to provide the highest value food and supplements possible.
After 2 or 3 clutches, it’s time to reverse the procedure. Remove nest boxes, separate males and females, and molt will commence. If it doesn’t, feel free to place them back on the austerity diet for a week or two, then return to the breeding diet for the duration of molt (possibly as long as 6 weeks)
That’s it! Now we’re back to where we started, with the resting season.
Choosing to Follow the Austerity Diet
Whether you choose to follow this plan or not is strictly a personal choice. I’ve had years that I used it, and years that I didn’t. Some breeders who’ve perhaps bred something other than passerines find it ludicrous and state that they’d “never do that” to their birds.
But in addition to the previously mentioned benefits, we now have the chicks to consider. Keeping finches on a complete diet during the breeding season means the parents have enough fuel to get through the job of hatching and feeding little ones. The chicks may grow faster as well, given abundant food. And the chicks should be healthier.
Why don’t more of us follow this plan? I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know it exists. Still others have “heard” it’s a load of hooey. And we are inherently lazy – so tracking and changing the diet every few weeks is work. I myself have skipped it many times, in part because I just forget to incorporate an austerity month. As I stated, it’s your own personal choice. But if you’re interested in doing things as nature intended, maybe you’ll want to give the austerity diet a try.
When keeping animals, it’s always a question whether we’re going to follow the “in the wild” habitat as closely as possible, or are we going to do our own thing. After all, they are already being held in an artificial environment – so why not change it up?
With the Lady Gouldian finch, it’s a little more complicated than the average bird or mammal. The Gouldian follows seasons. These are based on the “weather” or more specifically on the components of seasons and climate:
How much light they receive
What foods they have access to
Based on these specific changes, their bodies go from resting to austerity to breeding to molt – and back around again and again. Let’s take a look at the components of this cycle, which takes a full year to complete.
The Gouldian’s body was not made to breed and breed and breed, although some people would have you think so. Instead, they go through a period of resting. This will be the time they are put on a maintenance or resting diet. They will ideally be separated into same-sex cages in order to let them truly rest.
In the wild this would be the dry season, so in the aviary they will receive millet, panicum, and grass seed along with a small amount of canary seed and a tiny amount of niger seed. Fresh foods are only offered two or three times a week. Supplements are given in small amounts.
In my aviary, the resting period is 3 months long. Each bird is checked over for health, given nail trims and beak filing as needed. During this time, the juveniles are separated from the parents so that they can receive additional supplements to help them get through their first molt.
Immediately after the resting period, the Gouldian finches are put on an austerity diet. Now, I’ve heard many arguments against offering an austerity period. I believe that these people who argue against it really don’t understand what Gouldian owners are trying to accomplish. The austerity period, or austerity diet, is part of the life cycle of not just Gouldians in the wild, but many passerines. It is used to help bring their bodies into condition before the stressful breeding season begins. Additionally, when pulled off the austerity diet and placed on the breeding diet, all the birds will be ready to breed at the same time.
During the austerity period, which normally lasts 4 weeks but can go for months if one wishes, there are no extra foods or supplements given of any kind. No fresh foods, no vitamins – just a low-calorie, low-fat seed mix.
It is worth noting that, although Gouldian bodies were designed to go through this period, it is still hard on their bodies. So older or ill birds will have a tough time making it through the austerity season – just as they would in the wild. It’s a good practice to pull the ones that won’t be used for breeding before starting the austerity diet for the others. (cont’d on page 2….)
In Part 1 we discussed the what and why of the Gouldian finch Austerity diet. Now let’s take a look at how to use the Austerity diet.
In the wild, Gouldian finches experience a dry period when the grasses and therefore grass seeds become less plentiful. This is called the austerity period of their yearly cycle. By creating our own “austerity” period, we can manipulate them a little to create a breeding cycle that suits our own schedule, or bring them all into breeding season at the same time.
During the austerity period, we feed only white and yellow millet, grit , and water. No fresh foods, no pellet foods, and no supplements (including vitamins). This causes the Gouldians’ bodies to stop producing hormones and, if they’re fat, to lose a little weight. (Fat birds are generally not good breeders)
How Long Do I Leave My Finches on It?
The length of time to leave Gouldians on an austerity diet varies from person to person. Four weeks is probably the average. Some leave them 6 weeks. It is safe to leave them on it up to 6 months. I would say to take them back off the diet when it has served its purpose, which is to allow their bodies to rest from breeding. If they were healthy to begin with, and if males are separate from females, 4 weeks should be enough.
One reason to lengthen the austerity period is to bring the finches up to warmer weather before they begin breeding. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and in an area that’s very cold, this might mean April or even May. Warmer areas can begin earlier. And below the equator, breeding begins around August to November. Remember, just follow the cycle and the calendar year is unimportant.
Any bird that is stressed, ill, bald, etc. should not be placed on this diet; instead, pull the weaker birds and hold them out of the breeding program for this season. The use of an austerity period is not dangerous to your flock; but there’s no point in trying to prepare those for breeding that are already weakened. It doesn’t make sense. Rather, use only your healthiest and best to breed. This helps to avoid many of the problems people run into when they breed all their birds without paying attention to their condition.
After the Austerity Diet
When 4 weeks are up, or however many weeks you wish to use, it’s time to put the Gouldian finches back on their protein-rich daily diet. There are several products that will help with that: Morning Bird’s Miracle Meal mixed with boiled egg; Mike Fidler’s Soft Food, and Perle Morbide, just to name a few. A good seed mix that also includes some of the more important Vitamins/minerals is Hagen’s Finch Staple.
I have used all of the above and am currently feeding a larger variety of fresh, whole foods along with one or more of the following for protein:
Mealworms / crickets (freeze dried) / other insects
Nuts, like Almonds, Cashews, Pine Nuts.
The Gouldians are still separated into Male/ Female groups as the breeding diet begins. It should last about 4 weeks. At this point the finches should quickly come into breeding condition (hen beaks turn black). It is time to pair the birds for breeding.
Because of using the austerity diet, the finches should be more ready to breed than in previous years. You’ve synchronized their schedules — hormones should be flowing and it is time for breeding.
The austerity diet refers to the austerity period, a seasonal climate in the Gouldian finch’s native region of Australia. Their natural habitat only has two climates, one is wet and one is dry.
Near the end of the dry season, it’s not surprising that seed has become scarce, plus what little seed can be found isn’t full of nutrition. This lack of resources has a physical effect on the birds; their bodies go into a “rest” mode.
This may sound harsh to the average finch owner, whose bird room is probably fit for Gouldian kings and queens. No way would we let our Gouldians go hungry! But for those who understand the life cycle process, this slowing of available food resources helps keep their bodies conditioned for breeding. It helps to synchronize the readiness for breeding between the male and female- even though they may be separated during this season.
How to Utilize It
Here’s a chance for improving on the quality of your flock. Use the austerity diet for 45 days. Supply limited seed and nothing else. It’s okay and even encouraged to keep them on the diet longer, up to 6 months, but give it at least 6 weeks. If they’re overweight, they may slim down some. There won’t be any hormonal / breeding behavior going on during this time.
Will they like it? No, probably not – but listen; our birds have it made. Lady Gouldians in the wild have to travel far just to get water during this season. and we’re only backing off on foods.
Be sure to avoid giving:
Fresh foods, wet foods
“But Tanya,” you protest, “You’re always saying to give them those things!”
Yes but… not now. Right now we want those bodies to get ready for the next season: breeding! More>>>
I’m just going to share how we feed our birds. This is not intended to be the be-all, end-all ‘law’ of how to feed Gouldians. There is a lot of discussion about the “best” way to feed. There might even be the occasional heated disagreement. But we consistently raise good size, healthy finches that parent their own babies, and this is how we do it.
Note that this is what we do now. We have evolved over the years, and probably will continue to do so in the future. We like to learn, and as manufacturers improve on what they’re doing we will embrace it. If you read a post last year, it might have a slightly different list.
Basic Diet in Order
Tiny bit of Fruit
The Why and How of the Diet
So. The main food for our finches is fresh food. Vegetables mostly with a small bit of fruit. Mine don’t really like fruit that much, and I don’t like to waste food. So after teaching them how to eat fresh foods, they were still rejecting most fruit and I cut it out instead of continuing to waste it. I usually serve vegetables in the form of chop, which you can read about here.
Here are just a few of the veggies we serve. The first 5 are their favorites.
Corn (cut off the cob, although they ‘re happy to eat it on the cob)
Sugar Snap peas
Cooked Sweet potato
Frozen veggies from Walmart: carrots, green beans, corn, peas mix, thawed/warmed –> this is the I’m-too-tired backup plan. I keep these on hand.
The Parrot University aims their diet plan, the Circus Diet, toward bigger birds but it could totally be for finches. Just chop it smaller.
The second food we serve is pellets. We have had a little bit of trouble recently with the pellet food because Roudybush changed their formula and the birds decided to reject it. I then switched to Harrison’s which they ate for a couple weeks (long enough for me to order a bunch) then they turned their beakies up at that.
So now I bought another bag of Roudybush and about half of them are eating it. I’m not really sure what to do. I did find they’ll eat the Harrison’s and the old bag of Roudybush if I wet and warm it. Little prince and princesses!
You’ll have to try to find the best pellets for yours, and it can be really frustrating if they have not eaten pellets in the past. More on that in a future post!
Please don’t go crazy on the pellets. They are an extruded processed food
After the pellet food, the next thing we probably serve the most of is egg food or birdie bread, which I consider interchangeable. I do make my own and avoid sugar at all costs. I see no reason whatsoever to give finches sugary food that could lead to a yeast overgrowth. Just my 2 cents.
Seed mix should come after all those foods. Seeds are not a complete diet. If you feed your birds only seeds, they’re going to have some deficits, like “holes” in their nutritional makeup. They will lack calcium, or Vitamin A, or D3. You might feel they’re healthy “except for…”
That’s what I hear. Except for egg binding.Or, Except for unexplained deaths. One lady wants to buy from me (I have finally quit selling to her) but she wants exceptionally young birds because “they don’t live more than 3 years.” Well, mine do. I bet if we examined her Gouldian diet, we’d find the problem.
Anyway, don’t believe the pet store employee who’s never owned a bird if they tell you to buy the seed and nothing else. Please. And don’t feed it because your grandmother gave seed-only to her canaries and it was good enough for her. Our understanding of birds has evolved since then. More scientists have studied their diets since then. We’ve all fed our birds and, via the Internet, we’ve pooled our information. We are better now!
So seed should fall near the bottom of the list. It is easy, but it’s like you and me eating potato chips every meal. Do we want to? Of course! But is it good for us? No way.
Now, I’ve listed fruit way down near the bottom, although I serve the fresh fruit with the veggies or in the bread, and I’m not sure it’s really that small. Honestly mine don’t care for fruit. They absolutely won’t touch anything with orange or tangelo (darn it — I have a tangelo tree) or lime. I read that you could let a canary teach them to eat oranges; mine said no go. So I give a little apple now and then, or some applesauce in the bread, or maybe a slice of pear. That’s all.
At the very bottom we have supplements. Calcium, D3, or just a good overall vitamin will do well. Remember to account for what’s in the pellets — you don’t want to overdose them. I figure my birds get about 1/3 what the manufacturer recommends, so I give them 1/3 the recommended vitamins. I like to use the kind that you mix in water.
That’s about it! Please let me know if you have any diet questions. I’ll try to answer them the best I can.
You may have heard of birdie bread but never served it to your finches. If you have a small number, you may even wonder if it’s worth it. Because it is another way to offer healthy food, I believe birdie bread is an important part of the weekly diet. If you make large batches and freeze them, y ou’ll have plenty for weeks to come.
What is It?
Birdie bread is a healthy, sugar free bread made from flour or cornmeal, vegetables, fruit or fruit juice, and additives like seeds or nuts. Some people sprinkle vitamin powder, probiotics, or other supplements on the bread to ensure the birds ingest it. Bread is especially good for those rushed mornings when you simply can’t make chop. If created with pellets and vegetables, it is just as good for them as anything else you serve.
Here are a couple of ways to make birdie bread that works for finches.
Gouldian Gardens Super Awesome Birdie Bread
1 cup pellets (I use roudybush) soaked in water or apple juice to cover
1 cup flour: Soy, wheat, oat, whatever type you are comfortable with
3-4 jars toddler vegetables (baby food)
Any fresh vegetables you have on hand
Water if you didn’t use baby food
Cinnamon, about 1 T
Because my fids are small, I whirl the veggies in the food processor. Then I add baby food, eggs, pellets, and last put in the flour a little at a time. You may need to add water. It should be thicker than human bread mix would be.
You can add bird seed if you have new birds that aren’t use to breads. Also add nuts, flax seed, chia seed, etc. Spread into 9X13 pan and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. I cut into small squares and freeze most. It always smells so good hubby begs to eat it. (Actually I think maybe he’s tried it)
Easiest Bird Bread
8 eggs, reserve shells
1-2 cups flour
1 cup of pellets (I use Roudybush) soaked in apple juice or water
2-4 cups broccoli, carrots, and squash OR a large bag of frozen corn/peas/carrots.
2 T coconut oil, divided.
Put eggs in large bowl and whisk. Add flour a little at a time. If using pellets, only put in 1 cup flour – if no pellets, use 2 cups. Let the pellets absorb water before stirring them in. Chop the vegetables finely in food processor (thaw first if frozen). Grind the egg shells very fine (I use a nutribullet) and stir in. Add 1 T coconut oil.
Spread the other Tablespoon of coconut oil in the bottom of a 13X9” baking pan. Spread bread mix on top, it will be thick.
Bake in oven 30 minutes at 350 or until slightly brown on top. Cut into tiny squares and serve. Freeze unused portions up to a month or more.
Optional additives to bird bread: dry egg food, up to 1 cup – add ¾ cup water with it. Bird seed, as much as you like. Ground flax seed or chia seeds are appreciated too. Baby food, toddler veggies, work in place of fresh veggies.
Note: many people recommend using cornbread mix in place of flour. I do not use it because of the sugar content, which can easily lead to yeast infections.
One of the first things new Gouldian finch owners learn when they go online is that seeds are not a complete diet. In fact they are a very, very incomplete diet lacking in most nutrients. So one of the foods we immediately offer is “chop.”
Chop is simply cut-up vegetables, which provide many of the vitamins our Gouldians need. Chop is good for every species of bird, from finches all the way up to the largest parrots – so if you have other birds feel free to give them some of the chop as well.
A good way to get them to eat vegetables is to serve those same vegetables each day in the same type of bowl and at the same time.
There are very few vegetables that are off-limits: onions, avocado, apple seeds, and tomatoes come immediately to mind. People will tell you that lettuce isn’t the best, simply because it has high water content. But my argument is this. If they like it, which most do, and it helps get them to eat chop, why not? Just don’t overfeed it since it does cause a loose stool.
Most people like to vary their chop, offering many different vegggies. I usually make a big salad for the humans and divide out part of it for the birds before putting in the onion, avocado, and dressing.
So your first chop might consist of a small bit of lettuce, broccoli, carrots, peas, and corn. Maybe some cucumber. Put those in the food processor and pulse just a little, enough to make it small but not too much like purée. Gouldians don’t care for terribly wet foods so purée won’t work for them, although some other birds like it just fine.
One thing I do for birds that haven’t tried chop before is dry it a little by stirring in a spoonful of plain dry breadcrumbs or dry egg food. This helps soak up the water content. You could also sprinkle a little of whatever they are used to eating on top.
The first time you serve chop, don’t be surprised if they don’t eat it. This is to be expected. Everything is suspicious at first! A good way to get them to eat it is to continue serving those same vegetables each day in the same type of bowl and at the same time. You could even pull out their other food containers for an hour or two to encourage the Gouldians to give it a try.
If after a week they have not tasted their vegetables, it’s time to change it up. Don’t chop it as much, or chop it smaller. Offer it as little piles of separate foods instead of mixing it. Warm it up (birds love warm food). Don’t overheat it though, especially if using a microwave. Offer cooked sweet potato – I have yet to see a bird refuse warm sweet potato.
Remember that a finch eats maybe ½ teaspoon per day, so don’t expect them to eat big piles of vegetables. If you see them nibbling it, or dragging a kale leaf across the floor, celebrate – you did it.
Once you have your Gouldians eating fresh vegetables, it is easy enough to change it around. Offering 10 or 20 different foods in a week is not too much. The point is to provide them with as many whole food nutrients as possible in order to provide the best health possible.
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