Seasons of the Gouldian Finch…

…and whether we’re going to follow them (part 1)

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
  • Temperature
  • 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.

Resting

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.

Two Gouldians in molt. The one on the right looks miserable!

Austerity Period

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….)