Q. My Gouldians Just Had Babies, Should I Give Them Special Food?

Hi there. Yes there are several things you can do, but first let me lecture you about why you should have already been doing it for them.

Gouldians are fairly hardy, but depending on the way you’ve been keeping them (called your husbandry skills) they may not be in the greatest shape right now. Laying eggs, sitting on them, and raising babies – those are all hard work. Parent birds may experience feather loss (mostly on the head), calcium deficiency, or death. The hen, in her worn-down state, is more likely to become egg-bound. Due to stress, they may toss the babies.

In the wild, they go through a period of little nutrition, then the rainy season comes and everything begins to grow again. This triggers the Gouldian finches’ bodies to prepare for breeding. If you aren’t giving them much nourishment to begin with (for example, they eat almost all seed) they aren’t going to be overly healthy — but they may come into breeding readiness anyway.

So now that I’ve scared you to death, let’s talk about what you can do moving forward to help you parent birds as well as your Gouldian babies. Provide the parent birds with plenty of fresh sprouts, chop, and egg food. Additionally, I give mine dry egg food (I use Higgins) and make it always available while chicks are in the nest. Extra calcium (and D3, and phosphorus to synthesize the calcium) are all good supplements at this time. And of course, your usual seeds and pellet food.

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Keep your little ones safe from stress, including pets and small children. It may be time to cover a corner of the cage with a sheet or cloth to keep them feeling safe. Avoid constant checking on the Gouldian babies, even though you want to. This can cause enough stress to make the parents abandon or toss their babies from the nest.

Now is not the time to change the diet, except for making foods a little more available than previously. The exception to this is if your birds’ diet wasn’t especially nutritious to begin with – then it is okay to offer a variety of foods but don’t demand that they eat them (by removing all other foods). Instead, offer the food alongside their usual fare, then back away. Offer it again the next day, and the next. If they need it, they’ll eat it.

In the future, consider following an austerity diet for your finches. Or simply provide good, healthy foods for them year-around. The choice is yours. Good luck with your Gouldian babies!

Seasons of the Gouldian Finch (part 2)

Missed Part 1? Go here



Pre-breeding Diet

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.

Breeding Season

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.

Molting Season

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.

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….)