If you have ever read any book on the Lady Gouldian Finch, you most likely have come across a chapter concerning the set up routine for foods offered for the Breeding Season. When I was just starting out with Gouldians, I followed those same instructions myself. But after just a few years and a few hard-learned lessons, I have changed many of those methods.
Food for All Seasons
I don't feel that you are now going to begin the process of setting up for the breeding season, as much as setting up a routine which will carry your birds through all of their SEASONS. This is a routine which my birds experience from the very beginning of their lives, and one that I would hope you will institute as soon as you get your birds home and housed safely. One of the chief points made time and time again concerning breeding season in aviculture is that you must "increase" the amount and quality of food that the parent birds are receiving. It is true that in nature, this is exactly what happens and thus causes birds to begin their search for a mate and a safe place to raise their young. Usually the rainy season has just passed and the food is plentiful for the rearing of chicks. The insects begin to multiply and the grasses begin to sprout and seed heads to form. No matter what any particular species of bird uses for it's main food source, it must be plentiful in order for the adult birds to know that they will have a successful 'chick rearing season'.
Nutrition for Good Health Year Round
While this is most always true in nature, in my opinion it is never true in aviculture. Because our birds are dependent upon us to give them the needed nutrition for life and health year round, we cannot slack off of this caregiving until several months before breeding season begins. We must strive to provide our birds with a quality year round diet. Birds usually stop their breeding cycle when their molting cycle begins. If there is anything more stressful for a bird than rearing young, it is going through the 'molt'. Most years, every feather on a bird's body has to fall out and be replaced. This requires as much nutrition as is required by a nestling to grow and put on his initial feathers. Why would it make any sense to cut back on the very foods that they need to replenish what was lost during the stress of rearing their young and are doubly needed to replace their entire covering of feathers?
So now you can see the reason that when it comes to foods, I say that My "Breeding Routine" is my birds "Life Routine". I offer them the same foodstuff year round. During certain times they eat more of one thing than another but it is always offered. They can use their natural instincts to decide if it is needed or not. The foodstuffs and vitamin/mineral supplements that I offer to my birds are explained in detail in the DIET article.
You don't have to follow my diet to the letter, as I'm sure that there are any number of quality products available, but the inclusion of fresh greens, fruits, vegetables and soft-foods (dry egg meal or hardboiled egg mix) are most important to any bird's diet. Seed alone will not keep your bird alive and well.
If you have ever tried to introduce new foods to your Gouldians, I'll bet that you were met with much resistance and probably gave up in defeat. When a Gouldian isn't given anything but seeds when it is young, it is very hesitant to experience new foods in later life. There are a number of ways to defeat their resistance. One, and perhaps the simplest, is to provide them with a 'teacher bird'. Canaries, societies and zebra finches are used most commonly as they are very curious birds who normally eat any new foods offered. The young Gouldians learn from watching. It may take a while, but they will start to mimic the 'teacher' and begin eating the new foods. One year I had several of my young Gouldians in a colony with red headed Parrot Finches. This species needs live food to successfully raise their young. Within weeks, the young Gouldians were devouring the mealworms that I gave the colony each morning. I couldn't believe my eyes. I had never read that Gouldians wouldn't eat mealworms, but I had never read that they would either. Since that time, I have always provided the 'teacher bird' to all my fledged Gouldian juveniles.
Introducing New Foods
As Gouldian owners we all know that they can be VERY resistant to trying new foods. Getting them to eat new foods can be a real challenge! Here are a few techniques that you can use to encourage your "picky eaters" to try the foods they need to maintain optimal health.
- Try serving small amounts of the new food over the old, familiar food.
- If this technique is unsuccessful, try changing the presentation of the food - chop smaller, serve whole, mix with other foods. Many of my Goulds were resistant to eating hard boiled egg that were mashed up with a fork. I ran the hard boiled egg through a grater so it looked like small white worm and the birds devoured it!
Drastic Measures Required
- If all the above methods are unsuccessful, more drastic measures are required. This last technique uses hunger to motivate the birds.
- Remove all food from the cage one half hour before lights out. Do not however remove the water source.
- Immediately upon turning the lights on in the morning, provide the birds with the new food, preferably on a clean flat dish on the cage floor. You might mix a little of it with a favorite seed, but only the smallest amount of seed. Leave only that food source for about 1 or 2 hours, then replace it with their normally accepted food. You will have to repeat this many times over, but eventually the hunger should encourage the Gouldians to hunt around for something that is edible. Make sure that the paper on the cage floor is clean every morning before providing the food . As the Gouldians begin to hunt and peck for food, you don't want them to try droppings on the fouled paper.
Societies Offer Goulds a Head Start
A positive reason for using societies as Foster Parents gives the Gouldian babies a better head start in life if the Gouldian parents aren't eating a varied diet. Since societies eat lots of different foods, they will feed the babies those same foods. Unless the Gouldians parents are also eating a varied diet, their babies will most likely get only seed while they are developing.
Whatever method you use to encourage your Gouldians to eat as varied and nutritious a diet as possible, you won't be sorry. This can't help but provide your birds with a longer and happier life.
Hatched Same Time of Year
Now there are a number of things apart from diet that I do start several months before breeding season. Most of my Gouldians breed between the months of September and March. I have had exceptions to this, and I suspect that it has to do with the time of year that those birds were born and when they reached sexual maturity. In order for you to have optimal success with your breeding pair, I have found that it helps to pair together birds that were hatched as close to the same time of year as possible. The birds don't necessarily have to be of the same age, just hatched around the same time of year. This should result in your birds beginning and ending their molt at approximately the same time. I have learned from the experience of pairing two birds that I believed would give me very nice babies, only to have one bird start to molt several months after pairing, molt for two months, then have the other begin to molt. This can upset the cycle sometimes to the point that they don't ever get in sync with each other.
Most years I house my hens and cocks separately until early September. During this time I run through the routine of treating for air sac mites, coccidiosis, parasites and worms. This is covered extensively in my quarantine procedures. I have found that if you carry out these treatments prior to the breeding season, the juveniles produced are of a much higher quality. You don't have to interrupt your breeding birds should problems show up during the breeding cycle. I treat all of my birds, both Gouldians and any Society fosters, that I may be using during the upcoming season. This preventative routine takes approximately 3 weeks, so I would suggest starting in early August. If you followed my quarantine procedures when you purchased your birds, if they are not housed out of doors and no un-quarantined birds have been introduced to your birds, treating for air-sac mites and coccidiosis would probably be sufficient before breeding season begins.
Separating a Bonded Pair
I have found that separating a bonded pair of Gouldians can be difficult. If you find that a pair from the previous season didn't give you quality babies, and you would like to pair them to new mates, you may have a hard time getting them to co-operate. As long as they can still hear the old mate anywhere within the aviary or your home, they are unlikely to accept the new mate. You need to remove one of the pair to another room out of ear-shot of the other. Only then will the remaining one accept a new mate.
I have always bred my Gouldians in cage situations so that I am able to control the genetics of the offspring. But I believe that the birds will go to nest quicker if they are allowed to choose their own mate. For me, this might not allow for the genetics that I desire, so I sometimes have paired up birds that just sit and look at each other. When this happens, I have to rethink the pairing and choose new mates. If you have only two birds, without all the distractions that go on in a typical breeding aviary, you probably won't have this problem.
Overly Aggressive Male
Once the birds are paired in their cages, I usually wait until I begin to see the courtship interest from the hen before attaching the nest boxes. The cocks will begin singing almost immediately, but until the hen is receptive and willing, I don't want to cause the hen undue stress from an overly aggressive mate. If the male becomes aggressive toward the hen to the point of injury, separate them at once. A breeding cage that has a partition in the middle so that the birds can still see each other but not inflict harm would work well. If your cage isn't equipped in this manner I would suggest separate cages sitting side by side. If you are patient, the courtship should commence when your hen is in her breeding mode. The beak color on the hen will considerably darken when she is approaching her breeding time.
I have always used a wooden nest box (5x5x5 inches) attached to the outside of my cage for breeding both my Gouldians and Society fosters. The first year, the boxes for all the birds were half-open on the top front (a typical Society finch box).These boxes are used only for the Societies. The Gouldians seem to prefer more enclosure, so I am now using the same size box (5x5x5 inches) with a small hole opening 2/3 up on the front. Since most of my cages are open only on the front side to allow the most solitude for my birds, the nest boxes are attached on this front and face toward the back of the cage. There is a hinged door on the top of each box, so that I can easily peak inside or reach in for any adjustments which must be made, i.e.: remove dead babies, remove eggs for transfer to foster parents, etc. I have talked to many people who have used the wicker baskets for their Gouldians and have had no problems with the birds breeding and successfully rearing their young.
Total Access from Outside the Cage
Let me explain why I prefer my nest boxes, seed dispensers and water bottles to be on the outside of my cage. Gouldians prefer quiet and solitude when in the breeding mode and Gouldians sometimes take a few years before they begin to have the "parental nurturing instinct". For this reason, I don't like to have to intrude inside their enclosure for any housekeeping chores, especially during the breeding season. By hanging my feeders, the water source and nest boxes on the outside of the cage, I can accomplish this quite well.
I use a seed dispenser that serves two purposes. Since it hangs outside the cage, I can refill the seed when necessary without entering the cage. This feeder also has a slide out tray into which the seed hulls will fall. This can be removed and emptied without disturbing the birds. It also assures that the birds will never starve because of the lack of seed. Many caged birds have perished because their owners assumed they still had food when the seed dish' was full. What they failed to realize was that the dish' was full of hulls, not seeds. This will never happen using this seed dispenser.
My watering system is a common soda bottle, equipped with a special rubber stopper and spout. It is inverted and attaches to the cage by a spring clip. This system prevents the birds from bathing in and soiling their drinking water. My birds have however figured out how to bathe with the bottle system by creating a "shower" effect of their own. The water in the bottle stays clean and uncontaminated, thus eliminating the need to change the water daily. It also allows me to keep from reaching inside the cage to retrieve and replace the water dish'.
Feeding Dish Location Is Important
By their very nature, Gouldians and many other finches are not ground dwelling birds. In a colony situation, Gouldians will go to the floor of a cage or aviary to feed, but they always leave a "look-out" above to sound an alarm if danger approaches. However, with only a few birds (pair) in a smaller cage, I found they can be timid and many will not eat from the floor feeding dish where I placed their soft foods.
I found that by hanging the dish on the side of the cage, as high as possible, they can both eat and be aware of their surroundings. By using this hanging method my birds became less timid and began eating the soft foods that I introduced to them. This is extremely important when feeding softfood to their babies. This method also prevents droppings from getting into the dish as they move around the cage.
Easy Inspection with No Disruption
While the nest box hangs outside of the cage, the birds have easy access either through an extra door or a small hole cut on the side of the cage. The nest box being on the outside of the cage allows for more space within the cage, and also for inspection within the nest without disrupting the birds. If your Gouldians won't incubate their eggs, you will have to remove the eggs to transfer them to foster parents, or to discard them. If they do "parent raise" their progeny, you should check 10 days after hatching to make sure that all of the nestlings are alive and well. Any dead babies or unhatched eggs should be removed at this time. This will prevent contamination of the nest by decomposing bodies and allow for more room as the young birds grow. If all of this had to be done by unhooking and removing the box from within the cage, the parent Gouldians may become stressed to the point of abandoning the chicks. I have never had a pair of Gouldians abandon their young by a quick check inside of a nest box that is hanging outside of their cage.
Preparing the Nest Boxes
Before hanging the nest boxes on the cage fronts, I make sure that they are clean and disinfected. Since I am using wooden boxes, after scrubbing thoroughly, I rinse with straight bleach and allow them to dry completely before reusing. This bleaching keeps mold or mildew from growing inside the box while it is in storage. Here in Georgia this is a major problem because our humidity levels are very high most of the year. A light dusting of 5% Sevin dust applied to the clean nest box will prevent infestation of insects in the box during the breeding cycle. After applying the Sevin dust, I place a hand full of uncut alfalfa grass into the nest box.The Gouldians like to weave and mold the grass to make very intricate nesting cavities. Sometimes they will completely enclose the nest on top making it difficult for me to peer in from the top hinged door to inspect for fertile eggs and possibly dead babies. When this happens, I gently part the straw for my inspections. The Society Finches however don't seem to be as concerned about nest building, and, therefore, I simply cut short lengths of grass and make a hollow nest on the bottom of their box before attaching it to the cage.
Continue on to part 2:
Let the breeding Begin
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