Shortly after the pair is put together the cock will start his courtship performance. If the hen is receptive she will remain near him. You will see her listening attentively to her mate singing. She will bow and dance in front of him in acceptance of his advances. If she is unimpressed (not ready) she will fly away. The hen's beak will darken (grey to black) considerably when she is ready for breeding. The mating takes place within the confines of the nest box. Egg laying should start about one week later. One egg should be laid each morning until the entire clutch of 4 - 7, some times more, eggs are laid.
Identifying a Complete Clutch
I attach a small piece of Velcro to the top of each of my nest boxes. Each evening I check the nest before lights out to see if an egg was laid that day. Every time there is an additional egg, I stick a small fuzzy ball to the Velcro (these balls can be purchased in most craft stores.) When no more eggs are added to the nest, I know that the clutch is complete. The eggs are viable for up to 7 days after being laid. This means that if you have a 4 egg clutch, the Gouldians have 3 more days to start the incubation process before the first egg laid will no longer be able to develop into an embryo. If you are going to use Society fosters, you will need to transfer the eggs before this time. Gouldians usually don't begin incubating their eggs until the last egg has been laid. Incubation is shared during the day while at night the hen incubates on her own. When in breeding condition the cock and the hen develop a bare patch of skin on the abdomen. This brooding patch allows closer contact and heat transfer to the eggs.
"Candle" for Fertility
Five to seven days after incubation begins I inspect the eggs to check for fertility. When using a special candling flashlight, a network of blood vessels can clearly be seen inside fertile eggs. In a darkened room you should carefully hold each egg up to the pinpoint of light and check for the web of blood vessels. Fertile eggs can also be identified by the matte (chalky) surface that they take on after incubation begins. However, it takes experience to identify these changes. If all of the eggs are infertile, they should be discarded and your birds should begin laying their next clutch within 7 to 10 days. If all or some of the eggs are fertile upon inspection, replace the fertile ones in the nest and your birds will continue incubating. Candling the eggs saves your birds from spending unproductive time incubating infertile eggs. Don?t be concerned about handling the eggs and leaving your "smell" on them. Unlike wild birds, this will not cause your pet birds to reject the eggs. Remember, everything your birds come in contact with has your "smell" on it. I suggest washing your hands before handling the eggs so as not to transfer anything harmful onto the eggs. Although they appear hard and smooth, they are actually very porous and can transfer bacteria through the shell into the embryo.
Equal Chance to Survive
Incubation takes 14 - 15 days with most of the eggs hatching in the morning. The babies should all hatch within hours of each other. This is good because it gives each of them an equal chance by size to be fed by the parents. If several of your bird's clutches are infertile, I would suspect a deficiency in their diet and recommend the addition of Breeding Aid to their seed mix. This and other products to increase fertility are outlined more fully in the DIET section.
No Baby Noise
You will not hear any baby noise for several days, and the parents won't begin feeding until the morning of the second day. The hatchlings survive the first 24 hours by acquiring nourishment from the yoke sac. Once you suspect eggs have hatched you should gradually increase the amount of hard-boiled or dry/moistened egg food that you supply to the parents each morning. Two feedings a day will be most beneficial to the fast growing chicks. As the chicks grow, so does the amount of soft food. Newly hatched Gouldian chicks are bare skinned and of a light flesh color. Their eyes open on the seventh day and the primary feathers break through the skin on the eleventh to twelfth day.
The parents will take turns providing warmth to the chicks until around the 10th day after hatching when the feathers begin to grow. After that, they will spend more and more time off the nest. The babies should begin to poke their heads from the nest at about the 20 - 21 day and exit the nest shortly thereafter. Once the chicks are all out of the nest, they very rarely go back to their nest to roost. Instead they will huddle together on a branch or perch. Gouldians do not sleep inside their nest box, except during the incubating and early rearing period. If your Gouldian babies are being reared by Society fosters, you may observe them returning to the nest box at night for a day or two, but then they should remain outside on the perch at night, while the Societies return to sleep. Do not remove the babies from the parents' care until you are quite sure that they are completely independent and eating on their own. Usually this occurs when they are 7 to 8 weeks old depending on the quality of their diet.
Second and Third Breeding Cycle
Often times the Gouldian parents will choose to begin a second or even third breeding cycle. I always remove the soiled nest box after the last chick has come out, and do not replace it for about a week. If the Gouldian juveniles are being fostered, I also remove the soiled nest box when the last chick has left the nest, but I replace it immediately with a fresh, clean box. This is done because Society Finches use the box at night for roosting. When it is replaced, the cock will again begin building a nest and breeding will commence. Don't worry about the chicks. Once the Gouldians begin incubating the new clutch the parent not incubating will continue feeding the babies until no longer necessary.
Molting- Breeding Ceases
Once one or the other of your Gouldians begins the molting period, all breeding ceases. The nest box can be removed until next year. Remember, don't short them of all the same foods that you were providing during their chick rearing days, because it is now their turn to produce a new and beautiful rainbow coat of feathers. I am currently testing a new product from the Bird Care Co. called Feather-Up. This food supplement is used during the Molt. I will include my findings in my next article titled "Molting Birds".
I usually leave the pairs together until the molt is finished. This cuts down on the stress of a move to new surroundings during this stressful time. The hens and cocks are then separated and placed into flights to rebuild their strength with flight exercises until the next breeding season.
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