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Basic Breeding Set-Up
Before deciding to breed your gouldians, you need to make sure you have allotted the space, time, and money it may take to set your birds up for breeding and to accommodate the young which they might produce. You will need a separate cage in which to house the young once they are weaned, and you will need to decide if you are ultimately going to keep the babies or find other homes for them. Once your decision is made, the following guidelines should aid you in breeding your finches:

Gouldian pair First, select a male and a female that are:
  • Sexually mature (and at least 6-9 months of age)4
  • Of the same species
  • Unrelated to each other (do not inbreed)
  • Physically healthy (not too thin and not too obese, normal appearing feathers and droppings, appear bright and alert)
  • Free of (potentially genetic) physical defects
  • Bonded to each other

Next, bring the pair into breeding condition:
Note: Gouldians tend to only breed during the fall and winter (their "breeding season"), so you may not have much success if you try to breed them during other parts of the year.
  • Begin feeding a flush diet that is high in protein. Hens will also require additional calcium, in the correct 1:2 ratio with phosphorus. One of the best ways to meet these increased dietary requirements is to feed an egg-mix (boiled egg chopped shell and all blended with finely chopped vegetables). You will need to provide this diet daily from before the first egg is laid until any babies which hatch finish their first molt.
Then, set up an appropriate breeding enclosure:
Two of the most common set ups for breeding birds are the one-pair-per-cage set up and the colony breeding set up. Depending on your preferences and those of your birds, one of these two set ups will probably suit your needs:


One Pair Per Cage
Advantages: No fighting with or disturbances from other pairs, easier to observe the birds and perform nest checks, more control over breeding outcome since you control who each bird mates with.3
Disadvantages: May not stimulate those pairs which seem to breed best in the colony situation.
  • The breeding cage should measure at least 30" (76 cm) long × 18" (46 cm) wide × 18" (46 cm) tall. Box-style breeding cages are preferred, since all of the walls are solid except for the front, which provides more security to the birds.
  • If direct access to natural sunlight is unavailable, provide a full spectrum light on a timer.
  • Consider using tube feeders if you notice your birds trying to nest in their seed cup.
  • Keep the enclosure in a low traffic area where the ambient temperature is at least 65 ° F.
  • Provide a cuttle bone or another safe source of calcium at all times.
  • Provide an appropriate nest and nesting material. Nesting materials which are appropriate to provide for your birds include: coconut fiber, burlap cut into 3" strips, shreds of newspaper, and shreds of facial tissue. Avoid small, synthetic fibers such as yarn, stringy material such as hair, and avoid hay, soil, eucalyptus leaves, and corn cob (which may lead to fungal growth).5 Although gouldians may accept a wide range of nests (from wooden nest boxes to domed bamboo nests), a plastic nest box is prefered because it can be disinfected and reused.
  • If possible, place the nest on the outside front of the cage (this makes nest checks much easier). If this is not an option, the nest may be placed inside the cage (towards one of the upper corners); try to place it so that you can peer into it from outside of the cage.
  • Place some nesting material inside of the nest and the rest on the floor of the enclosure, but not directly under any perches so that it does not become soiled.
  • Provide two perches, one at each end of the cage.
  • When the birds are ready to be added to the enclosure, add the male first and let him investigate the cage for a few days before adding the hen.
Breeding cage


-OR-

Colony Breeding
Advantages: May help to encourage breeding in those individuals which are stimulated by group interaction.
Disadvantages: Less control over breeding outcomes, may lead to increased aggression among the inhabitants, may not stimulate those birds which seem to need seclusion from other pairs to breed.
  • Colony breeding is best when limited to one species (as opposed to mixed species).*2
  • *However, if you wish to breed mixed species in a communal aviary, select birds that are compatible yet have very different plumages as well as different nesting habits to reduce the sources of potential fighting3.
  • This set-up requires that at least 3-5 pairs of birds be housed together, so the enclosure must be large enough to accommodate them.
  • Keep the enclosure in a low traffic area where the ambient temperature is at least 65 ° F.
  • Provide a cuttle bone or another safe source of calcium at all times.
  • If direct access to natural sunlight is unavailable, provide a full spectrum light on a timer.
  • Take steps to reduce aggression:
    • Provide at least two nests per pair of finches (all nests should be placed at similar heights in the enclosure).Although gouldians may accept a wide range of nests (from wooden nest boxes to domed bamboo nests), plastic nest boxes are prefered because they can be disinfected and reused.
    • Provide adequate cover (live and/or silk plants, especially around the nesting sites). This allows the birds to be somewhat hidden from one another which is important because some birds become very defensive of their nest and need their area to be visually isolated from other birds.1
    • Provide plenty of perches but do not crowd the enclosure or encroach on flying space.
    • Provide at least two feed and water stations.
    • Watch for hostility and remove any birds which seem to be terrorizing the rest.
  • Place some nesting material inside each nest and the rest on the floor of the enclosure, but not directly under any perches so that it does not become soiled. Nesting materials which are appropriate to provide for your birds include: coconut fiber, burlap cut into 3" strips, shreds of newspaper, and shreds of facial tissue. Avoid small, synthetic fibers such as yarn, stringy material such as hair, and avoid hay, soil, eucalyptus leaves, and corn cob (which may lead to fungal growth).5
  • When the birds (at least 3-5 pairs) are ready to be added to the enclosure, add them all at the same time.


Next, prepare the birds, add them to the enclosure, and observe them:

Clip the birds' toenails prior to introducing the finches into the breeding enclosure. This will help prevent the birds from accidentally puncturing any eggs they may lay. Add the birds as described above, and observe them. Separate any bird which does not seem to be tolerating the other(s). Some gouldians may need to be set up with a different mate or in a different breeding set up. Check the cage(s) once a day to refill the food and water dishes. Once a pair has begun building its nest, keep a watch (from a distance) for eggs. Record the date that each egg is laid. Most gouldians will begin incubation either after the 3rd or last egg is laid--incubation begins when at least one bird is occupying the nest during the day as well as at night. Some gouldians do not readily tolerate nest checks, Toenail clippersbut but if your pair(s) will, you may wish to candle the eggs (to check for fertility) on or after the 5th day of incubation. This is not necessary, however, and it may be better not to disturb the pair by checking their nest since unnecessary disturbances could frighten the pair into abandoning their eggs/young.


Finally, provide for the pair and their young:

Cuttle bone Many people wonder what they need to do to help their birds raise their babies once they have hatched. The answer is to provide a rich, varied diet which includes giving the birds an egg-mix 2-3 times daily, to resist disturbing the birds, and to keep a distant watch in case anything goes wrong (such as tossing or abandoning the chicks). Only if something goes wrong should you step in and take action. Remember to keep detailed notes on the breeding progress of all birds. Lastly, when the chicks are weaned, they will need to be removed to their own cage if you wish to allow the parents to breed again.

References

1. Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1986). Clinical avian medicine and surgery. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders Company.

2. Alderton, D. (1988). A birdkeeper's guide to finches. Blacksburg, VA: Tetra Press.

3. Blazey, P. S. (1991). The proper care of finches. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications.

4. Koepff, C. (1984). The new finch handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series.

5. Ritchie, B. W., Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1994). Avian medicine: Principles and application. Lake Worth, FL: Wingers Publishing.


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