Experiences Breeding Pure Headed Gouldian Finches in Cooler Climates.
By Russ Trainor.
There has been a great deal written about the Gouldian finch in both Australian and overseas aviculture literature. The best advice I can offer is simply to read as much of this literature as possible.
There is also an excellent book produced by the Birdkeeper magazine, A Guide to keeping Gouldian finches, which is an essential reference to any serious Gouldian keeper. If you are not sufficiently keen to read some of the literature, I suggest that you buy a budgie. Learning as much as you possible can about your avian subjects and inmates, is an essential pre-requisite to providing them this quality care.
The main problem I found with much of this literature however is that it described breeding and husbandry in warm climates. The following comments and experiences are derived from breeding pure headed Gouldian finches in Victoria for the past eight seasons in cooler climate, south of the great divide.
The other concern I have is that while most references to breeding Gouldian finches espouse the virtues of breeding pure headed birds, greater space is thereafter given to the mutations because of their novelty and greater perceived commercial value.
I do not have any mutation Gouldians or any other mutation finch. Aviculturists have a responsibility to breed and perpetuate strong genetic stock to pass from one generation of aviculturist to the next. How often do to you see finches kept in small cages, where the birds are not permitted to exercise and interbreed freely with close relatives. The birds become small and weedy beasts and are essentially lost from the viable captive gene pool. The past two years I have sold most of my young pure headed Gouldians by order, some order 12 months in advance.
This enables me to assess the credentials of the prospective purchaser. Beginners and novelists that wish to purchase Gouldians to add a little colour to a mixed collection, sometimes find that I have run out of stock and have to purchase elsewhere.
The second mechanism of “natural selection” of prospective purchasers is the price. I sell my pure headed Gouldians for $80 per pair. I justify this price on the basis that they are guaranteed pure to head colour, young birds fully through the moult and not closely related. They are also bred in large outdoor aviaries with no artificial heat.
The concern in aviculture today is that an increasing number of once common finches are now difficult to obtain. Gouldians, Stars, Masked, Pictorella, Yellow rumped.
I currently run eight pair each of red and black headed Gouldian and five pair of yellows.
I purchased my first Gouldian Finches in 1993. I initially purchased Regent and Superb parrots as my initial foray into aviary birds however after failing to breed any young at all, I added Gouldian finches to my collection just to add further to the disappointment.
My previous experiences with bird keeping included ten years of breeding and racing pigeons as a teenager. Although quite different species, my aim then was similar to my aim now twenty years later, to breed a robust strain of hardy free breeding birds.
This sounds simple enough, but I don’t think enough aviculturists' work hard enough to develop vitality and health into their birds. (See natural selection) In the pigeon racing game, natural selection is always at work as only the best birds that return are allowed to perpetuate their genes. Similar selective breeding needs to be implemented in breeding finches and parrots, including Gouldians.
Initially I made all of the usual mistakes made by beginners. I constructed open fronted aviaries must unsuited to breeding Gouldian in the winter when temperature drop below 10 degrees for about four months of the year.
I initially purchased three pair of Black headed birds and succeeded in breeding two young. One young and one adult died though the winter. The following year I purchased a further pair of black heads and two pair of Yellows. I covered in the fronts of the aviaries with perspex and gradually realised greater success.
The past five years I have bred thirty to fifty young from eight to ten pair. These figures don't compare favourable with some others quoted most notably from Queensland breeders. Breeding Gouldian finches in Victoria, south of the divide is a much different proposition to breeding in the warmer areas north of the divide.
INITIAL PURCHASE OF STOCK
Even today I consider that I was particularly fortunate to have found a quality source of stock. I initially purchases from a well-known Inglewood breeder, well regarded for keeping and breeding a wide range of strong and robust parrots and finches. Although his Gouldians were all in one aviary, there wasn’t a mutation in sight. Furthermore his birds were a good size, bold and free breeding.
The majority of Gouldian breeders have a few birds only, mix head colour and don’t selectively breed. As a result, the birds are generally small, poorly coloured and die readily during periods of stress such as during the breeding season. In the past three years I have purchased five Gouldian to “add genetic variation to my flock”. Three died within a week and one under the stress of breeding. One cock purchased at a Melbourne bird sale has proved to be a quality breeder. Twenty percent success from imported stock however is very poor, and I thought that I was careful in my selection!
Buying birds at bird sales is very risky, as you cannot see what conditions they come from. I have purchased birds from people with aviaries less than three metres in length with little success. On releasing the birds they do two lengths of my aviary and fall on the floor exhausted. Gouldians may be a small bird but personally they need at least a four-metre aviary to develop health and vitality.
You also need to buy from someone who produces a number of birds a year. Like breed like. If the parents were good breeders then there is every likelihood that the young will in turn be good breeder.
It would certainly be my preference to purchase from a breeder who does not have mutations. It is not as critical that the three head colours may be mixed so long as there are no mutations and the birds are a good size.
When looking at Gouldians with the view of purchasing, the cocks always look great. Look to the hens for a measure of the quality in the aviary. The hens should be as big or bigger than the cocks. It is preferable to purchase in December/January as the young birds will be just coming through the moult. Leave it any longer and you may be purchasing old stock, which is generally not advised. Once they have fully moulted, it is harder to tell the ages of the birds. Many birdos quit their old stock, which although they may breed, may only have one season left in them.
To view a standard for what a quality Gouldian should look like, refer to the bible on Gouldian keeping, “The Guide to Gouldian finches” produced by the Bird Keeper magazine. All of the normal coloured birds show good colour and what I call a roman nose or full bill. I do not like the slender billed birds and have culled them from my flock.
References: The Avicultural writings of Eric Baxter.