Erythrura gouldiae

By Doug Hill & Marcus Pollard

Alternate Names:
Lady Gouldian Finch, Rainbow Finch.

Gouldian's are readily available in Australian aviaries whether they are the normal 'wild-type' varieties or mutations. As we go further down the road with mutations in the Gouldians we could well find ourselves in trouble with the availability of the normal Gouldian. We must maintain the true to type 'wild' Gouldian.
Even though the Gouldian is one of the most frequently bred finches in the world it remains as an endangered species in the wild. Although trapping for the avicultural trade took many Gouldians from the wild this trapping was halted in the 1970's. Mining, habitat destruction, air sac mite, feral animals and inappropriate fire regimes have been the major cause for the serious declines seen over recent years.

Sexing Gouldians is very easy to do! The male is a much brighter colour than the hen. The easiest way is to look at the yellow on the belly. The male's belly is a bright yellow and the hen has a much more subdued yellow belly colour.
One should note that the facial colour of the wild-type Gouldian comes in 3 different colours - black, red and yellow (the yellow is a more of an orange colour or, in occasional birds, a rich buttercup yellow). If you are looking to purchase Gouldians try and have the same facial colours on both the male and female.

Fig.1.Normal Gouldians.

Fig.2. Yellow, White-chest.

Fig.3. At Nest!

I do not know how many mutations of the Gouldian there are!
With new mutations coming online all of the time it is impossible to mention them all here, so I will just name a few; White Breasted, Sea Green, Blue, White-Breasted Blue, Dilute, European Yellow, Australian Yellow, White-Breasted Australian Yellow, White-headed White-Breasted, White-Breasted European Yellow, Silver, White-Breasted Silver, Pastels..Etc

Northern Australia from Cape York Peninsula in Northern Queensland, across the top end of Australia throughout the Kimberley region and into the northern coast of Western Australia as far as Derby.
The range of the wild Gouldian has greatly decreased due to habitat destruction, mining and overgrazing. Current research at the Australian Wildlife Conservancies Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Kimberley, has implicated altered fire regimes as having a potentially devastating effect upon the population of remaining wild birds.

Gouldians are a very peaceful bird for any type of aviary. They keep to themselves and are never a bother to other inhabitants. From the reports of some fellow breeders you might suspect that this species is often kept in small colonies of only Gouldians. This is more for the fact that Gouldians appear to be susceptible to water borne diseases that have little effect on other finch species. For this reason alone we strongly recommend that water bowls are kept meticulously clean.
If you intend keeping a large colony of Gouldians then you may find that they will strip smaller, more docile finches of nesting materials so ensure that you have plenty on hand!

Ease of breeding (1 easy -10 difficult):
5/10 - Gouldians are very easily bred. They are an ideal bird for the beginner before moving on to the mutations for the more experienced aviculturist. However, as these birds have no down feathers, use some common sense when acquiring them in cooler climates! Also worth remembering that they take a long time to acquire their full adult plumage which can take up to 12 months depending on what time of the year they are bred. This may prove annoying unless you have holding aviaries to house them until they are through their moult. We have seen young, uncoloured birds lay and rear chicks even when it is impossible to determine their sex by the naked eye!

Purchasing your bird:
Gouldians can be purchased at any of your regular bird outlets or from specialist bird breeders.
When buying Gouldians DO NOT BUY UNCOLOURED BIRDS or birds in a moult. Buying and relocating uncoloured birds or those in the moult puts the Gouldian under extreme stress and could be the cause of their demise when they are relocated.
Young Gouldians usually come onto the market from late October through to late December.
Always remember the one golden rule when buying birds, if in doubt don't buy!

Fig.4. Black head, WF. Fig.5. Red head, WF. Fig.6. Red head, WF.

Good points to look for:
Always look for Gouldians in good feather. If they are in good feather it means that they have gone through their moult.
Look for clear colouring of the facial mask whether black, red or yellow.
Size of the bird.
Clear bright eyes.
The body colours of the bird are strong.
Cleanliness around the ventral area.
Clean mandibles and legs (no flaking).
The bird is always on the move.
The black beak in the hen is also a sign of readiness to breed.

Faults to look for:
Birds that are lethargic.
Soiled vent.
Long overgrown toenails.
Fluffed up with closed eyes.
Poor feather and poor colouring.
Look for cleanliness of the beak and legs.
If the bird appears to have laboured or wheezy breathing then it is probably suffering from air sac mite - although fairly easy to treat these days we suggest you leave the birds where they are!
This is one bird where appearance tells you everything about its state of health!

Aviary or breeding cabinet:
Gouldians can be bred in cabinets, small aviaries to large well-planted aviaries.
It is unadvisable to keep the Gouldians in the small cages for any extended length of time as they can become obese without enough room to exercise.
After breeding your Gouldians in a cabinet during the breeding season, place them into a holding aviary with plenty of flying room for the off-season. This will ensure your birds get enough exercise and do not get too fat.

Breeding season:
The more experienced breeders of the Gouldians tend to start their breeding season from about mid February to the end of May/June. This ensures that the young produced will surely undergo their moult at the end of the year and gives the breeder fresh young stock which will be fully mature for the following breeding season. Some Gouldian breeders in Tasmania have found that some birds have adapted to the cold climate and start nesting in September, thereby avoiding the harsh winter.
Some breeders let their birds breed throughout the winter months and at times can lead to some problems, namely the Gouldians stop sitting on their young after a period of approximately 10 days and then the young must huddle together for their warmth. During the cold months of winter this can, at times, be fatal for the young. Some Tasmanian breeders overcome this by attaching small pilot globes underneath the nest boxes but they still have problems once the chicks actually leave the nest.
Also the breeding of the Gouldian during winter can take its toll on the hen bird from the energy lost whilst laying eggs.
Nevertheless, their breeding time in captivity is usually from late January until September.

Fig.7. Yellow head normal. Fig.8. Black head White Front.

Off-season feeding:
An austerity diet of mixed seeds, grits, cuttlebone and eggshells is supposedly efficient.
A fresh supply of some seeding grasses is also recommended also keep up the greens, in way of, endive, spinach, kale and bok choy to the birds.

Should I feed soft foods?
If you do have a good mix of egg and biscuit formula it can be fed to the birds on a daily basis.

What green feed?
Fresh grass seed can be fed daily in the breeding season.
Other green feed can consist of Lebanese cucumber, chickweed, endive and bok-choy.
You can expect better breeding results if fresh seeding grasses are fed during the breeding season. These can be fed when they are half ripe or
when beginning to dry off. The Gouldian is a copious consumer of green seeding grasses especially when young are in the nest.

What live food?
Most breeders prefer not to use live food for their breeding of Gouldians but some do. I am one who firmly believes that the Gouldian should have live food in its breeding diet.
I feed gentles (maggots) and termites (when available) and the Gouldians take these readily. They will also take small mealworms.
I have watched a male Gouldian take black ants from the wall of an aviary - a sure way for them to get tapeworm!

Breeding season feeding:
For the Gouldian I put the hens with the cocks in mid February and that is when they begin to pair up.
If you do have your birds on an austerity diet January or February is the time to start your breeding diet as this is when you start to slowly give your birds some extra bits in their feed tray.
If you feed live food, let the birds build up to the extra live food such as termites, mealworms and gentles gradually.
With green seeding grasses, proceed with caution as too much too soon can easily cause all types of problems including scours.
Some of the seeding grasses that may be used are African veldt grass, Chickweed, Winter grass, Panic grass, Guinea grass, milk thistle and shepherds purse.

Fig.9. Family group! Fig.10. hen at nest! Fig.11. White Breast hen

What age do they breed?
I wait until my young Gouldians are at least 9 months of age before breeding but they can and do readily breed at 6 months of age.

What if I lose a mate?
Although pair bonding is strong, if one loses a mate, immediately introduce another mate.
The introduction of a new mate during the breeding season does not ensure that they will readily go to nest.
It sometimes may take a while for a surviving partner to accept a new mate if at all.

Nesting receptacles:
I once had a pair of Gouldians try and build a nest of sorts. It was a frail looking piece of work with a lot of roof and very little of anything else thus resulting in having a few eggs on the floor of the aviary. So I have never encouraged them to try it again.
Gouldians will nest in logs, nesting boxes, cane baskets, wire cylinders and just about anything else that has a hole in the front and offers some type of subdued light in the breeding area.
Most of the professional breeders that I know use only nesting boxes. They are easy to take down from the breeding position and opened from the top for easy access to the young when ringing them.

Nesting materials:
Gouldians will use just about any type of grass for their nesting materials. I have had them use long strands of couch (put in the aviary for the Diamond firetails). I supply them with plenty of November grass and they appear to love Witch Grass when available.
Gouldians do not line their nest with feathers.

The nest:
I think that the Gouldian must near rate as the worst nest builder of them all!
So you need to give Gouldians a bit of a hand when it comes to nest building. The nest is just about always built in a nesting receptacle such as a nest box. Gouldian breeders differ from place to place as to what is the best type of box for breeding the Gouldian. So the choice of what type of nest box you want is entirely up to you.
Now when helping your birds to build their happy little home, take a handful of nesting grass and place it in the bottom of the nesting box. After making a cup type nest in the box it is time to leave it up the birds.
Some Gouldians take it the way you have prepared the box and some decide that it is not enough and tend to build a roof over the nesting cup. This can range from a couple of strands of grass to completely covering in the empty spaces of the nest box.
Gouldians nests are very messy after each clutch. I change each used nest box after each lot of young has left the nest replacing it with a clean box and fresh grass.

Mating behavior:
The mating dance of the Gouldian can at times be comical to watch; my grandchildren almost always stop what they are doing to watch the male bird in full action.
With his feathers fluffed out he stands erect and rapidly turns his head from side. He then puts his bill on his chest and starts to bounce up and down on the branch all the time calling to the hen in a low pitched whirring call. When bouncing up and down the feet at times leave the branch. His tail is pointed in the direction of the female and when she is ready to submit she will fly to the nest-box where mating takes place.

Between 4 and 7 white eggs are laid.

Brooding time:
It generally takes 13/14 days to incubate the eggs with the hen doing the majority of the sitting.
It is the hen that sits the eggs at night though it is not uncommon for the male to share the nest with the hen of a night.

Fledging time:
Fledging usually takes around 21 days. It may take a bit longer during the colder months so allow for that extra day or so before poking fingers into the nest.
Be aware that if you poke your finger into the nest and the young are not too far off fledging you are going to have young Gouldians jumping out of the nest at a rate of knots and it is near impossible to put them back into the nest without one or the other continuing to jump out.

Independence from the Parents:
Independence is around 21 days.

How long do the young stay with the parents?
The amount of time the young can stay with the parents is entirely up to you.
Some breeders take the young after 3 to 4 weeks and place them into a holding aviary or holding cages. Others tend to leave the young with the parent for the full breeding season.
I do not have a problem with the young staying with the parents as long as overcrowding in the aviary does not become a problem. If overcrowding does become a problem and you have nowhere to house the young then you must stop your birds from breeding, as you will, in very quick time, have health problems in your aviary.

What do I feed the fledged young?
The young birds can be given the same diet as the parents.

When do I ring the young?
The young can be rung with closed bands in the nest. This is usually done when the young are 6 to 9 days of age any longer and it is near impossible to fit the ring over the toes.
When ringing young birds after they have left the nest be careful not to damage to toes.
If you care to wait you can ring your young with split coloured plastic rings after they have left the nest.

Separating the pairs:
It is best to separate the Gouldians when you have decided that they have bred enough or when there are too many birds for the enclosure in which you keep your birds!
Usually 3 nests are a maximum to let them have as any more nests of young can and will have a detrimental affect on your breeding birds.
This is also a good idea where you have below average winter temperatures and reduces the chance of egg-binding or losing chicks when the parents cease sitting on them of a night.

Showing your bird:
A Gouldian in good feather and has good strong colours is a bird that is hard to pass in any show.
Judges will look for birds in good feather, clean mandible, legs and feet with all toenails in tact and not overgrown.
The bird must have clear bright eyes and constantly moving in the show cage.
The brightness of the colours and the density of the colours are things to keep in mind when preparing a bird for the show bench.
The size of the bird plays an important part, as the judges do not want to see a scrawny undersized bird.
The vent must be clean and unsoiled.

Gene pool:
The gene pool of Gouldians in our aviaries is very secure. That is not a green light to get too complacent with them as we could easily lose this advantage.
Remember when the gene pool goes down the gurgler our birds go down with it!

Life expectancy:
Some people call the Gouldians 'multi-coloured compost', as they tend to believe that they are a soft bird and succumb quickly to all sorts of ailments.
I am not of this opinion I think that they are a hardy bird if kept in the right conditions and out of the draughts, but this, of course, depends upon how close to the equator you happen to reside - remember (again!) that the Gouldian doesn't possess any down feathers!
Gouldians can have a life expectancy of around 6/7 years and at times up to 8 years.

Fig.12. White headed white breast! Fig.13. Black headed white front.

Common ailments:
Gouldian suffer badly from cold draughts and dampness in your aviary. They are a bird that readily succumbs to stress, so be aware of anything that may stress them out and remove the problem.
A sound-worming program would be essential as well.
Air-sac mite and can also affect Gouldians to the extent of killing them. Using a Shelltox pest-strip hung inside the roosting area of the aviary can assist in controlling this problem. Please be aware that some of the ingredients of the old-style pest strips contain harmful organic compounds and we do not recommend their use in confined or excessively hot areas.
Scaly mite is another pest of the Gouldian that can be controlled in the same manner as the air-sac mite - Cydectin has proved effective for the control of these pests. Also using Ivomec mixed with alcohol as a topical application has proven very effective in removing these parasites.
Clean fresh water is a must for this species, as they appear to be highly sensitive to water borne diseases that do not appear to worry more robust finches.

This bird would be about the most beautifully coloured finch in the world. It is a pleasure to have them in our aviaries.
They may not be as active as the other finches in the aviary but their beautiful plumage accounts for that.
I have Gouldians in my aviaries and I would recommend anyone who wishes to have colourful aviary inhabitants to own at least one pair of Gouldians.

They are the first bird that attracts the eye when showing visitors your birds and the comments are pretty much, "what sort of bird are they and aren't they just stunning". It has been the Gouldian that has been the catalyst for many a new face into the realms of birdkeeping.
A good feeding regime will keep them in tip top condition and they will look the part.
The Gouldian is a bird that could only be described as a "true icon" of aviculture. To have to face up to the realization that these finches are critically endangered in the wild is extremely distasteful. Let us hope that Gouldian breeders everywhere get behind the SAVE THE GOULDIAN FUND and channel some much needed funds into their conservation - both in the wild at the Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary and in captivity at a number of institutions throughout Australia.

With apologies to the original author but, "all it will take for the wild Gouldian to disappear is for the people who love it the most to take no responsibility for its salvation".