Gouldian Finch - Chloebia gouldiae (changing to Erythrura gouldiae) eFinch on Facebook
Yellow Headed Gouldian Finch male

Common Names
Lady Gouldian, Rainbow finch, name sometimes shortened to Gould.

Male: The breast and belly colors are usually used to determine sex. Males will have a brighter and darker color of purple on the chest and the yellow of the belly will be darker and more intense than the female. The green back color and the light blue around the face mask is also darker. Often the face mask in males are larger and clearer than the females, but is not always the case as their are some strains of birds that have equal color in both sex's face mask. The males will also sing a nearly inaudible song while stretching and hopping on the perch. They will usually begin this song long before they have completed their molt into adult colors.

Female: The female has more subdued colors on her chest, belly and back. The female's beak will turn from a pearly white to black when she is in breeding condition.

The Gouldian has a real preference for the large white millets and will scatter most of the small seeds in a standard finch mix, so I offer them a parakeet mix or just the White Millet. They can be somewhat timid about trying new foods but can generally be enticed to take egg food (Roy's egg food), greens and soaked or sprouted millet, though I rarely feed greens. Grit and calcium in the form of crushed egg and oyster shells and cuttlebone should always be available to them. Many will only occasionally nibble on the cuttlebone, but I still offer it to them. Crushed oyster and egg shells are by far their favorites for calcium intake which really seems higher than most other species. Gouldians also seem to have a greater dietary need for iodine. Insufficient iodine in their diet often results in a loss of feathers around their head. Once the iodine is increased, the feathers will most likely regrow. Most vitamin and mineral supplements include iodine in their mix, but if you find that this is insufficient for their needs you can supplement the iodine through their water. Kelp iodine sources can be purchased at health food stores or there are other sources for iodine. Remember this is dietary iodine and not the kind used for wound care. Potassium Iodine is the source you should be looking for.

Breeder's Notes
Previous reports on Gouldians makes them appear to be temperamental and difficult breeders that require near hot house environments. The current state of the Gouldian is such that it can nearly be considered a domesticated species and by some definitions, is a fully domesticated species. I believe that some of their previous delicate nature was due to their breeder's treatment of them. They looked delicate, were raised delicately and died if treated differently. My Gouldians are in an unheated bird room that routinely drops to below 40 degrees F in the winter and up to 100 degrees in the hottest days of the summer. They will breed from October through March or April, with the majority of the breeding activity in December through January - the coldest months of the year. They are ready breeders that will raise young in small cages and planted aviaries alike. I use the same individual breeding cages that I use for my Zebra finches (Small breeder) (How to build an all wire cage) with a standard finch box placed inside. The Gouldians like the box that I use with an entrance at the top (nestbox). This allows them to get down low in the box and hide. They are not master nest builders by any means and will use mostly rough materials with softer materials being ignored or even ejected if it is placed in the box. The male will take on the majority of the nest building chores by bringing material to the nest. The female will rearrange the material to her liking.

Gouldians will lay surprising large clutches of eggs. They average 5-8 eggs, but larger clutches are not that unusual. Incubation will normally begin pretty early with some starting after the first egg or two. The pair will share incubation duties during the day, but quite often the male will stay outside during the night. This actually isn't that surprising since Gouldians are not a 'clumping' species. That is to say the pair will sit side-by-side or clump together with each other or others of their species. After 13-14 days of incubation the young begin to hatch. They are small, pink and lack any fuzz. They are easily identified by the light-reflecting nodes at the corners of their mouth (see mouth markings). The pair will take turn brooding the young with the male remaining outside during the night. After about 10 to 14 days, depending upon the size of the clutch, the female will also begin sleeping outside the box at night. This may seem early since the chicks have barely started to get pin feathers, but they seem to be just fine even if the nighttime temperatures move down to the low 30's. I think it is important to have lights on for an active period of about 14 to 15 hours. If raised outdoors, the long winter nights may be too long for the chicks to go without food. Especially if it is cold.

The chicks will fledge at approximately 22-25 days. At this point they will be a dusky green with a buff belly (see juveniles). Once the chicks fledge, many will not return to the nest at night, but will stay out with the parents. This is variable. It seems that if the parents return to roost in the nest, then the chicks will return with them. The parents will continue to feed the chicks for an additional 2-3 weeks. During this time, the female will usually begin to lay another clutch of eggs. It has always been my practice to remove any clutches of eggs that are laid before the previous clutch has been weaned. This is to give the parents a little break to build up some body reserves before they begin feeding another clutch of young and quite often incubation is sporadic, the young soil the eggs and the hatch rate is far lower than usual. This clutch of removed eggs can easily be fostered to Society finches for them to raise. After the young are weaned and removed from the parents, the pair will usually lay another full clutch of eggs and incubate and raise that that clutch normally.

The young, sometimes referred to as 'greens', can take up to 9 months to fully molt into adult plumage. Usually though, they are complete within 4-6 months depending upon temperature. Some breeders report higher than usual losses from their Gouldians as they molt into adult colors and that this is due to their 'higher' protein requirement. I have not found this to be the case and suffer no greater losses from young Gouldians than my Zebra finches. They do have a higher protein requirement than a Zebra, but this is not that unusual. It is the Zebra and Society finch that has an unusually low protein requirement. Given the proper diet which includes proteins and fats as well as the carbohydrates from their seeds, young Gouldians are hardy birds.

I have always bred my Gouldians in cages as individual pairs. I have tried breeding them in larger cages with 2 to 3 pairs, but was not as successful with that arrangement. Some other breeders have reported great success breeding Gouldians in colonies. Probably the best arrangement for colony breeding would be in a larger aviary with four or more pairs. While a mostly peaceful bird, they can begin to pick on each other to defend their nest territory.

Some Gouldian pairs can be notorious chick tossers. Often incubating well, but then ejecting the young soon after hatching. It is usually the male that ejects the young, but not always. I feel that these are mostly young pairs or birds that are not yet in full breeding condition. I have found that it is a waste of time to return the chicks (if they are found alive) to the nest as they will most certainly be ejected again. The young can be fostered to another pair of Gouldians or Society finches. If possible, try to pair up an older bird with a younger bird and wait until the birds are in top breeding condition before providing a nest box. I check the beak color of the pair as an indicator of breeding condition. Males should have pearly white beaks with a red tip and females should have an almost completely black beak (note: mutations can mask these beak colors).

Color Mutations
There are three naturally occurring color morphs for head colors that exist in the wild (Morph is used here instead of mutation because it is a naturally occurring variation). The Red Headed form being the normal wild state. The Red Headed variety is dominant to the Black Head morph, but is still far outnumbered by the Black Head variety in the wild. The Yellow or Orange Head variety is rarely seen as it is a recessive mutation and also requires the presence of the Red Headed gene to be visible.

The mutations developed in aviculture include the White Breast (replaces the normal purple color with white), the Yellow-backed (eliminates the blue & black color), and the Blue-backed (eliminates the yellow color). How these mutation act on the birds and the combinations can be confusing for many Gouldian breeders.

Head color - The Red-headed variety (RH) is sex-linked dominant morph that can be held as single or double factor in the males, while females only need inherit one gene from their father to show the red mask. Males that are single factor RH can produce both BH and RH hens. Yellow head (or orange as it is really a rust orange color) is a recessive morph, but it requires the presence of the RH gene to be visible. If the bird is a YH (has two genes for YH), but is genetically Black headed, then the head mask will be black. The tip of the beak will be yellow rather than red, however. Red head and Black headed birds that are split for YH show no visible signs of the hidden gene.

Breast color - The White Breast mutation is a recessive mutation. It eliminates the purple color leaving a clean white breast. This is inherited separately from head color and can be combined with any of the three morphs. The Lilac breast mutation seems to be tied to the White breast mutation in some way. It is unclear as to it's mode of inheritance and may simply be the incomplete suppression of the purple color by the White breasted gene. Males with a lilac breast are sometimes confused with hens. The deep yellow coloration of the belly will help differentiate these males from normal females.

Back color - The Blue-backed variety is a recessive mutation. It eliminates the yellow color on the Gouldian and alters the colors accordingly. The normally green back is changed to blue, the yellow belly is changed to a dingy white and if the bird is either Red or Yellow headed, then this is changed to a salmon color. The beak is pearly white without any tip color so there is no way to distinguish between RH and YH Blue-backed birds. The mask looks the same. Only if the genetics are known can you say for certain. I paired two normal YH Goulds split for Blue-back to produce true YH Blue-backed birds. These looked identical to other Blue-backs exhibiting salmon colored heads. Some of which were surely RHs genetically.

Yellow-back is a Sex-linked Co-dominant mutation in the US and Europe. (There is a autosomal recessive mutation in Australia and South Africa.) The mutation works to suppress the blue and black color from the bird. The normally green back is changed to yellow, the black face ring is removed and genetically BH birds will have a gray face mask. Males that hold the Yellow back gene in the single factor (only one gene inherited) will have a diluted appearance. They still have green on their backs, but this is diluted and the black face ring is eliminated or reduced. There is a twist here, if a single factor Yellow-backed male is also a White Breasted bird, he will be visually a Yellow-backed. There is often some flecks of green on the back, but he certainly is not a dilute. Females cannot be split for sex-linked mutations so they only need inherit one Yellow-back gene to be visually Yellow. Therefore, dilute females can never be produced regardless of the breast color.

The combination of the two back colors results in a pale bird that only faintly shows the colors that were removed. These are called Silvers. Personally, I see little point to their development as it is the elimination of all the color that makes the Gouldian such a magnificent bird.

Naturally Occurring Color Morphs
Red Headed - males (above, middle of page) Normal wild state
Black Headed male (click to view) Sex-linked Recessive
Yellow (Orange) Headed male (Top of page) Autosomal Recessive. Also require Red Head to be present

Mutations Developed in Aviculture (USA)
Blue Backed RH male (click to view) Autosomal Recessive
Blue Backed BH female (click to view)
Yellow Backed White Breasted YH male (click to view)
Yellow Backed White Breasted RH male (click to view) Co-dominant Sex-linked. Males in single factor are dilutes
White Breasted RH male (click to view) Autosomal Recessive
Lilac Breasted Autosomal Recessive. Possible link to White Breast
Dilute Males A single factor Yellow Backed male. No females can be produced
Silvers A combination of Yellow back and Blue Back
Lutino Sex-linked recessive (USA) Autosomal recessive in Europe/Japan

Additional Notes
Gouldians seem particularly susceptible to Air Sac mites. This highly contagious parasite invades the respiratory system and will eventually cause the death of the bird. A bird with Air Sac mites will seem lethargic and have difficulty breathing, but the sure sign of the parasite is a clicking sound that the bird makes when breathing. (Bird keepers should hold up a healthy bird to their ear so that they can tell the difference between normal respiration and the labored breathing caused by Air Sac mites.) Some breeders hang a pest strip near their cages as a preventative. Treatment for the mites varies from breeder to breeder. The most popular treatment products today are Ivermectin and a Vetafarms product called SCATT (Moxidectin). With both products (developed as wormers for the cattle and swine industry), a drop is placed on the bare skin of the bird to kill the mites systemically. Care should be taken not to exceed the recommended dosage. Some instructions recommend placing a drop on the bare skin between the shoulders. I find it difficult to part the feathers with the same hand I am using to hold the bird with and use the other hand to administer the medication. I pull back a wing and place the drop in the exposed wing pit. Another method of treatment for Air Sac mites is known as the 'shake and bake' method. A teaspoon of Sevin dust (a pesticide) is placed in a paper bag. The bird is quickly sealed in the bag and as it flaps around it creates a cloud of dust and breathes in some of the pesticide. The trick here is to dose the bird with enough pesticide to kill the parasite, but not so much as to kill the bird.

Gouldian finches are becoming somewhat rare in the wild and are considered endangered. Some of this is due to changes in the environment, and there was some evidence that pointed to the spread of Air Sac mites as the cause of their decline. However, recent studies have focused on the burning of grass that is routinely conducted in Australia. Aboriginal people would burn the grasses to burn off dried grass and encourage new growth. Cattlemen of today use a different method of burning at a later part of the year that results in really hot fires that destroy seeds and spinefex before it can form seed heads. These changes combined with the lack of suitable nesting sites may be at the root of the Gouldian's decline in the wild.

The light reflecting nodes in the corners of their mouth as well as the mouth markings themselves points to a close relationship with parrot finches (see mouth markings).