Sometimes it is difficult to tell if a bird is still moulting - check the bird's back. Notice the pin feathers on the moulting bird in the lower photo. Gouldian finches will not breed while going through their moult. The ending of your bird's moult is the optimal time to start conditioning them for breeding.
Here is an example of how to improve your Gouldian finches diet when conditioning them for breeding. This mixture contains egg, eggshell, greens, veggies, sprouted seed and bread crumbs.
Gouldians in male in aviary coming into in breeding condition.
Gouldian male in breeding condition - Notice the shine on his head and chest feathers.
Gouldian finch hen in breeding condition. Although hens do not get the same degree of shine on their feathers, there is still noticable sheen to them.
Breeding the Gouldian Finch Part 1 of 2
I decided to combine breeding condition and courtship into one two-part article because courtship is such an important part of assessing your Gouldian's breeding condition and readiness to nest. The two are intertwined and together they give you the clear picture of when to pair your birds up for breeding. Conditioning your birds will enhance breeding success and courtship behaviour is the final piece in assessing the actual condition of your birds.
Breeding usually comes easily to the Gouldian finch in captivity. They are generally not considered a "beginner" species, but I would certainly not consider them difficult. They are easy to keep, don't require an exotic diet and come into breeding condition readily. You can breed Gouldians any time other than during their moult. The most natural time for them to breed however is following their moult. Once their new feathers become bright, shiny and sleek, they are in top form to find a mate.
Bringing a Gouldian finch into breeding condition
Bringing your Gouldian finches into breeding condition is relatively easy and straight forward. Because I like to compliment the birds internal clock when possible, I will describe conditioning birds as the come out of their moult, but as I mentioned you can breed Gouldians just about anytime. Just give your birds 4 to 8 weeks to condition, depending upon their form at the onset.
Although we don't have any direct control we hope that our birds are synchronized with one another, that they are generally on the same cycle. Most Gouldians that have spent a significant amount of time together will correspond with one another and follow similar moulting-breeding-austerity cycles. Keep in mind though that this is not always the case and even established flocks vary somewhat; this is to be expected. Once the birds begin to moult (you will notice more feathers on the cage floor without seeing any bald patches on your birds) you can start planning. Depending upon your birds and their general health you can expect your birds to be ready approximately 4 to 8 weeks after completing their moult. If the birds you plan to breed are not synchronized, you may have to treat them differently. If your male and female start moulting at the same time, you can expect to treat them the same and promote a smooth transition into breeding readiness together. If however one bird is ahead of the other significantly it may be necessary to try to hold back the one that is ahead through limiting protein intake.
Once your Gouldians are moulting you can begin to enhance the quality of the diet by increasing proteins and healthy fats. Examples, commercial eggfood, commercial vitamins and supplements, home made eggfood, sprouting seeds, fish oil, nuts and nut oil, etc... ( see Nutrition articles related to breeding).This is in addition to an already established high quality diet (see article Lady Gouldian Finch Care). The additional nutrition will also promote an easier and less stressful moult. Feathers are made up of 70% protein, and the Gouldian's system is additionally taxed, producing those intense colours. As a species they particularly benefit from the extra nutrition during their moult. It is important to provide good calcium sources for breeder hens on a regular basis. Hens use stored calcium when laying eggs and this cannot be sourced immediately from their diet. The calcium used comes from stores in their bones; they will need adequate calcuim intake over a long period of time. *Do note that if you are providing a calcium supplement, do not give it more than 5 days a week. Any more and you will be oversupplementing your birds and cause harm.
Once the birds are almost through their moult (about 6 weeks from the onset) you can begin to gradually increase the length of daylight. Day length is not as crucial for Gouldians as it is for some other birds. The main reason is to provide enough hours in the day for the parents to adequately feed the young while transitioning the lighting change smoothly. The length should reach somewhere around 14 hours of light each day. This should be done gradually, about 10-15 minutes every several days. Doing it gradually more closely resembles the natural cycle and prevents throwing them off by an abrupt change in their environment. Optimally give yourself about 6 weeks time for a smooth transition.
Provide adequate humidity levels. The rooms relative humidity should encourage and support the development of healthy eggs without being too high. I do not specifically control the humidity of the bird room and do not advise any optimal specific humidity percentage. I am however observant and watch for dryness. Here in Toronto Ontario, Canada, most breeders set their birds up in the winter - a dry time of year. I make accomodations for this by ALWAYS having fresh clean water available for bathing. I feel this is by far the most effective way to meet the Gouldian finches needs for humidity. Give the birds what they need and they will know what to do. The pair can then adequately control the moisture of the nest environment using their bodies. Preventing eggs from drying out and piping deaths. At the other end of the spectrum, too high humidity can also cause nesting problems. Excessive humidity in the nest box can leave the young succeptable to moisture related problems. In this case I would want humidity to stay below 65% and a dehumidifier would be in order.
Providing adequate temperature. Temperature is a very important consideration for breeding Gouldians. The best advice I can give in this regard is to know your birds. Acceptable temperatures will range from bird room to bird room. It all depends upon your particular flock. If your birds are used to a warm environment, they will require a warmish room. If they are tolerant of a cooler atmosphere you can somewhat get away with a cooler room. The big issue here is preventing prolonged cold temperatures. What each flock considers "cold" can vary significantly so I will also refrain from giving an optimal temperature range for your birds. Three things: observation, observation,observation. Observe your birds, they will tell you if the room is too cool. Do they look active, tight feathered and comfortable? A Gouldian with fluffed feathers is cold and conserving heat. Avoid letting your Gouldians get cold for any extended period of time while breeding. Cold Gouldians are not conducive to a successful breeding season. This is especially true for hens. Cold temperatures can be a cause of eggbinding. Cold stress can cause birds to fall out of breeding condition and indirectly increase mortality. If you are unable to control the temperature to a suitable degree it is important to install heat lamps where the birds can comfortably access the heat at will. Gouldians can tollerate high temperature fluctuations but low temperature tollerance must be done slowly and gradually. Preferrably not during weaning, moulting or the breeding season. Either acclimate your birds before breeding or hold off cooling your bird room until after the breeding season is over. Any changes should be slow and gradual. If in doubt, keep the room warm and slowly lower the heat over a long period of time. Temperature stress has overall benefits for the Gouldian finch and it can strengthen your birds but during breeding is not the time to do it.
Other helpful ways to help bring your Gouldians into the best breeding condition are as follows: allowing for fresh air and natural sunlight, spacious cage to exercise and strengthen, mental stimulation and daily opportunities to bathe.