The Lady Gouldian Finch
|Lady Gouldian Finch8,11,12,13,14,15,20,22,23|
|Chloebia gouldiae or Erythrura gouldiae|
Other common namesLady Gould, Gouldian, Gouldian Finch, Rainbow Finch
Area of distributionIn the map below, the light green areas represent the historical distribution, while the darker green areas represent the current distribution. Wild Lady Gouldians are considered endangered, as populations are declining. (Learn more...)
DispositionRelatively calm, quiet, and independent.
Physical descriptionsThe Lady Gouldian finch measures about 5 inches from head to tail. Many mutations and suspected mutations exist in aviculture, including: red head, yellow head, black head, purple breast, white breast, lilac breast, blue body, seagreen (present in Australia and reported in other countries, but may not be a true mutation), yellow body or sex-linked pastel, dilute-backed (only present in Australia; it is a separate mutation from what most American breeders call "Dilute"), Australian yellow (present in Australia), blue breasted (may not be a true mutation), cinnamon (present in Europe), lutino (present in America and Europe), Fallow or red-eye (present in Japan), and dark factor (present in Europe). Only the most commonly kept mutations will be described here. See the photos and articles (below) to view more mutations. Genetics information (including breeding outcomes) is also available on the commonly-kept head colors, breast colors, and body colors.
SexingThe hen is paler than the cock overall: the color of her back, breast,* and abdomen is less intense, and she has very little if any blue border around her mask. If she is yellow or red headed, she will likely have far more black feathering in her mask than the cock, who only has a thin black border around his mask. When in breeding condition, the hen's beak will become black (or red or yellow if she is yellow bodied).
*A lilac breasted male may have a pale chest color like that seen in a normal hen, but normally the purple color of the cock's breast is far more intense than that of the hen. The cock generally has more vivid coloration on his back and abdomen as well, and has a larger blue border around his mask than the hen. When in breeding condition, the tip of his beak will become bright red or yellow. Although both cocks and hens can make simple shrill calling noises, ONLY cocks can sing.
A red headed, purple breasted, yellow cock singing. The cock will often turn his tail toward the object of his song, rapidly shake his head or wipe his beak on his perch, then stand tall, bouncing a short distance up and down on his perch while singing.
SongAudio clips were obtained from my personal breeding pairs. Songs vary among individual males.
Cock singing (.mp3, .4 MB)
Cock's Calling Noises (.mp3, .2 MB)
Hen's Calling Noises (.mp3, .04 MB)
Cock and Hen Calling Each Other (.mp3, .2 MB)
Chicks Begging (.mp3, .7 MB)
A yellow headed white breasted cock and two juveniles perch on the microphone.
PicturesIf you keep this species and have a photo of your birds to share, please submit your photo for possible inclusion on this site! Credit will be given to you.
Also note that video documentation is available of lady gouldians breeding.
This is a black headed, purple breasted, normal (green-bodied) hen. She is in breeding condition (as shown by her black beak) and she also has a remaining gray juvenile feather in her mask, indicating that she is just now finishing her first molt, placing her at about six months of age. You may notice some red coloration in her beak also. This shows that she is not a yellow headed hen. If she were genetically yellow headed, her beak would have a yellow tip instead of a red one.
A molting black headed normal hen with pin feathers on her head.
A black headed white breasted normal hen.
A yellow headed white breasted normal hen with an excellent mask.
This is a yellow headed, purple breasted, "dilute" (single factor yellow-bodied) cock. Another name for this mutation is "single factor pastel green." His back color is significantly lighter than a normal cock's, and all of his black markings have been diluted and therefore appear gray. You can see the gray markings under his chin, around his mask, and in his tail. If this was a black headed cock, his entire head would appear gray instead of black. The tip of his beak is intensely colored, indicating that he is ready to breed.
Red-headed ("Salmon-headed") White-breasted Blue Cock
This is the same bird from above in the middle of a heavy molt. Notice all of the pin feathers.
Yellow-headed White-breasted Normal Cock
Red headed normal cocks. Compare the lilac breast (left) to the purple breast (right).
Red headed lilac breasted dilute cock. Photo by CCCA.
Black-headed Purple-breasted Normal cock.
Red headed normal cock with 3 juveniles.
Juvenile at the feeder.
A black headed purple breasted blue hen (left), yellow headed purple breasted yellow cock (right), and their two juveniles (center).
These chicks will soon fledge.
A normal juvenile hen molting into her adult colors.
The juvenile on the left is genetically white breasted and the juvenile on the right is purple breasted. A subtle difference in the appearance of the breast and belly can be seen when comparing the two.
The white breasted juvenile (left) has slightly less blue in its tail than the purple breasted juvenile (right).
Blue bodied gouldian juvenile.
Notice the blue, pearlescent nodules at the corners of the beak--these reflect light so the parents can find the hungry mouths in the dark of the nest box.
They grow fast!
Black headed, white breasted cock brooding his chicks.
Three gouldian chicks with emerging feathers.
Favorite foodsBoiled egg, sprouted seed, sorghum, and the seeds from the following grasses: soft spinifex, cockatoo grass, and golden beard grass.
Natural habitatThe eucalyptus savannahs and grasslands of subtropical Northern Australia, near surface water.
Photo by Stu.
Photo by Nathalie.
Photo by Brian Yap.
HabitsGouldians live in groups year-round and are locally nomadic. During the wet season they may be found in the lowlands feasting on the grass seeds which grow there; they later migrate to the hills during the dry season to breed, following the availability of food sources. During the breeding season, pairs will make use of holes made by termites in trees such as the Salmon Gum (Eucalyptus tintinnans) and Snappy Gum (Eucalyptus brvifolia) (cavity nesting). Once the young fledge, the father often looks after them while the hen begins her next clutch. Gouldians drink water by sucking. They do not allopreen each other, and adults do not clump together on perches (unless they are ill), but they will engage in peering behavior at a singing conspecific (where they lean in and appear to be listening intently to his song).
Special considerationsGouldians undergo a stressful, heavy molt where they lose many feathers at once, making the birds appear to have bald patches. Pin feathers will soon come in if the birds are fed a proper diet during molting. The picture at the right shows a Gouldian with pin feathers (she is a black headed, purple breasted, normal hen). When Gouldians molt, they should be fed egg food daily and kept in a fairly warm environment (at least 75°F [ 24°C]). A very common ailment in lady Gouldians is air sac mites. To prevent/cure air sac mites, administer a drop of SCATT or a properly diluted ivermectin solution to the back of the neck. Hybrids have occurred between the gouldian finch and the Blue-faced Parrot-finch.
Breeding seasonAustralia is in the southern hemisphere, so its seasons are out of synch with those of North America and Europe. In Australia, wild Gouldians breed between March and September (the southern hemisphere's autumn through winter), which corresponds with the dry season. At this time, day length decreases and temperatures begin to drop, with a range between an average low of 66°F and an average high of 91°F. During the dry season, the birds move into wooded hilly areas, nest and reproduce in Eucalyptus trees, drink from water holes, and feast on abundant supplies of native sorghum. During the wet season, with its higher temperatures, longer days, and higher precipitation, no breeding takes place as the Gouldians move from the hills into the lowlands to molt, wait for seed availability to increase, and then feed on the fresh seed that arrives after the sorghum reserves have been exhausted. In North America and Europe, captive Gouldians tend to breed between September and March (the northern hemisphere's autumn through winter). Again, the Gouldians breed during the cooler months with the shorter day lengths.
Breeding tipsFor best results (breeding a single pair indoors), use a box-style breeding cage that is at least 30" long. Lighting should be provided by a full-spectrum fixture on a timer set for an 11 hour day length. Make sure the temperature in the bird room is at least 66°F (19 °C), and that the cage is placed in a low-traffic environment to minimize disturbance to the birds. I recommend furnishing your breeding cage with a cuttle bone, externally-located "tube style" feeders and waterers (easier and less disturbing to the birds to refill), two perches placed at opposite ends of the cage, a water dish that the birds can bathe in, and a single nest placed near one of the top corners of the cage. In my experience, the birds which are most likely to toss their chicks are the ones who seem least secure with their nest. I have found that switching from the typical 5" deep plastic or disposable, half open nest box to a nest with a "privacy porch" or a fairly deep, hollowed-out log with a "privacy porch" (see photo) reduced the incidence of chick tossing among my breeding pairs. Gouldians in the wild are cavity nesters, so mimicking this type of nest (by using a hollowed-out log or a large nest box with a secluded entrance hole) may produce the best results. Place a little nesting material (coconut fiber works really well) inside the nest and the rest on the floor away from the perches. Give the pair all of the nesting material they want! If they run out, give them more until they stop adding to the nest. Never use nest hair, wood chips, hay, or synthetic threads like yarn for nesting material!
Feed your birds a high quality diet (pellets and seed) supplemented with an egg mix. When the pair enters breeding condition, the tip of the male's beak will become intensely colored and he will sing often and try to court the hen with a display which includes lowering his head with rapid head shaking or beak-wiping, then standing upright and hopping up and down on a perch while singing, tail pointed toward the hen. If the hen is in breeding condition, her beak will appear black (or red or yellow if she is yellow bodied), and if she is receptive to the cock, she will often imitate his courtship behavior. Pairs which are bonded often sit near each other, chase other birds away, and point their tails towards each other. Place the male in the breeding cage first and give him a few days to settle in. If he does not investigate the nest, try placing the light closer to the nest's entrance to illuminate the inside. After the cock has shown interest in the nest, add the hen. Mating usually takes place inside of the nest. If all goes well, the hen will lay her clutch (one egg per day), and both birds will incubate either after the 3rd-4th egg is laid, or after the clutch is complete. You will know incubation has commenced once the hen is observed sleeping in the nest at night (the cock often sleeps near the nest entrance or on top of the nest). Both birds take turns incubating during the day, and both birds will feed the young.
- Tip: it is a good idea to remove the water bath before the eggs are due to hatch; provide water using a tube-style waterer and make sure that both adults understand how to drink from it. The reason to take away the bath water is that if the parents decide to toss the chicks, they may end up tossing them into the water bath or dish causing the babies to drown before you can rescue them. The water tube is small enough that this cannot happen.
The young often hatch around the same time, often on the same day, and often within hours of each other. They hatch "naked" (without any feathers or down) and with blue, pearlescent (not "fluorescent") papillae or nodules at the corners of their beaks. These reflect light (as opposed to emitting their own light) and help the parents find the hungry mouths in the dark. It is very important that you do not disturb the pair excessively as doing so may cause them to toss or abandon their young or eggs. Keep nest checks to a minimum, and food provisions to a maximum.
- Tip: If a parent tosses the first chick that hatches, s/he usually cannot be trusted to parent any of the chicks remaining to hatch. Usually the cock is the culprit who tosses the babies. You can try removing the cock from the cage and replacing the tossed baby back into the nest for the hen to raise. If the hen does not return to incubating or if she also tosses the baby, you will need to place the tossed baby and any remaining fertile eggs under foster parents. If you do not have a foster pair available, you can try to use an incubator and hand feed the babies that hatch. You should strongly consider culling any bird from your breeding program which refuses to raise its young properly after several unsuccessful clutches. Breeding bad parents (or any tossed chicks they produce) only selects for poor parenting skills. ALWAYS wash your hands before handling eggs or chicks!
The chicks grow rapidly. Within the first few days their skin darkens from light pink to grayish blue. They will begin to beg audibly at day 3, and grow louder as they grow older and stronger. Around day 9 their first pin feathers begin to erupt from the skin and their eyes begin to open. The parents usually stop brooding the chicks when they are about 8-10 days old. I have found that the best age to close band or ring the chicks is when they are about 12 days old. By day 20-23, the chicks are fully feathered and ready to leave the nest. Young emerge from the nest with olive-gray plumage and may still have the blue nodules at the sides of their beaks (dilutes, yellows and silvers will emerge with lighter coloring, and blues will emerge with grayish-blue coloring). See the "life cycle" time table below for additional information about chick development. Continue feeding a high quality diet substituted with egg food until the birds and their young finish their molt. In some cases, juveniles from earlier clutches (or juveniles in the same clutch as a stunted nest-mate) will help feed their younger siblings. Pairs should be limited to three clutches per year, and will often begin to molt as soon as breeding has ceased.
|Clutch size:||3-8 eggs (4-6 most common)|
|Incubation date:||After all eggs are laid (some pairs begin incubating after 3 eggs)|
|Hatch date:||After 14-16 days of incubation|
|Fledge date:||At 20-23 days of age|
|Wean date:||6 weeks of age|
|Begin molt:||8-10 weeks of age|
|Complete molt:||5-6 months of age (sometimes as early as 14-16 weeks)|
|Sexual maturity:||Although Gouldians may become sexually mature before they obtain their adult plumage, many breeders recommend waiting until the birds are at least 6-9 months of age before breeding them|
Related Article(s)If you own this species and would like to write an article about your experiences with them for this page, please submit your article for possible inclusion on this site. Credit will be given to you!
Lady Gouldian Finches
- Erythrura - Many pictures of Gouldian mutations, including new and rare ones.
- My Gouldian Aviary - Experiences from a Gouldian breeder in Australia.
- The Gouldian Finch - eFinch species profile.
- The Ardea Collection - Gorgeous photos of gouldians in flight and nesting in cavities.
- Lady Gouldians - Singing Wings Aviary species profile.
- Gouldian Finches - A brief article compiling experiences from several gouldian breeders.
- Gouldian Finch Photographs - Photographs of wild Lady Gouldian Finches and other finches in Western Australia by Bill Van Patten.
- Breeding Gouldian Finches - What Wild Gouldians Can Tell Us - Extensive article on breeding captive Gouldians by simulating their natural conditions as closely as possible; article by Bill Van Patten & Mike Fidler.