The Lady Gouldian Finch

Lady Gouldian Finch8,11,12,13,14,15,20,22,23,30,31, 32,34,36,37,40,41
Chloebia gouldiae or Erythrura gouldiae
Grass finch
Hardiness:Hardy when acclimatized
Reproduction:Often problematic
Singing ability:Somewhat poor (scroll down to find song clips)
Compatibility:Passive, mixes well with other passive species
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:5" (12.7 cm)
Weight:Around 16-17 grams
Approx. cost:$50-$250 (US) per bird, depending on mutation


Other common names

Lady Gould, Gouldian, Gouldian Finch, Rainbow Finch, Rainbow Bird, Gouldies, Wondrous Finch, Gouldian Grassfinch, Purple-breasted Finch, Purple-chested Finch, Desert Parrotfinch, sometimes incorrectly called Painted Finch (actually refers to Emblema pictum)

Origin

Australia

Area of distribution

In 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. Exports from Australia have been banned since 1960.

Distribution


Disposition

Relatively calm, quiet, and independent.

Physical descriptions

The Lady Gouldian finch measures about 5 inches from head to tail. In the wild, birds are green-bodied but can have one of three head colors: black (most common), red, and yellow (rarest).

Many mutations and suspected mutations exist in aviculture, including:
  • red head (sex-linked dominant)
  • yellow head (autosomal recessive; requires presence of red-head gene to be expressed in the mask color)
  • black head (sex-linked recessive)
  • purple breast (autosomal dominant)
  • white breast (autosomal recessive)
  • lilac breast (autosomal; recessive to purple but dominant to white)
  • blue breasted (may not be a true mutation) (autosomal recessive)
  • blue body (autosomal recessive)
  • seagreen (present in Australia and reported in other countries, but may not be a true mutation)
  • sex-linked pastel ("yellow-body" or "European Yellow/pastel") (sex-linked co-dominant)
  • Australian dilute-backed (only present in Australia; it is a separate mutation from what many American breeders call "Dilute") (autosomal recessive)
  • Australian pastel (autosomal recessive)
  • Australian yellow (present in Australia) (autosomal recessive)
  • cinnamon (present in Europe) (sex-linked recessive)
  • lutino (present in America and Europe) (sex-linked recessive)
  • fallow or red-eye (present in Japan)
  • dark factor (present in Europe) (autosomal dominant)
  • pied

Only the most commonly kept mutations will be described in detail 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.
  • Red headed normal: Red mask, black outline around the mask, blue border around the black outline, green back, blue and black tail, purple breast, yellow abdomen. This is the "wild type" Gouldian.
RH PB normal cock RH PB normal hen
  • Yellow headed normal: Has an orange ("yellow") mask instead of a red one. This mutation is rare in the wild.
YH PB normal cock YH PB normal hen
  • Black headed normal: Has a black mask instead of a red one. This mutation is the most common in the wild.
BH PB normal cock BH PB normal hen
  • White breasted: The purple of the bird's chest is replaced by white; this mutation can occur in combination with any other color mutation listed here, except for pastel and dilute cocks which always have a purple breast.
RH WB normal cock RH WB normal hen
  • Yellow-bodied ("Yellow"): Red, yellow, or off-white mask, off-white outline around the mask, yellow back, off-white tail, purple breast (or white breast if the bird is white breasted), yellow abdomen. (Black and blue markings are reduced as to be essentially white in this mutation). This mutation is also called "pastel green."
RH PB yellow cock RH PB yellow hen
  • Blue-bodied ("Blue"): Salmon or black mask with a black outline followed by a blue border, blue back, off-white abdomen, black and blue tail, and a purple breast (or a white breast if the bird is white breasted). (Yellow and red colorations are greatly reduced in this mutation).
RH PB blue cock RH PB blue hen
  • "Silver": Salmon or off-white mask, off-white back, off-white tail, off-white abdomen, purple breast (or white breast if the bird is white breasted). (Yellow and red colorations are greatly reduced in this mutation, while blue and black colorations are reduced as to be essentially white). This mutation is also called "Pastel Blue."
RH PB silver cock RH PB silver hen
  • "Dilute": Red, yellow, or gray mask, gray outline around the mask, blue border around the gray outline, pale green back, blue and gray tail, purple breast (cannot be white breasted!), yellow abdomen. (Blue and black colorations are partially reduced in this mutation). This mutation occurs in COCKS ONLY! Another name for this mutation is "Single-factor Pastel Green," which was constructed to help prevent confusion between these birds and the Dilute-backed birds of Australia (a separate mutation).
RH PB dilute cock
  • "Pastel": Salmon or gray mask, gray outline around the mask, blue border around the gray outline, pale blue back, blue and gray tail, purple breast (cannot be white breasted!), off-white abdomen. (Yellow and red colorations are partially reduced in this mutation). This mutation occurs in COCKS ONLY! Another name for this mutation is "Single-factor Pastel Blue," which was constructed to bring consistency to the naming of the mutations and help prevent its confusion with different mutations which were similarly named.
RH PB pastel cock


Sexing Gouldians

Sexing

The 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.

Photo by Kristy Coury
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.

Song

Audio 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)


About to fledge
A yellow headed white breasted cock and two juveniles perch on the microphone.

Pictures

If 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.

Gouldian Hens:
BH PB normal hen


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.

BH PB normal hen
A molting black headed normal hen with pin feathers on her head.

Photo by Charlie Wijaya
A black headed white breasted normal hen.

Photo by Kersten
A yellow headed white breasted normal hen with an excellent mask.

Photo by Mark Haly
A yellow headed purple breasted normal hen with an excellent mask. Photo by Mark Haly.

YH PB hen
A yellow headed purple breasted normal hen in breeding condition (note the black beak coloration).



Gouldian Cocks:
YH PB dilute cock


YH PB dilute cock 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.


BH PB Dilute cock
Black-headed ("Gray-headed") purple-breasted single factor yellow-bodied "Dilute" Cock.
This bird has a significant increase in blue on his mask and may be considered "blue-headed."


BH PB yellow cock
Black-headed ("White-headed") Purple-breasted double factor yellow-bodied ("Yellow") Cock

RH WB blue cock
Red-headed ("Salmon-headed") White-breasted Blue Cock

RH WB Blue cock molting
This is the same bird from above in the middle of a heavy molt. Notice all of the pin feathers.

YH WB normal cock
Yellow-headed White-breasted Normal Cock

Photo by Dario Corea
Red headed normal cocks. Compare the lilac breast (left) to the purple breast (right).

Photo by Changhua Coast Conservation Action
Red headed lilac breasted dilute cock. Photo by CCCA.

Photo by Charlie Wijaya
Black-headed Purple-breasted Normal cock.

Photo by Matthrono
Black-headed Yellow-tipped-beak (YTB) Purple-breasted Normal cock. Photo by Matthrono.

Photo by Katie
Red-headed Purple-breasted Normal cock. Photo by Katie.

Photo by SnapperCR29
Red-headed Purple-breasted Normal cock. Photo by SnapperCR29.

Gouldian Juveniles:
Photo by Kristy Coury
Red headed normal cock with 3 juveniles.

Juvenile
Juvenile at the feeder.

Photo by Kristy Coury
A black headed purple breasted blue hen (left), yellow headed purple breasted yellow cock (right), and their two juveniles (center).

About to fledge
These chicks will soon fledge.

Juvenile molting
A normal juvenile hen molting into her adult colors.

Comparing WB and PB juveniles
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.

Comparing WB and PB juveniles
The white breasted juvenile (left) has slightly less blue in its tail than the purple breasted juvenile (right).

Blue juvenile
Blue bodied gouldian juvenile.

Gouldian Chicks:
Hatchlings
Just Hatched

Gouldian chicks
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.

Gouldian chicks
They grow fast!

Photo by Gaviota
Black headed, white breasted cock brooding his chicks.

Photo by Atara Kennedy
Three gouldian chicks with emerging feathers.


Favorite foods

Boiled egg, sprouted seed, sorghum, and the seeds from the following grasses: soft spinifex, cockatoo grass, and golden beard grass. May enjoy greens such as sliced cucumber with seeds, chickweed, clover, dandelion. Does not require live food, but may develop insectivorous tendencies while breeding, showing a preference for termites and sometimes mini-mealworms.

Natural habitat

The eucalyptus savannahs and grasslands of subtropical Northern Australia, near surface water.

Photo by Stu
Photo by Stu.

Photo by Nathalie
Photo by Nathalie.

Photo by Brian Yap
Photo by Brian Yap.

Habits

Gouldians 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 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 enjoy sunbathing. They tend to feed from scrub or tall grasses and rarely on the ground. 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).

Lady Gouldians have a special method of drinking. Contrary to popular belief, this is not accomplished by "sucking" the water. Rather, the way a gouldian drinks is by tipping its bill down into water, then while the bill is immersed, using the tongue to 'scoop' water into the pharynx where the front of the larynx then immediately forces the water into the esophagus; peristalsis of the esophagus then transports the water to the crop. Using this method, they imbibe water quickly and spend less time being vulnerable to predators at water holes; additionally, their method allows them to exploit small volumes of water such as dew drops as well as draw water up vertically from otherwise difficult to access sources.

Special considerations

Molting gouldianGouldians undergo a stressful, heavy molt (October through December in Australia; wild gouldians wait until breeding is finished before commencing the 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. Gouldians can also suffer from gout and obesity (mitigated if birds are fed an austerity diet and housed in larger flights). Hybrids have occurred between the gouldian finch and the Blue-faced Parrot-finch.

Breeding season

Many books about Lady Gouldian Finches refer to Immelmann's notes on the wild Lady Gouldian and simply state that "the natural breeding season of wild Gouldian Finches is the latter half of the wet season" from (approximately) January through April, although some breeders in Australia successfully breed their birds into October. Gouldian Finches and Their Mutations External Site by Rob Marshall explains in greater detail that Northern Australia has 2 seasons: wet ("tropical summer") and dry ("tropical winter"). In Katherine in the Northern Territory, the wet season typically starts in December and lasts until late February/early March, although this varies substantially each year. In the Yinberrie Hills of Australia, wild Gouldians pair up to breed in February-March (end of the wet season) and are seen with their first fledged chicks in April (start of the dry season). Wild gouldians will continue to breed into the dry season depending on seed availability, sometimes as late as August. 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 start of 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 start of 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.

Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so its seasons are out of synch with those of North America and Europe. This may explain why in North America and Europe, captive Gouldians tend to breed between September and March (the northern hemisphere's autumn through winter). Gouldians breed during the cooler months with the shorter day lengths, but their breeding is also thought to be largely triggered by diet.

Breeding tips

Fake log nestFor 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! Even in an aviary, captive gouldians are highly unlikely to build a free-standing nest.

Starting about one month prior to the start of the breeding season, 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, then place them on an austerity diet until the next breeding season approaches. 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.

Some breeders prefer to breed their gouldians in colonies in a flight cage or aviary. Productivity tends to be decreased compared to breeding a single pair per cage. Once the breeding season has commenced, do not add any more bird(s) to the colony. Provide 2-3 nest boxes per pair, spaced about 1 meter apart and located at different heights.

Pair bonds are not particularly strong; birds can be given a new mate each breeding season if desired. Replacing a mate mid-season may not be successful, however. Gouldians seem to be most fertile and productive between the age of 1 and 3 years.

Life Cycle

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

YH Yellow hen

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