In the November/December 1996 issue of AFA Watchbird I outline the basic techniques for breeding Gouldians. These aviculturists who specialize in the species will want to employ more advanced techniques which ensure a greater degree of success and get more juveniles onto the peg.
In the wild, conditions are tough and predation levels high. It would be an old and wise bird that reached much more than two years old, consequently over thousands of years they have developed the compensating factor of maturing early. As a result of this, Gouldians are at their most productive in terms fecundity and fertility between the ages of eight and 24 months. At this age they are also more likely to self-rear successfully and suffer fewer illnesses etc.
In the main, I pair my birds up at between eight and 10 months of age, take three or four rounds of eggs off them and then sell as they finish breeding, so that I am not using up space with molting birds.
As a breeding season lasts approximately eight months this means that I sell many birds which are 16 to 18 months old. Although the purchaser then has to molt them through and give them a four to five month rest the birds have a proven breeding re~ord and the quality of youngsters they produced can definitively be checked.
As a matter of interest, it is often the more experienced Gouldian breeders that insist on buying proven pairs. Havmg, perha~s, advocated generally using young birds for breeding, I have no inhibition about using and keeping
older birds if there is a purpose, i.e. a new mutation that you are still trying to fix or a bird with particularly good size, type or color. Cocks, in particular, will remain fertile for years. One particular good size and type of cock I once kept was still filling eggs well into its sixth year. He was not keen on selfrearing then though and genuinely left feeding to his much younger mate.
Breeding Condition Breeding condition in Gouldians is governed by age and diet, presuming they are not molting, of course.
Breeding in their natural habitat is governed by the availability of the right volume and quality of food and this in turn is governed by rain. The rains may begin around November and last through May. However, this is highly sporadic, which can result in years of plenty-apparently this year is one of those when the rains come early, stay late and are copious in quantity-so this year the breeding season will be long and good as there will be plenty of feeding grasses around for a long period of time.
In other years there may be little or even no rain, consequently there is no or very little new grass and seeds. So Gouldians have evolved to become opportunistic breeders. This means that they will breed when the right quality of food is available to raise nestlings and they will remain dormant when conditions are unsuitable.
As a complete side issue, Gouldians have also developed an internal water retention/recycling system which means they require far less water to survive on than most other estrildids. As a matter of interest, if you keep Gouldians and, say, parrot finches, just measure the difference in the amount
of water the two species consume.
Once the breeding biology is understood, matching it in a captive environment is relatively simple. Whether they are virgin or adult stock, once you can recognize cock from hen, separate them. This prevents pair bonding which can occur before juveniles· achieve adult plumage and also prevents cocks driving nesting hens back into breeding condition before you or they are really ready. Preventing premature pair bonding also ensures that once you do pair, they will go down to nest with little delay. But perhaps the biggest reason is that pairs which were heavily pair bonded and then separated more than often go into a molt. In the wild it would be akin to losing a partner to a hawk. The survivor would then go into a quick molt so as to be prepared for finding a new mate in order to continue the breeding process once the molt is over
Stock should be kept on a maintenance diet of seed, grit and water with soft food supplement being given only once a week. They may be given a little green food each day if you wish, but not more than would be consumed in five minutes. Six weeks before you wish to pair up for breeding start giving the soft food supplement ad lib. They will come into breeding condition even faster if you also supply more greens and seeding grasses. This of course simulates the oncoming of the rainy season when all of a sudden the quality of the diet improves dramatically. All tropical and semi-tropical plants react amazingly quick to a bit of rain, and quickly flower and seed. Presumably, like the Gouldians, they have to "make hay while the sun shines" or I suppose, more realistically, complete their life cycle whilst the water flows.
Over the period of six weeks or so the hens beaks will gradually darken whilst the cocks beaks become lighter and more "pearly." You can recognize when they are in breeding condition as they will be extremely restless, constantly bouncing from perch to perch and off the wires and back.