The Gouldian Finch: a history


I n northern Australia centuries ago, aborigines were probably the first humans to revere the bird that John Gould named "Lady Gould" after his wife. After all, the aboriginal people didn't pollute the water holes, destroy the habitat, or trap the bird for commercial gain.

The encroachment of civilization has not been kind to the brightly colored bird that so fascinates aviculturists the world over. This bird that decorates our living rooms and enhances aviaries in such diverse places as our back yards, nursing homes, and even gaming casinos, is and has been for years, declining in the wild.

Australians are making efforts to keep the Gouldian Finch alive and well in its native habitat. They are doing field censuses, maintaining clean artificial water holes, and have banned most trapping. There may be, however, many unknown causes for the birds' decline and, unfortunately, illegal trapping may be one of them.

Although the aviculturists' desire for the birds, and the trappers financial hunger, have no doubt contributed to the birds declining status, aviculture may eventually be the salvation of the species.

Gouldian Finch raised in captivity and offered for sale at bird marts across the country - is a changed subject. Like many other captive bred species, today's Gouldian is deviating from the norm of its wild ancestors. It is becoming larger, seldom receives or shows any inclination to accept the dietary preferences of the wild birds, and, for increased production, its eggs are often fostered to other species leading to a much disputed debate as to the continued ability of the Gouldian to even feed its own young.

Gouldians in the U.S. today have a history that encompasses four continents. Documentation shows that Australian wild-trapped Gouldians entered the U.S. market up to the time of the Australian ban on wildlife exports in the early 1960s. As early as the 1930s,Japan had a lucrative export business in Gouldians, many of which came into the U.S.A. During the 1970s and '80s, Western Europe emerged as the primary supplier of Gouldian Finches to the U.S.

These European birds, the true predecessors of our aviary inhabitants of today, had several strikes against them before they ever arrived into the hands of the bird enthusiasts who purchased them.

Most European-bred Gouldians came from the bird rooms of generally small scale breeders in Holland and Belgium. The U.S. importers at this time required large quantities of birds to fill their (by now required) quarantine facilities.

European dealers became adept at accumulating birds from many breeders to meet the demand. Assembling birds from various aviaries and environments spread diseases in the accumulated flocks.