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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Information About Colorful Couldians Finches For Pet Lovers

Care,Health,Sexing And All Type Of Colorful Gouldian Finches Information For Pet Lovers 

Sexing Gouldians
Gouldian finches are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the males can be distinguished from the females visually. Typically, the male is the more vibrantly colored or more elaborately marked of the two sexes.

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. (*A lilac-breasted male may have a pale chest color like that seen in a normal hen, but in birds lacking this mutation, the purple color of the cock's breast is far more intense than that of the hen.) If the hen 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). The cock generally has more vivid coloration on his back and abdomen, 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
Basic Breeding Set-Up
Before deciding to breed your gouldians, you need to make sure you have allotted the space, time, and money it may take to set your birds up for breeding and to accommodate the young which they might produce. You will need a separate cage in which to house the young once they are weaned, and you will need to decide if you are ultimately going to keep the babies or find other homes for them. Once your decision is made, the following guidelines should aid you in breeding your finches:

Gouldian pair First, select a male and a female that are:
  • Sexually mature (and at least 6-9 months of age)4
  • Of the same species
  • Unrelated to each other (do not inbreed)
  • Physically healthy (not too thin and not too obese, normal appearing feathers and droppings, appear bright and alert)
  • Free of (potentially genetic) physical defects
  • Bonded to each other

Next, bring the pair into breeding condition:
Note: Gouldians tend to only breed during the fall and winter (their "breeding season"), so you may not have much success if you try to breed them during other parts of the year.
  • Begin feeding a flush diet that is high in protein. Hens will also require additional calcium, in the correct 1:2 ratio with phosphorus. One of the best ways to meet these increased dietary requirements is to feed an egg-mix (boiled egg chopped shell and all blended with finely chopped vegetables). You will need to provide this diet daily from before the first egg is laid until any babies which hatch finish their first molt.
Then, set up an appropriate breeding enclosure:
Two of the most common set ups for breeding birds are the one-pair-per-cage set up and the colony breeding set up. Depending on your preferences and those of your birds, one of these two set ups will probably suit your needs:

One Pair Per Cage
Advantages:No fighting with or disturbances from other pairs, easier to observe the birds and perform nest checks, more control over breeding outcome since you control who each bird mates with.3
Disadvantages:May not stimulate those pairs which seem to breed best in the colony situation.
  • The breeding cage should measure at least 30" (76 cm) long × 18" (46 cm) wide × 18" (46 cm) tall. Box-style breeding cages are preferred, since all of the walls are solid except for the front, which provides more security to the birds.
  • If direct access to natural sunlight is unavailable, provide a full spectrum light on a timer.
  • Consider using tube feeders if you notice your birds trying to nest in their seed cup.
  • Keep the enclosure in a low traffic area where the ambient temperature is at least 65 ° F.
  • Provide a cuttle bone or another safe source of calcium at all times.
  • Provide an appropriate nest and nesting material. Nesting materials which are appropriate to provide for your birds include: coconut fiber, burlap cut into 3" strips, shreds of newspaper, and shreds of facial tissue. Avoid small, synthetic fibers such as yarn, stringy material such as hair, and avoid hay, soil, eucalyptus leaves, and corn cob (which may lead to fungal growth).5 Although gouldians may accept a wide range of nests (from wooden nest boxes to domed bamboo nests), a plastic nest box is prefered because it can be disinfected and reused.
  • If possible, place the nest on the outside front of the cage (this makes nest checks much easier). If this is not an option, the nest may be placed inside the cage (towards one of the upper corners); try to place it so that you can peer into it from outside of the cage.
  • Place some nesting material inside of the nest and the rest on the floor of the enclosure, but not directly under any perches so that it does not become soiled.
  • Provide two perches, one at each end of the cage.
  • When the birds are ready to be added to the enclosure, add the male first and let him investigate the cage for a few days before adding the hen.
Breeding cage


Colony Breeding
Advantages:May help to encourage breeding in those individuals which are stimulated by group interaction.
Disadvantages:Less control over breeding outcomes, may lead to increased aggression among the inhabitants, may not stimulate those birds which seem to need seclusion from other pairs to breed.
  • Colony breeding is best when limited to one species (as opposed to mixed species).*2
  • *However, if you wish to breed mixed species in a communal aviary, select birds that are compatible yet have very different plumages as well as different nesting habits to reduce the sources of potential fighting3.
  • This set-up requires that at least 3-5 pairs of birds be housed together, so the enclosure must be large enough to accommodate them.
  • Keep the enclosure in a low traffic area where the ambient temperature is at least 65 ° F.
  • Provide a cuttle bone or another safe source of calcium at all times.
  • If direct access to natural sunlight is unavailable, provide a full spectrum light on a timer.
  • Take steps to reduce aggression:
    • Provide at least two nests per pair of finches (all nests should be placed at similar heights in the enclosure).Although gouldians may accept a wide range of nests (from wooden nest boxes to domed bamboo nests), plastic nest boxes are prefered because they can be disinfected and reused.
    • Provide adequate cover (live and/or silk plants, especially around the nesting sites). This allows the birds to be somewhat hidden from one another which is important because some birds become very defensive of their nest and need their area to be visually isolated from other birds.1
    • Provide plenty of perches but do not crowd the enclosure or encroach on flying space.
    • Provide at least two feed and water stations.
    • Watch for hostility and remove any birds which seem to be terrorizing the rest.
  • Place some nesting material inside each nest and the rest on the floor of the enclosure, but not directly under any perches so that it does not become soiled. Nesting materials which are appropriate to provide for your birds include: coconut fiber, burlap cut into 3" strips, shreds of newspaper, and shreds of facial tissue. Avoid small, synthetic fibers such as yarn, stringy material such as hair, and avoid hay, soil, eucalyptus leaves, and corn cob (which may lead to fungal growth).5
  • When the birds (at least 3-5 pairs) are ready to be added to the enclosure, add them all at the same time.

Next, prepare the birds, add them to the enclosure, and observe them:

Clip the birds' toenails prior to introducing the finches into the breeding enclosure. This will help prevent the birds from accidentally puncturing any eggs they may lay. Add the birds as described above, and observe them. Separate any bird which does not seem to be tolerating the other(s). Some gouldians may need to be set up with a different mate or in a different breeding set up. Check the cage(s) once a day to refill the food and water dishes. Once a pair has begun building its nest, keep a watch (from a distance) for eggs. Record the date that each egg is laid. Most gouldians will begin incubation either after the 3rd or last egg is laid--incubation begins when at least one bird is occupying the nest during the day as well as at night. Some gouldians do not readily tolerate nest checks, Toenail clippersbut but if your pair(s) will, you may wish to candle the eggs (to check for fertility) on or after the 5th day of incubation. This is not necessary, however, and it may be better not to disturb the pair by checking their nest since unnecessary disturbances could frighten the pair into abandoning their eggs/young.

Finally, provide for the pair and their young:

Cuttle bone Many people wonder what they need to do to help their birds raise their babies once they have hatched. The answer is to provide a rich, varied diet which includes giving the birds an egg-mix 2-3 times daily, to resist disturbing the birds, and to keep a distant watch in case anything goes wrong (such as tossing or abandoning the chicks). Only if something goes wrong should you step in and take action. Remember to keep detailed notes on the breeding progress of all birds. Lastly, when the chicks are weaned, they will need to be removed to their own cage if you wish to allow the parents to breed again.

1. Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1986). Clinical avian medicine and surgery. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders Company.
2. Alderton, D. (1988). A birdkeeper's guide to finches. Blacksburg, VA: Tetra Press.
3. Blazey, P. S. (1991). The proper care of finches. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications.
4. Koepff, C. (1984). The new finch handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series.
5. Ritchie, B. W., Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1994). Avian medicine: Principles and application. Lake Worth, FL: Wingers Publishing.
Feeding For Breeding

Many people wonder how to take care of their birds when they are expecting eggs or young in the nest. In fact, one of the most common questions I am asked is, "What should I feed a baby finch?" In most cases, you will not need to feed any babies directly, but rather provide the parents with a nutrient rich diet that is adequate for rearing their young. However, in order to breed birds successfully, good nutrition must be provided weeks before the first egg is ever laid.

A hen requires an adequate diet to allow her to meet the stresses that reproduction places on her body. The degree of this reproductive stress is directly related to how many eggs she lays.2 Usually a small number of eggs is laid and the nutrients required to produce them are taken from body stores.2 However, Eggs and Chicksreproduction and hatchability will suffer if supplementation is not provided and body stores of vitamins become depleted.2 Each egg produced consists mostly of fat, protein, and calcium--the three nutrients that represent the largest increase in dietary demand during production.1 Therefore, in order for a hen to lay healthy eggs, higher levels of protein as well as higher levels of calcium are required in the diet.1 Providing calcium is important for minimizing the decalcification of bones as well as for preventing soft shelled eggs from forming.1 The hen will eat enough food to meet her energy (fat) demands, so you probably will not need to increase the fat content of the diet.1

In addition to amino acids, energy, and calcium, other nutrients (namely vitamins and minerals) are also required for healthy egg production. Together, these nutrients meet all of the embryo's needs for normal cell division, growth, and maturation.1 However, if a diet which allows for production is still deficient in any of these nutrients, embryo development may be abnormally affected1 or even ceased. Un-supplemented seed diets fed to hens which are experiencing vitamin deficiency often result in eggs that develop to a point but never hatch due to early embryonic death.1,2

If a nutrient-adequate diet was fed to a healthy, producing hen, fertilized eggs that do not experience any other problems (such as contamination, improper incubation, or breakage) will hatch. Shortly prior Black Headed Normal Hento hatch, the remaining portion of the yolk sac is absorbed into the abdominal cavity of the embryo.1 For the hatchling, this yolk sac acts as a temporary energy reservoir which may adequately supply nutrients for the first 1-3 days of life.1 Once the yolk is depleted, the chick must be fed an adequate diet by the parents in order to survive and grow. Because growth places such a heavy demand on the chick, nutrient requirements are now at the highest point they will ever be during the bird's normal life.1 The diet fed to chicks, therefore, must be formulated to meet the chicks' growth requirements and not the requirements of the parents.1,2 Nutrition during chick rearing is important for the health of the chicks, not their parents.2

In fact, the main reason for dramatically increasing the plane of nutrition given to the parents during breeding is to provide them with an adequate diet to feed their young.1 In addition to meeting the requirements for chick growth, other benefits should result from providing such a rich diet during breeding. For instance, proper daily feeding for optimal chick growth will decrease the duration of the chicks in the nest.1 Additionally, a moderately high plane of nutrition should optimize the parents' body stores by allowing for the ready repletion of depleted stores.1 This, in turn, promotes the rapid recycling of the hen through preparing her physiologically for laying a second clutch.1

As altricial birds, parent gouldians consume food and water which is stored in their crops until it is regurgitated for their chicks. Through their begging behaviors, chicks stimulate their parents to retrieve and deliver food back to the nest.2

In conclusion, here are some feeding tips for when you are expecting eggs or young in the nest: Cuttlebone
  • Preferably starting before any eggs are laid, feed the parents-to-be a high quality egg mix or appropriate, nutrient-rich soft food. Also, provide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily while breeding. Continue providing these supplements daily after the chicks hatch to act as a nestling food.
  • Have a calcium source (such as cuttle bone, cooked & mashed eggshell, or ground-up oyster shell) available at all times.

1. Ritchie, B. W., Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1994). Avian medicine: Principles and application. Lake Worth, FL: Wingers Publishing.
2. Rosskopf, W. J., & Woerpel, R. W. (Eds.). (1996). Diseases of cage and aviary birds
Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
 Breeding Behaviors

When stimulated to breed, your birds may engage in:

Defensive & Aggressive Behavior
Gouldians which are paired together do not always get along. This is especially true if the birds were artificially paired and not given the opportunity to select their own mates. Gouldians tend to be passive birds, but if they become overly aggressive towards each other, separate the pair before any injuries occur. A more common form of aggressive behavior that may be witnessed during the "breeding season" is defense of the nest, surrounding territory, food supply, and/or mate. In this case, a pair may be bonded to each other but attack any other birds that they perceive as a threat. Gouldians will typically give "open beak" warnings while emitting a low "growl" and may even engage in "beak fencing" with another bird. Because some gouldians may become very uneasy about disturbances to their nest, the area should be visually isolated from other birds.

In order to attract a mate, a gouldian engages in courtship behaviors. Typically the male gouldian engages in his courtship ritual in order to attract a female of the same species, although it is not entirely unusual to see a male in captivity court a hen of a different species, or even to see him court another male. The cock courts through his use of song and dance. Gouldian cocks may use variations on a theme in their song, so that one cock's song may sound surprisingly different from another cock's song. The male gouldian begins his courtship display by shaking his head rapidly for a few seconds; next, he stands up proud, puffs out his chest, and hops up and down on the perch while singing, all while keeping his tail pointed towards the hen of his affections. In some cases, a hen may initiate courtship by encouraging a cock to sing to her--some gouldian hens will mimic the song and dance routine of the cock to provoke his advances (although hens chirp instead of sing). Keeping birds in a community flight and letting them pick their own mates is best, if possible, since not all courtship rituals will result in a pair bond (not only does the cock have to fancy the hen, but the hen must also accept him).

Acceptance of a Mate
Signs of mate acceptance and pair bond formation include: perching or sleeping side-by-side (sitting near each other, but generally not in close physical contact), toleration of each other's presence, cooing or calling to each other, and cooperative nest building. If the cock is interested in the hen, he will court her (sing & dance); if the hen accepts his advances, she may simply seem to tolerate him (i.e. not fly away or hiss at him) or even mimic some of his courtship behaviors (e.g. a gouldian hen who may shake her head, stand proud, and hop for her mate with her tail pointed, while chirping since she can't sing). Signs that two birds are not compatible include: threatening [leaning towards the offending bird with the neck extended and the beak open], hissing or "growling," chasing, "beak fencing," feather plucking, and other signs of aggression. Some birds will pair off with a partner of the same sex or of a different species...if you wish to breed your birds, neither of these scenarios will do.

Nest Building
Although most captive gouldians will readily accept an artifical nesting site (such as a nest box), they may sometimes prefer to build their own nests "from scratch" when given the opportunity. Plastic nest boxNesting materials which are appropriate to provide for your birds include: coconut fiber, burlap cut into 3" strips, shreds of newspaper, and shreds of facial tissue. Avoid small, synthetic fibers such as yarn, stringy material such as hair, and avoid hay, soil, eucalyptus leaves, and corn cob (which may lead to fungal growth).1 Usually, both the cock and the hen will participate in nest construction. If your birds do not seem interested in nest building, you might try to encourage them by placing a light source near the entrance to their nest in order to illuminate its inside. You may also need to provide a different nesting enclosure or location, until you find one that suits your birds' needs.

The male finch does not have any external genitalia, including a penis. Internally located sex organs are thought to be an adaptation for flight. Instead, both the cock and hen must use their cloaca for mating purposes. The cloaca is the common chamber into which the intestinal, urinary, and reproductive tracts open. Externally, the opening to this structure is called the vent, and it is located on the underside of the bird near where the tail joins the body. In order for copulation to occur, the male must touch his cloaca to the female's cloaca to pass his ejaculate to her. This maneuver is referred to as the "cloacal kiss," and usually involves the hen lifting her tail and the cock placing one leg over her back while flapping his wings frantically to help push his body up against hers. This entire ordeal takes less than three seconds. You may never witness this phenomenon, as gouldians prefer to mate in the privacy of their nest box. Once copulation has occurred, the hen may store sperm in her reproductive tract for several days. Each pair may mate several times.

Egg Laying
Typically, the hen will lay one egg per day in the early morning hours, shortly after she wakes up. Signs of imminent egg laying, or oviposition, are straining, decreased defecation, increased fecal volume, and a wide based stance. Unless there is a problem, you usually will not be able to witness the actual event; however, because I set up a camera in the nest box of one of my breeding pairs, you can find a short video of a hen laying an egg in the Video Documentation page. Clutches may vary in size from 3-8 eggs, with 4-6 being the most typical number for most gouldians. One complication which may occur during egg laying is egg binding or dystocia. Note: Hens can lay eggs even without the stimulation of a male, so a single hen or a pair of hens may lay eggs, and the eggs will be infertile.

Most gouldians will not begin incubation until their clutch is complete and all eggs have been laid (some pairs may begin incubation after the 3rd egg is laid). Once incubation has begun (where at least one bird is covering the eggs not only during the day but also at night), healthy, fertile eggs should take roughly 14-16 days to hatch. In most cases, the cock and the hen will share the responsibility of incubating during the day, while the hen tends to incubate at night. The cock may or may not sleep next to the hen in the nest while she incubates at night. Successful incubation requires the parents to keep the eggs at the proper temperature, to keep the humidity sufficient (usually by bathing), and to gently roll/rotate the eggs periodically throughout the day.

Nest & Egg Abandonment
Unfortunately, if the birds sense famine or if they are disturbed while incubating, they may abandon their nest and eggs. Disturbances may come from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to: the presence of people (especially high traffic near the nesting site, placing hands in the cage, or tampering with the nest), loud noises, pets, nosey cage mates, predators, pests (cockroaches or ants, for example), and night frights. This is why breeding birds should be disturbed minimally, and only when absolutely necessary (i.e. to provide fresh food and water). If possible, dishes should be accessible from outside of the cage, to minimize the need to place one's hands within the cage. Providing an adequate diet and a sufficient amount of food daily, a dim "night light" at night, and a quiet/secure environment for your birds to breed in will help to reduce the possibility of nest & egg abandonment.

Chick Rearing
Chicks with food in their cropsIf all goes as planned, the parents will take turns feeding their young by regurgitating food as the hungry chicks beg. Providing the parents with a large assortment of high-quality foods will ensure that the chicks get the best start. For the first day or two after hatching, the young do not need to be fed because they are still using the last of the yolk sac for energy; however, parent birds may still regurgitate some fluids to their young at this time. The parents may also be seen gently prodding at and picking up their young in order to situate them for incubation. Chicks are often incubated daily until they are about 10 days old, after which time they are usually incubated only at night. This corresponds Pearlescent noduleswith the time that their juvenile plumage begins to develop. Before the feathers come in, a well-fed chick's crop can be seen bulging out around its neck (arrows in photo). The crop is a storage area for food before it empties into the stomach and GI tract. A crop packed tight with food is a good sign, unless it is not emptying or is filled with air bubbles (usually a sign of infection, and should be treated immediately). Gouldian chicks have pearlescent blue nodules--four in total--at the corners of their beaks. These reflect light and are thought to help the parents locate hungry little mouths in the dark recesses of the nest box. Chicks usually open their eyes around day 6 of age, and fledge around day 20.

Chick Tossing or Abandonment
As with nest and egg abandonment, if the birds sense famine or if they are disturbed while young are in the nest, they may abandon, kill, and/or toss their babies. Disturbances may come from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to: the presence of people (especially high traffic near the nesting site, placing hands in the cage, or tampering with the nest and/or babies), loud noises, pets, nosey cage mates, predators, pests (cockroaches or ants, for example), and night frights. This is why breeding birds should be disturbed minimally, and only when absolutely necessary (i.e. to provide fresh food and water). If possible, dishes should be accessible from outside of the cage, to minimize the need to place one's hands within the cage. Providing an adequate diet and a sufficient amount of food daily, a dim "night light" at night, and a quiet/secure environment for your birds to breed in will help to reduce the possibility of chick tossing or abandonment. If chicks die due to infection or infestation, the parents may toss them or abandon the nest. In this case, the dead babies and the parents should be presented to an avian veterinarian to determine the source of the problem and, if necessary, administer medical treatment to the pair before they breed again. The enclosure will likely need to be disinfected and the pair will need to be provided with a new nesting receptacle and fresh nesting material in order to start over. The Problems & Solutions section has tips on how to avoid and/or solve the problem of chick tossing or abandonment.

Chick Weaning
Weaning occurs at about 6 weeks of age. Normal weaning takes place as the parent birds feed their begging chicks less and less, encouraging them to eat foods on their own instead. In some cases, the parents may begin to chase their young, a sign that the parents want to breed again and therefore want the chicks out of the cage. Once all of the chicks have been seen eating and drinking on their own, they should be removed to their own enclosure, separate from the parents. After the chicks are placed in their own cage, you may wish to allow the parents to breed again; however, limit breeding pairs to only 2-3 clutches per year.

1. Ritchie, B. W., Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1994).

 Gouldian 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 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

Candling a fertile egg One day old chick Three juveniles and their father
Introductory Information
Most of the time, a hen is stimulated to lay her eggs because she mated with a male. Sometimes, however, a hen may be stimulated to lay eggs even if no successful mating took place. Occasionally, a hen will lay eggs even if no male is even present in her enclosure: she may pair off with another hen, or simply lay eggs without any stimulation from any mate at all. Of course fertile eggs will only result from a successful mating with a male, but the point is that sometimes hens will lay eggs even without the possibility of any of them being fertile.

That being stated, if you have a male-female pair of gouldians who has completed their nest and mated, you will most likely be seeing eggs arrive in the nest soon. Once a pair has copulated, a small percentage of sperm from the male's ejaculate is stored in special "sperm storage tubules" in the female's reproductive tract. She may store sperm there for up to about 16 days and release some of it as she ovulates. This helps to ensure that sperm is available to fertilize her ova when she is ready to lay her eggs. It also allows her to produce multiple fertile eggs days after the last mating took place. The important implication of this is realizing that a hen pulled from a cage with multiple males in it may be carrying the sperm of different cock birds for about two weeks (contrary to popular belief, even "monogamous" species will engage in extra-pair copulations). Therefore, if you have a specific mating pair in mind (Hen "X" with Cock "Y") and want to produce offspring from this pair alone, you will need to keep other cocks away from Hen "X" for at least a 16 days before introducing Cock "Y" to her for breeding purposes.

Cuttle boneOnce you have witnessed the pair mating, you should expect to see eggs in the nest within approximately 5-7 days. Gouldian eggs are laid once a day, usually daily and usually during the early morning hours (video), until a clutch anywhere from 3-8 eggs is produced (4-6 eggs most commonly).2 It would be wise to keep track of the date that each egg is laid (as well as the date on which incubation begins) for monitoring purposes, as explained later. Of course, make sure you are feeding an adequate diet and providing a constant source of calcium (such as a cuttle bone) to reduce the risk of complications such as egg binding.

Parental Care of Eggs
Fertile eggs can survive for about one week before incubation commences. If incubation does not begin within a week of an egg being laid, its hatchability decreases significantly. Gouldians normally begin incubating their clutch after the 3rd-4th egg is laid,2 although some pairs will wait until the clutch is complete to begin incubation. You will know incubation has begun when at least one of the birds is sitting on the eggs, not only during the day, but also at night. Usually both parents share the responsibility of incubation during the day. At night the hen alone usually incubates, although the cock may sleep next to her.2 Remember to record the date at which incubation begins, so you will be able to monitor the progress of the eggs. Please note that many pairs will not incubate their eggs unless at least three eggs are present in their nest.

Once incubation has begun, it should not be ceased (or the embryos will die). Eggs may be left unattended for brief periods of time (up to about 15-30 minutes), however, while the parent birds stretch their wings, or take a break to eat and drink. Parents instinctively know to gently turn the eggs beneath them periodically as they incubate, which allows the embryos to develop properly. In addition to warmth, eggs require a certain humidity to survive. This can be accomplished by providing the parents with a bath (a shallow dish or bowl of water) so that they may moisten the eggs with their damp bellies after bathing. Incubation generally takes 14-16 days.2

Toenail clippersUnfortunately parents do not always care for their eggs correctly. Some birds will accidentally puncture an egg (see below for methods of egg repair), and if the damage is bad enough, consume the egg (often this is the cause of "disappearing eggs"). This is why it is important to clip the birds' toenails before they breed, and one of the reasons to only provide them with safe nesting materials.

If the parents do not seem attentive to the eggs, it may be wise to place the eggs under the care of foster parents or to incubate them artificially, as described below.

Performing Nest Checks
Breeding Gouldians should not be disturbed unnecessarily. Hovering about and tampering with their nest makes most birds very nervous and my cause them to abandon their nest and eggs. Some individuals, however, will tolerate occasional nest inspections, with some pairs tolerating nest checks better than others. If you have had a pair abandon their nest and eggs in the past, you should probably not risk nest inspections with that pair in the future.

That stated, occasional nest checks, when done correctly, can help you gain information about the status of the eggs. If you have set up the breeding cage with an external nest box that has a hinged top, you will be able to perform the easiest and least intrusive nest checks. Nests placed inside of the enclosure are more difficult to get to, so use your best judgment about whether or not inspecting those nests is worth risking the pair abandoning their eggs.

Ideally, you should only inspect a nest when both of the birds are outside of it. Hopefully the nest is eye level to you so that you can simply peer inside to see if eggs have been laid yet, and if so, how many have been laid. Try to avoid the temptation of hovering about a breeding pair's cage. The more privacy you can give your birds, the better. I recommend glancing into the nest from a distance (if possible) once per day while you are providing the birds with fresh food and water. Record the dates that you see each egg laid, and record the date that you notice the pair begin incubation.

If you need to reach into the nest for any reason (such as candling eggs for fertility as described below), make sure to wash your hands first, to be very gentle with the eggs, and to make the nest check as brief as possible.

Candling Eggs
To accurately tell if an egg is fertile or not, you must candle it. This is a somewhat delicate procedure in which a small light source (such as a little flash light or an "egg candler") is held up to an egg on or after the fifth day of incubation to see if any growth is evident. This is part of the reason why keeping track of the incubation start date is important. Do not attempt to candle eggs if this is your birds' first clutch or if your birds have a tendency to abandon their eggs upon being disturbed.

Egg Candler Candling eggs in a nestIf you are going to candle, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly. You should also make sure the light source you are using is clean; good hygiene is a must when handling eggs. The candler should have a low-wattage (<< 40) bulb; too high a wattage can damage or kill an embryo.3 Candling is not easy to do in a well-lit room; if you can, dim the lights in the bird room or bring the nest into a room where you can set the lighting to low. Next, if you can, very carefully place your light source up to the side of one egg at a time while they are still within the nest. If you cannot easily or safely maneuver your light source within the nest, you will need to CAREFULLY remove the eggs from the nest (without crushing or cracking them) and hold the light up to each egg outside of the nest. After you have evaluated the eggs, return them to the nest (and replace the nest in the enclosure if you had to remove it).

If an egg is viable, you will be able to see a network of small red veins, and possibly see the developing embryo. The large end of the egg should contain an air pocket. On the fifth day of incubation, you may be able to witness the embryo's heart beating. Candling eggs which have been incubated longer than 5 days will show increased development: the veins may appear larger and cover a larger area, and eventually the chick will fill up most of the space within the egg. You may be able to see the chick moving about inside of the egg as it grows larger. You should candle all of the eggs on day 5 and again on day 10 of incubation, to see if the eggs have developed further or if any embryos have died within the egg. If the eggs are still viable on day 10, you should see darkness (the chick) covering most of the inside of the egg.

Infertile egg Fertile egg Fertile egg
Infertile egg                      Fertile egg                      Fertile egg

Infertile or "clear" eggs will appear empty except for a yellow yolk and the air pocket. Occasionally, an embryo will die at an early stage of life and nothing but a thin blood ring will be visible within the egg. Wait a few days and re-candle these eggs to be sure that they are not developing. Some breeders chose to eliminate these eggs, but doing so may run the risk of causing the parents to abandon the nest. Leaving at least 3-4 eggs in the clutch will encourage the pair to return to incubation, but there is usually no harm in leaving infertile eggs in the nest. You may wish to remove them a few days after any fertile eggs have hatched. If all of the eggs are clear, and remain clear when they are re-candled a few days later, they may be discarded. The pair will probably want to start a new clutch, but you should first address the reason that their eggs are clear before you let them attempt another clutch (see below).

To see what the inside of a fertile finch egg looks like at 5 days of incubation, place your mouse cursor over the image below:

Mouse over the image to see how it appears with lights off.
Candling eggs

Fertile Eggs: from Formation to Hatching
A cock and hen copulate and the cock passes his ejaculate to the hen who stores some of his sperm in her reproductive tract. When the hen ovulates, some sperm is released. A spermatozoa only has a very short window of time to fertilize the ova, as albumen ("egg white") will be deposited soon, which blocks entry of the sperm. The fertilized ova (which has already begun its development into an embryo) travels through the reproductive tract of the hen, first receiving the added albumen, then the inner and outer shell membrane, followed by water and electrolytes, and finally the shell. The shell is created by calcium deposition around the forming egg within the uterus. The fertilized ova takes approximately 4 hours to travel to the uterus. Once in the uterus, calcification of the egg's shell takes approximately 20 hours. This is why a hen can only lay one egg per 24 hour period. About 15 minutes after the first egg is laid, the hen ovulates again and the process is repeated. This is why the hen lays a single egg at about the same time each morning until her clutch is complete.

Finches are never considered "pregnant," nor do they "carry eggs." Once the ova is fertilized and the egg is formed, it is laid (video) and the embryo's development is paused until incubation begins. Complications can occur at the time of egg laying, such as "egg binding," a condition where the hen has formed the egg but can not pass it. Egg binding is a serious condition which should be addressed immediately to save the life of the egg bound hen. If the hen lays all of her eggs successfully, the pair will begin to incubate them (some pairs begin incubation after the third or fourth egg is laid while others wait until the clutch is complete). Assuming that the embryo is genetically fit, that the egg it is growing within contains adequate nutrition, that the egg is being incubated properly with the proper humidity, and that no bacteria, fungi, or viruses have infiltrated the egg, One day old chickthe embryo will resume development. At about day 5 it should be just large enough to be visualized during candling. By day 14-16, the chick will be ready to hatch. If the chick has positioned itself correctly within the egg, it will use its small egg tooth to pip a tiny hole near the larger end of the egg (where the air sac is). The chick will slowly rotate its way around, pipping as it goes, until the "top" of the egg is freed and the chick emerges. Normally chicks need no assistance in doing this, and it is usually in the chick's best interest that you do not interfere with a normal hatching process. The chick may take from a half hour to well over 24 hours to complete the hatching process.3 The parents usually discard of the egg shell by consuming it.

Clear & Unhatched Eggs
If an egg fails to hatch, one of two things must have happened: either the egg was never fertilized in the first place, or the egg was fertilized, but the embryo died before it was able to hatch. Each of these scenarios has many possible causes.

First consider the case of the unfertilized ("clear") egg. One suggested cause of unfertilized eggs is sexual inexperience.1,3 If birds are young or simply new to breeding, it may be possible that they do not yet understand all of the necessary motions that must occur for copulation to be successful. Another possible cause is inappropriate pairing of birds.1,3 If you accidentally paired two hens together, or if you paired incompatible birds of the opposite sex (which did not bond), they will not mate nor produce fertile eggs. Other poor husbandry practices may also inhibit a pair from successfully copulating, including: not supplying a proper nest, not furnishing the enclosure with adequate visual barriers between pairs, disturbing the birds or aviary excessively, pairing birds which are too young or too old to breed, incorrect photoperiod (for birds housed indoors), poor nutrition, and improper temperature, humidity, and so forth (correct environmental cues are important for stimulating many pairs to breed).1,3 Most of these problems can be overcome by improving one's husbandry practices. Unfortunately, however, other causes of infertile eggs still remain which may not be as easy (or even possible) to fix, as they are due to defects in the birds themselves. Although rare, sterility or infertility is a problem for some birds, both male and female, and may be due to genetic causes (as is the case with heavily inbred birds), environmental causes (excessive heat, for instance), age, or disorders (such as infection or tumors of the reproductive organs).1,3 Additionally, any physical handicap which impairs a bird's ability to copulate will prevent successful fertilization of eggs.3 Examples of such disadvantages include lameness, obesity, and loss of limb.1

Blood Ring - Early Embryonic DeathSometimes eggs are mistaken for infertile when in fact they were fertilized but suffered from early embryonic death. The most common causes of early embryonic death are incorrect temperature, jarring of the egg, and lethal genetic traits.3 If the embryo has developed far enough prior to dying, a thin blood ring (as pictured to the right) may be seen upon candling. However, in many cases, early embryonic death cannot be visualized by candling of the egg. Instead, an egg necropsy should be performed to determine if the egg was infertile or if it in fact suffered from early embryonic death. The presence of a white blastodisc is indicative of an infertile egg, whereas the presence of a blastoderm and/or a blood ring is indicative of early embryonic death. Your avian veterinarian should be able to perform the necropsy at your request. Breeding birds in a temperate environment and refraining from shaking the nest and eggs will help to ensure that early embryonic death does not occur. If you suspect that genetics are at fault, you might try to pair your birds with new (unrelated) mates.

Embryos do not always die during the early stage of their development. They may also die during the middle of incubation, usually due to nutrient defficiencies.3 In fact, eggs which are laid by a hen experiencing vitamin deficiency (as is the case with hens fed only unsupplemented seed diets) are expected to die in the middle third of incubation.4 Minor nutritional deficiencies will become magnified as the breeding season continues and the hen's body stores become even more depleted. Although bacterial or fungal infections may also cause an embryo to perish at this stage of development, they are more often responsible for late embryonic death.3

In addition to infection, late embryonic death may also be due to improper incubation (lack of proper temperature and/or humidity) or a genetic abnormality (mainly malpositioning at the time of hatch).3 Providing the parents with a clean nest, a clean cage, and only fresh, clean nesting material will help to prevent the introduction of pathogens to the eggs.3 It is also important that the parents be healthy at the time of breeding, and that no sick birds or fomites are allowed to come into contact with the parents or eggs. Hygiene and proper quarantine procedures are essential to successful breeding. Additionally, birds should be bred in an area which is free of toxins: nicotine, carbon monoxide, herbicides, insecticides and even some antibiotics given to parent birds can all lead to embryo fatality.3 If pairs are being treated with medication, wait until they are finished with the regimen to breed them.

In cases where eggs were fertilized but failed to hatch, an egg necropsy and culture of the contents should be performed by an experienced avian veterinarian to determine the probable cause, enabling you to make any needed adjustments to your breeding program to prevent further unhatched eggs. If a pattern of embryonic death is witnessed (e.g. 1/4 or 1/16 of the eggs die) and no other cause is found, suspect lethal genetic combiations.3 Also be aware that fertility and hatchability of the eggs varies with the age of the parents.3

Egg Repair
Fertile eggs with small puncture holes or thin cracks may be candidates for egg repair. The sooner you repair the egg after it has been damaged, the better. Before handling any egg, always wash and dry your hands. Eggs which have had their shell compromised are very susceptible to entry by pathogens which can kill a developing embryo. Good hygiene, therefore, is a must. Apply a very small amount of nontoxic elmer's white glue to a clean Q-tip and spread it gently and thinly over the crack or hole. (Surgical glue may be substituted for Elmer's). If the hole is too large to cover in this way, you may use a combination of elmer's glue and non-dyed tissue paper to patch the hole. Be very careful to only cover the smallest area possible with the glue, so that the rest of the egg shell can still breathe. If you clog too many of the tiny pores within the eggshell, the chick will suffocate. Allow the thin layer of Elmer's nontoxic glueglue covering the crack or hole to dry between coats, as several coats may be needed. Once the crack or hole is sealed sufficiently, allow the glue to dry and replace the egg in the nest. Hot dripped beeswax or paraffin wax may be used in place of glue3 (multiple coats are not needed, and it "dries" [cools] more quickly than Elmer's glue). If possible, try to complete the egg repair procedure within a half hour's time so that the egg may be returned to incubation quickly. In a few days, candle the egg to see if the chick is still developing or if it appears to have died. Please be aware that chicks which survive egg repair may need assistance during the hatching process, depending on the location of the glue or wax seal. If the seal is in the way of the pipping area, you may need to help the chick pip through it.

Artificial Incubation of Eggs
First and foremost, please understand that incubation of an egg is a very delicate and precise process. Embryos will only develop within a very narrow temperature range: at higher temperatures within this range, they develop more quickly, and at lower temperatures within this range, they develop more slowly. Temperatures outside of the range (by as little as a single degree Celsius) will result in embryo death.3 If an embryo develops too quickly, it may be too weak to hatch. If it does hatch, it will probably die because embryos which develop too quickly tend to suffer from a greater incidence of physical deformities (such as curled toes and scissor bills) and still have exposed yolk sacs at the time of hatch3 (under normal circumstances, the remainder of the yolk sac is drawn into the body prior to hatch and serves as an energy source for the first hours of life). If an embryo develops too slowly, on the other hand, it may suffer from a delayed hatch and an abnormal physical appearance.3 Therefore an embryo must be incubated at just the right temperature in order to develop correctly.

Temperature is not the only essential parameter in incubation, however. Humidity is also very important, and is most critical during the first third of incubation.3 If humidity is too low, an embryo will become dehydrated, possibly resulting in kidney failure and stunted growth.3 Likewise, if humidity is too high, the air cell in the egg will be small (if it becomes too small, the embryo will die late in incubation) and any chick which does hatch may have an exposed yolk sac among other physical abnormalities.3 Exposed yolk sacs at the time of hatch are problematic because they leave the chick more susceptible to infection; if a chick hatches with an exposed yolk sac, it should be rushed to your avian veterinarian for immediate correction.3

The third critical factor in incubating eggs is turning them. Doing this is necessary to prevent the contents of the egg from sticking to the inside of the shell. During natural incubation, parent birds will turn the eggs on average once every 35 minutes.3 For artificial incubation, turning the eggs an odd number of times between five and eight times a day should suffice.3 Not turning often enough may lead to embryo death (either early or late) among other complications.3 Additionally, eggs should not be rotated in the same direction each time, as this may lead to internal tearing of the membranes and embryonic death.1 Instead, alternate between rotating eggs 180 degrees, and then counter-rotating them 180 degrees during the next turning.1 Always be gentle and slow when turning eggs. Automatic egg turners may be purchased to fit most commercial incubators and egg sizes, and are preferable to manual turning of the eggs. If you are hand turning eggs, I find that it helps to use a nontoxic, fine-point marker to label one side of the egg with an "X" with an arrow pointing right and the other side with an "O" and an arrow pointing left.

Lastly, egg and incubator hygiene is a must. First, always wash your hands prior to handling eggs. Second, do not get eggs wet as this may remove the naturally protective cuticle which surrounds them.3 Third, clean and disinfect the incubator before and after each batch of eggs is placed within it.3 Lastly, clean and disinfect water trays (within incubators which have them) daily.3

With incubation requirements being so precise, it is impractical to attempt to build your own incubator at home. Simply stated, placing eggs under a lamp or attempting to hold them in the palm of your hand will not work. Instead, purchase a commercial incubator. Because such a purchase needs to be made well in advance (in order to purchase, receive, set up, and test that the incubator is functioning prior to using it), it may be advisable to invest in an incubator before you set your birds up to breed. This way, you will have a back up plan in case eggs need to be rescued or maintained until a foster pair can be acquired.

Commercial incubators should be purchased with temperature and humidity measuring devices (preferably two of each so that they may be standardized against each other1), an automatic egg turner, and humidity control (usually water pans located within the incubator). If you can find one, look for an incubator that is a "forced air incubator." Incubators of this type move hot air around, distributing it throughout the inside of the incubator, creating a more evenly heated environment.1 At least one finch enthusiast has had good success with the Turn-X incubator, as documented here.

Once you have received and set up your incubator, let it run for at least 30 days prior to placing any eggs inside of it.3 This will allow the temperature and humidity inside of the incubator to stabilize, as well as to allow you to make sure that it is functioning properly.1 You may wish to leave it running throughout the entire duration of the breeding season, so that it will be primed and ready in the event that eggs must be unexpectedly rescued or incubated for any other reason. Below you will find a table summarizing the parameters for incubating finch eggs, as well as a table for calculating relative humidity inside of an incubator using wet bulb readings (based on a dry bulb reading of 37.5° C [99.5° F]).

Incubator Settings3
Parameter Value
Temperature 37.5° C (99.5° F)
Humidity 50-60% (wet bulb reading of 28.5° C [83° F] to 30.5° C [87° F])
# of Turns per Day (if manual) 5 or 7
Incubation Length Varies per species (12-16 days on average, see Specific Species)

Calculating Humidity from Wet Bulb Readings (with Dry Bulb at 37.5° C [99.5° F])
Wet Bulb Approximate % Humidity
28° C (82° F)
29° C (84° F)
30° C (86° F)
31° C (88° F)
32° C (90° F)
33° C (91° F)
34° C (93° F)
35° C (95° F)
36° C (97° F)
37° C (99° F)

Once eggs are due to hatch (the egg has undergone drawdown or the chick has pipped), cease turning the eggs. This usually occurs 24-48 hours prior to the end of incubation (therefore, stop turning the eggs on day 13 or 14). The chick will rotate itself 360° within the egg, cutting as it goes until it opens the top of the egg and emerges. This may take many hours. Do not attempt to assist a hatch unless you repaired an egg and the site of repair is in the way of the chick's pip or cutting area. Several physiological changes are occurring as the chick hatches, and assisting the hatch may interrupt these and lead to weakening of the chick. In most cases, assisting a hatch does more harm than good. If, however, you feel strongly that your chick is in need of assistance during hatching, call your avian veterinarian for advice.

1. Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1986). Clinical avian medicine and surgery. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders Company.
2. Koepff, C. (1984). The new finch handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series.
3. Olsen, G. H., & Orosz, S. E. (2000). Manual of avian medicine. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, Inc.
4. Rosskopf, W. J., & Woerpel, R. W. (Eds.). (1996). Diseases of cage and aviary birds (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

Definition of Fostering
Fostering is a rearing technique where eggs or chicks are taken away from their biological parents and placed under the care of another pair of the same or a different species.2

Reasons to Foster
Fostering may be used to establish an exotic species,1 to rescue chicks or eggs in the event that the biological parents cannot adequately care for them, or to increase productivity of the parent birds by stimulating them to start another clutch once their eggs/chicks are removed.1,2 If you are going to use fostering as a means to increase production, you should still limit your egg-laying hens to three Society Finchclutches per breeding season so that the demand on the hen's body does not become too great. Likewise, you should limit your foster pairs to three clutches per season since chick rearing is such a demanding job.

Potential Disadvantages of Fostering
Several problems may result from fostering (or attempting to foster) gouldians. First, foster parents might not accept the eggs and chicks which are placed in their care.2 Second, if you are fostering chicks because their biological parents lack the requisite rearing skills to care for them, you may be inadvertently placing a selection pressure on that undesirable trait. A gouldian's ability to raise its own young is a skill which may not be solely a learned behavior, but have a genetic basis. By fostering the young from an unreliable pair, you are artificially selecting for what nature is attempting to select against: poor parenting skills.

Two other problems may arise due to fostering, but these issues are typically only caused by fostering gouldian chicks to a different species (such as society finches). First, certain infectious agents may be passed from society finch foster parents to the gouldian chicks that they are raising.2 These diseases can be fatal to fledging gouldians, as is the case with cochlosomosis and Campylobacter spp. infections.3 Society finches may be asymptomatic carriers of both of the pathogens responsible for those diseases.3 (On the other hand, society finches can prevent the spread of air sac mites when fostering gouldians because they are not susceptible to those parasites.3)

The second problem caused by fostering gouldians to a different species is an increased risk of imprinting.1 Once a chick has imprinted upon its foster parents, it may prefer to associate more with the species which raised it than it would with other gouldians. This can lead to problems later on, because the imprinted gouldian may refuse to breed with members of its own species.3 In order for a gouldian chick to imprint upon its own species, it must be exposed to other gouldian finches from the 15th to the 40th days of life.3

How to Foster
Step 1: Select an appropriate pair of foster parents. Zebra Finch Hen
Society (aka Bengalese) finches are the most commonly used (and will breed year-round), but zebra finches or even another pair of lady gouldians may also work. The foster parents should be chosen based on their parenting skills and not their color mutation.1 If time permits, allow unproven pairs to raise a clutch of their own chicks; doing so will allow you to evaluate their potential as foster parents.1 Using a second pair of gouldians as foster parents is ideal because imprinting no longer becomes an issue. Regardless of the species you select as foster parents, make sure that the birds you choose are healthy and free of protozoa, bacteria, and other pathogens that may cause illness or death in the chicks.

Step 2: Synchronize the breeding of the foster pair with the breeding of the parent birds.
In order for most potential foster parents to accept eggs or chicks from another pair, they need to be on the same page as the birds they are accepting eggs/chicks from. The foster pair must be set up for breeding to stimulate nesting behavior at or around the same time that the parent birds begin to breed. For best results, house each foster pair in their own enclosure. This is especially important for society finches who often prefer socializing with other munias (when given the option) over breeding. Note that in some cases, a trio of male society finches may successfully foster chicks, but the greatest success is usually gained by using a male-female pair of societies. You may need to set up multiple pairs for fostering1 to increase your chances for success. Be sure to feed your foster pairs an adequate diet for breeding just as you are feeding your gouldians for breeding.

Step 3: Transfer the eggs/chicks from the biological parents to the foster pair.
If transferring eggs, allow the biological parents to finish the clutch before you move the eggs into the foster pair's nest. This will improve the chances of the eggs hatching on the same day, which enhances the hatchlings' survival. Replace the foster pair's eggs with the eggs from the gouldian pair(s). Each foster pair should only have 4-6 eggs to care for at a time. Too few eggs in the nest may not be enough stimulation or encouragement for the foster pair to begin incubation, so use additional dummy eggs if necessary. On the other hand, too many eggs in the nest are cumbersome and will hinder successful incubation. If possible, only foster fertile eggs. You will need to candle the eggs after they have been incubated by the fosters for several days to make sure that they are still developing correctly. You may also wish to mark the fostered eggs in some way (with a nontoxic marker or dull #2 pencil) to indicate which biological pair they came from. Society or zebra finch eggs can be left in the nest to be incubated along with the fostered gouldian eggs (as long as no more than six eggs are present in total), however the parents may preferentially care for their own chicks over the fostered chicks, so it is generally advised to avoid fostering multiple species to a given pair at a time.
Society FinchIf transferring chicks, try to place the chicks in another nest which already has chicks of the same species and of a similar age in it. This is especially true for cases in which only a single chick needs to be fostered; adding a single chick to a nest with other chicks of a similar age will yield the best results (parent birds may not feel stimulated to feed just one lone chick). You may also be able to transfer newly hatched chicks to a foster pair which is "sitting tight" on eggs; this tends to occur when a pair is late in incubation and expecting the eggs to hatch soon. Replace some of the foster eggs with the newly hatched chicks. Transferring older chicks to a nest which only has eggs in it may not work (although it is worth a shot if no other options are available). If the fosters refuse to accept the older chicks, you may have to hand feed them. Once again, each foster pair should be limited to raising six or fewer chicks at a time. Any more than six chicks in the nest may be too much demand for the foster pair to keep up with.

Step 4: Monitor the foster pair.
Keep an eye on the foster pair and the eggs/chicks they are caring for. If necessary, intervene and hand feed chicks or try switching eggs/chicks from an unreliable foster pair to another pair. Remember to feed your foster pair for breeding just as you would the biological pair; the higher plane of nutrition will allow the parents to provide the chicks with an adequate diet for growth.

Avoiding Problems with Fostering
Problem: Not enough eggs are present to stimulate incubation.
Solution: Try adding dummy eggs to the clutch to increase the number of eggs present under the birds. Birds may not incubate if less than four eggs are present, or may have trouble incubating if more than 6 eggs are present.
Problem: Trying to foster gouldians to a trio of male society finches.
Solution: Because male society finches do not lay eggs, you may have to stimulate them to incubate by tricking them into thinking a clutch of eggs is being laid in their nest. Try adding a dummy egg to their nest each morning until a full clutch of 4-6 eggs is present. If they have begun incubating the clutch, you can swap the dummy eggs out for the fostered eggs.
Problem: Only one baby needs to be fostered.
Solution: One baby alone in a nest may not be a strong enough stimulus to get the parents (biological or foster) to care for it. Ideally, you should try to place this lone baby in a nest which has other babies of the same age and preferably of the same species. If this option is not available, you will probably have to attempt to hand feed the chick.
Problem: Fostering newly hatched babies.
Solution: If possible, transfer newly hatched chicks to a nest with other babies of the same species and age. If this option is not available, try adding newly hatched babies to a foster pair's nest with eggs that are being incubated "tightly." Remove all but one or two of the eggs and add the newly hatched chicks in their place.
Problem: Mixing species in a nest.
Solution: Although it is possible to transfer the eggs or chicks of various finch species to a pair of society (or zebra) parents,1 mixing species is generally not recommended if it can be avoided. Mixing species can be problematic because some species will grow faster than others, beg louder, and may outcompete the smaller, more quiet chicks. If, however, you need to mix species, just be sure to transfer eggs or chicks of the same 'age' to the foster pair. For example, if all eggs were laid around the same time, they will hatch at about the same time and reduce the risk of complications. Again, limit each foster pair to six eggs at a time.
Problem: Mixing chicks at different stages of development.
Solution: The best solution for this problem is to avoid it. Older babies may squish or outcompete younger chicks; they also fledge and wean sooner, which typically causes the parents to stop feeding the younger babies (at which point they will need to be hand fed). This is why timing is key: chicks must be of same age/size/etc. to be transferred to and raised successfully by the fosters.
Problem: The increased risk of imprinting.
Solution: In order for a gouldian chick to imprint upon its own species, it must be exposed to other gouldian finches from the 15th to the 40th days of life.3 This is not a problem for gouldian chicks which have been fostered under their same species, but may be a problem for gouldians which are fostered by societies (or zebras). Therefore if you are fostering to a different species, try keeping a cage of adult gouldians near the foster pair's cage, and place all newly weaned gouldian chicks in the same cage with the adult gouldians. In addition to this, keep all society (or zebra) finches out of sight and ear shot of the weaned chicks.1

1. Alderton, D. (1988). A birdkeeper's guide to finches. Blacksburg, VA: Tetra Press.
2. Olsen, G. H., & Orosz, S. E. (2000). Manual of avian medicine. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, Inc.
3. Tully, T. N., Lawton, M. P. C., & Dorrestein, G. M. (Eds.). (2000). Avian medicine. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.

Hand Feeding

Introductory notes
Hand feeding baby gouldians, especially birds which just recently hatched, is a very challenging, time consuming, and tedious process. Unfortunately it does not always end in success even when the best efforts are made to save the bird's life. Fostering abandoned babies to another pair of finches is often the more successful route, but unfortunately not all people who encounter an abandoned baby finch will have a foster pair on hand that is able to take care of the baby. Therefore, if one is determined to attempt saving the life of a baby finch and has no other option for raising it, hand raising may be attempted. Some people also chose to hand raise young finches in order to yield a more hand tame pet. Although this can be done, I highly recommend allowing the biological parents to raise the young until their juvenile feathers begin to appear. At this point hand raising the birds is often met with greater success, because they are older and more developed.

Please note that hand raised finches may have special needs once they are weaned. For example, some hand raised finches may have behavioral problems as adults (e.g. they may act overly aggressive towards other finches) since they were not properly socialized as chicks. In this case, the hand raised finch must be housed separately from other finches and given the opportunity to interact with people instead of other birds.

Supply List
Syringe and crop feeding tube Items you will need in order to hand raise finches:
  1. Kaytee EXACT Hand Feeding Formula (available at most pet stores).
  2. Infant apple sauce (available in the baby food isle of most grocery stores).
  3. Unflavored pedialyte (available in the baby pharmacy area of most grocery stores).
  4. 1cc needleless syringes (look for syringes that do NOT have a luer lock or catheter tip; TB syringes sold "without a needle" should work. This may be obtained from your veterinarian or found at some online retailers).
  5. A "crop feeding extension" for the 1cc needleless syringe (made from a "BD vacutainer butterfly blood collection set WITHOUT safety-lok" which may be available at your vet's or at an online retailer--just cut the tubing to a length of 2.2cm).
  6. Flat toothpicks.
  7. Paper towels & wash cloths.
  8. A thermometer to check the temperature of the formula you prepare.
  9. A small, outdoor thermometer (a thermometer designed for use in reptile enclosures will work--available at most pet stores) to check ambient temperature in the incubator/brooder.
  10. An incubator/brooder (which can be crafted at home--see below) or purchased. If you purchase an incubator, get one that has slow air flow and solid state thermostat controls.
Syringe and Crop Tube

Proper Hygiene
Important: Because very young finches do not have the more robust immune system that adult finches do, they are more susceptible to certain diseases.Proper hygiene, therefore, is a must to prevent hand raised chicks from becoming sick.

  • Wash hands before & after feedings (if feeding more than one bird, wash hands between birds).
  • Sterilize all utensils in weak bleach solution (1 part bleach: 20 parts water; let the utensils soak for 15 minutes in this solution) and rinse well under cool water before EACH and every use. DO NOT boil the utensils as this will cause them to melt and distort.
  • Only use one feeding utensil per bird (in other words, each bird should have its own labeled syringe).
  • If feeding more than one bird, do not double dip the feeding utensil in the formula.
  • Store the Kaytee hand feeding formula (in its dry powder form) in the freezer.
  • Mix fresh feeding formula before each feeding; do not store & reheat old formula.
  • Do not let adult birds come into contact with the neonates.
Preparing the Brooder
First, you must acquire an incubator if you are trying to save a fertile egg that has not yet hatched. If the egg has already hatched, either a commercial incubator or a "home-made brooder" may be used to keep the chick warm. To construct your own brooder, you will need a plastic container with a wide, ventilated top (e.g. a critter keeper), a heating pad, heat-proof tape, washcloths and paper towels, and a small outdoor (or reptile) thermometer.

Tape the heating pad around the bottom of the plastic container and up around an inch or so of the sides of the container with the heat-resistant tape. Plug the heating pad in and place the it on medium. Place a washcloth on the inside bottom of the plastic container, and place a few paper towels over that; this is where the chicks will eventually be placed. Put the thermometer inside of the container on top of the paper towels. After about a half hour, check the temperature inside of the container. Adjust the temperature of the brooder as needed (by adding or removing wash cloths underneath the paper towels, or by changing the setting of the heating pad) according to the following table:

Stage of chick's developmentTemperature of brooder
Newly hatched92-94°F (33.3-34.4 °C)
Older, but still unfeathered90-92°F (32.2-33.3 °C)
Pin feathers present85-90°F (29.4-32.2 °C)
Fully feathered75-80°F (23.9-26.7 °C)
WeanedRoom temperature

Always allow a half hour to pass before checking the adjusted temperature. Once the temperature is correct, the chicks may be added to the brooder and replace the ventilated lid. Keep a close eye on the birds to see if they are too warm or too cold. Chicks which pant or hold their wings away from their bodies are too warm, whereas chicks which shiver or huddle are too cold. Keep the brooder in a dimly lit area.

The humidity in the brooder needs to be maintained above 50%. This may be accomplished by acquiring an unused spray bottle (found at a local grocery store), sterilizing it, filling it with distilled, lukewarm water, and spraying a little water in the incubator/brooder as needed. Only spray fresh water into the brooder, and never spray the chicks directly. Change all of the bedding in the incubator several times daily to keep the inside clean.

Don't forget that as the chicks age, the temperature inside of the brooder should be lowered slowly as described above. When the chicks are fully feathered, the temperature can be lowered (gradually, of course) to room temperature.

Preparing the Formula
Kaytee Exact First, heat water to 120°F using a stove, hot plate, or coffee maker (if your water has bacteria in it, boil the water for 15 minutes first). Mix the correct proportions of formula and hot water in a sterilized container. Follow the label on the KAYTEE Exact feeding formula (reproduced below) to mix the formula to the correct consistency (which varies as the chick ages). Do NOT heat or reheat mixed formula in the microwave, as doing so may lead to "hot spots" that could burn the chick's crop. Once the formula and the hot water have been mixed thoroughly, allow the mixture to cool to 101-104°F (38.3-40°C) before feeding the chicks. Feeding formula at this temperature allows the chicks to digest it properly.

Age in DaysAmount WaterAmount FormulaConsistency
16 parts Pedialyte1 partBroth (very watery)
26 parts (water)1 partBroth
3-53 parts1 partCreamy soup
5-weaning2 parts1 partPudding

Only make small quantities of formula before each feeding. Discard left over formula; DO NOT reuse mixed formula! Instead, mix fresh formula at each feeding.

Feeding the Chick(s)
Before you being feeding, several general rules should be followed:
  • ALWAYS make fresh formula for each feeding; never refrigerate mixed formula.
  • Only use sterile feeding utensils. Clean utensils after each feeding.
  • Encourage the bird to beg for its food; never try to force feed it by forcing its beak open. Only feed during begging behavior (as the glottis and choana slit are closed at this time which allows food to be delivered safely). If you try to feed the chick while it is not begging, it may asphyxiate (choke) on the food. Dispense the food in rhythm with the chick's head-bobbing motion.
  • Pause every couple of seconds after providing the bird with food to allow it to breathe.
  • Do not get any formula in/on the bird's nostrils. Clean up any spilled food, especially food that may have gotten on the chick.
  • Do not over or under feed the baby. When it is full, the chick may stop begging or its crop (the sack which holds the food located near the base of its neck) will appear full, which ever comes first. Feed it again each time the crop becomes nearly empty. This should occur at regular intervals. Keep track of how long it takes for the crop to empty between each feeding, as any sign of slowing is bad and needs to be addressed immediately (see below).
  • Allow the crop to completely empty at least once each day (usually before first morning feeding).
  • Be sure to replace the paper towel which the bird is sitting on as needed (usually after each feeding).
  • Be gentle and use good judgment.
Age: 1 Day
Begging behaviorWhen the chick first hatches, place a little pedialyte around its beak. Within forty-five minutes after it has hatched, the first real feeding may be given. This is done by mixing a very small amount of formula (which will be mostly pedialyte) and given to the bird by means of a flat toothpick. Scoop the formula up little by little with the toothpick and place it within the birds beak and not down its throat (do not force this, if the chick refuses to take it, try gently tapping its beak or stroking its back to encourage begging). Continue feeding it regularly whenever the crop is emptied (usually every hour). Also, four night feedings should be given to strengthen the baby.

Age: 2 Days
The same procedure for a 1 day old finch should be used here, however, pedialyte should be exchanged for water. Also, reduce night feedings to 3 times per night.

Age: 3-5 Days
More formula and less water should be provided now (see chart above), and the 1 cc syringe with handy crop tube extension should be used for feedings. Crop feeding is a method whereby the small, flexible tubing attached to the syringe is inserted directly into the chick's crop by way of the mouth as the chick begs. Do NOT try to insert the tube if the chick is not engaged in begging behavior. Angle the tube within the mouth towards the CHICK'S RIGHT side and gently guide the tube down the chick's esophagus and into its crop. You will be able to see the tube in the crop; do not push it too far down. Dispense formula quickly but carefully until the crop is nearly full, then remove the tube gently. Do NOT continue dispensing food as you retract the tube. This method allows the chick to receive its entire meal more quickly than the previously used method (placing a small amount of formula in the mouth, waiting for the chick to swallow it, and then repeating until the chick is full). If the extension could not be found or if you do not feel comfortable crop feeding a baby finch, a pipette may replace the syringe for this age but do NOT attempt to crop feed using a pipette. Instead, just continue delivering small volumes of food into the chicks mouth and give it time to swallow and breathe between servings. Make sure the formula's not clogging the utensil and that no air bubbles get trapped within the formula once it is sucked into the syringe/pipette. Feedings should still be administered as the crop empties (about every hour and a half), and night feedings for day 5 should be reduced to 2 for that night.

Age: 5 Days to Weaning
The consistency of the formula now is comparable to pudding, but should not be so thick that it clogs the utensil. Feed when the crop becomes empty (every 2-3 hours), and reduce night feedings for days 6 & 7 to once per night. On day 8, cease night feedings. Soon the feathers will be emerging; when the bird is fully feathered, the temperature in the brooder may be gradually reduced to room temperature, as explained earlier. By 18-21 days, the birds will normally be at fledging age. During this time, they should be offered spray millet, soaked seed, and an egg-mix to nibble on. Wean them onto these foods as they begin to refuse taking any more formula, and place them into a cage of their own with low perches, fresh water, fresh foods, and a nest with nesting material until they fledge. If they are late fledging, place a mature bird in the cage with them to act as a mentor. Shortly after they get the hang of things, the cage may be rearranged to look like a normal finch cage, and the normal diet (the one you provide to your mature finches) may be given to the young ones.

Problems to Prevent & Watch For
First, when feeding the baby, do not overfeed it. Stretching its crop too far can lead to atony of the crop and inhibit the bird's ability to digest food properly.
Normal skin
Second, pay attention to the chick's skin. Normal skin (as pictured to the right) looks pink to yellow in color and appears supple (minimal flaking is normal). If you notice excessive flaking and/or dry, deep-red colored skin, this is a sign that the chick is dehydrated. If the chick becomes dehydrated, give it a small volume of pedialyte immediately and mix future meals with a greater proportion of water to dilute the meals slightly. Also check the humidity in the brooder and make sure it is above 50%.

Third, pay attention to the color of the chick's feces. They should be yellow-brown in color. If the chick begins producing green feces, this is a sign that the crop has stopped emptying properly. Crop stasis (crop "slow down," or decreased crop emptying) may be a sign of infection. Other common causes of crop stasis are over feeding, feeding cold formula, and improper brooder temperatures. To help the crop empty, add a little warm water to the crop and gently massage its contents. Never massage a crop that is more than half full. Check the temperature of the brooder and the formula you have been feeding. Make any necessary adjustments and pay close attention to the time intervals between feedings. If the crop is still emptying too slowly, suspect infection and act immediately: mix equal parts of hand feeding formula and infant applesauce. Provide this mixture for all feedings during the next 24 hours and then slowly return to the normal concentration of formula over another 24 hour period. The infant applesauce lowers the pH of the crop and aims to rid it of any infection. If the chicks' condition does not improve, or if it deteriorates, call your avian vet. You may need to administer an antibiotic or antifungal medication to treat the chick.

One other problem you may encounter while hand feeding a baby finch is air in the crop. Sometimes feeding a finch too slowly may cause the bird to gulp air. You can relieve the air by "burping" the bird: while the chick is begging, gently apply pressure to the crop to push the air out. If this does not work or if you are not comfortable "burping" the chick, bring it to your avian vet. Air in the crop can also indicate infection (fermentation in the crop can cause air to build up inside of it) and may require treatment with an antibiotic or antifungal drug from an avian vet, if the applesauce-Kaytee treatment described above does not suffice.
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