The Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) is also known as the Lady Gouldian Finch and not surprisingly, the Rainbow Finch. These birds originate from Australia, where their numbers are declining, but have been bred in captivity with increasing success. They are available in a huge range of colour mutations, so much so that a whole code system for their colours has been developed.
Gouldians are found in northern Australia, from Cape York Peninsula through to north-west Queensland and the northern part of the Northern Territory as well as the Kimberley area of Western Australia. They live in tropical savannah woodlands and will have a territorial area of around 40 square kilometres where they will travel for food and breeding, only going further if water supplies dry up.
As a general rule, most colours of Gouldians can be sexed visually. The hens are duller in colour than the cock bird though this may not apply with some of the more dilute variations. The other finch failsafe also applies; only a cock will sing.
Gouldians are often kept in colonies in captivity, though, during breeding season, this is not their chosen lifestyle. Outside breeding season, they will often be found in mixed feeding flocks with species such as Long-tailed Finches and Masked Finches. These flocks can be up to 1000-2000 birds. In captivity, the main species to avoid housing them with is species of Parrotfinches, only because they are closely related and can hybridise.
Climate wise, they can need some heat to survive the worst of our climate, so it is recommended they either be kept in the house over the winter, or in a heated bird house. They do tend to breed during our winter, so this is another factor and are classified as finely feathered birds, meaning they cannot keep much heat in by fluffing up the way native birds do.
Gouldians are primarily seed eaters and in the wild enjoy ripe, or half-ripe, grass seeds such as sorghum. They will also forage on the ground for fallen seeds and during the wet season, spinifex grass seeds are very important for them.
In captivity, they thrive on a food foreign finch seed mix with egg food given regularly and fresh foods such as kale, spinach, collard greens and chard.
In the wild, Gouldians breed in tree holes within a kilometre of water and in the early part of the dry season, as there is plenty of food at this time. The male courts the female by bobbing around and ruffling his feathers to show his colours as well as puffing out his chest and and forehead feathers.
A typical clutch is 4-8 birds which are incubated by both birds, but the female is the one who stays on the eggs overnight. Both parents care for the chicks after hatching, and they fledge at around 19-23 days. They are weaned at 40 days old. Young Gouldians are known to be quite fragile until they have gone through their first moult.
Scientific studies have shown that female Gouldians in Northern Australia are controlling the gender of their offspring depending on the head colour of their mate. This is the first time it has been shown that a bird can choose the sex of their chick to overcome any genetic weakness.
In captivity, some breeders have found Gouldians to be trickier to breed than other finch species and have resorted to using foster parents, usually Bengalese finches. The only problem with this method is that the chicks then sometimes do not realise what they need to do to rear their own chicks and a cycle can continue. But this is often better than losing chicks, especially if they are nearing fledging age. Another option can be to hand-rear the chicks if they are abandoned, but this is not something to be taken on lightly as feeding such a small bird is quite complicated.
Experienced breeders have said to me that the best method with a young pair of Gouldians is to be patient, even if this means losing chicks and eggs. They will learn what to do with some practise, and then they will teach this to their young.
If you are going to keep Gouldians, even a single pair, you will start hearing a lot of terms to describe the colours of the birds. Here I am going to give a bit of an overview of what this all means, so that is someone starts referring to a bird as an RH WB, for example, you still know what it means.
There are three natural colours for heads of Gouldians – red headed (RH), Black Headed (BH) and Yellow Headed (YH). The former two are more common in the wild. The Red head is the normal coloured bird where the red is outlined in black with turquoise feathers behind this, merging into the back colour. With the Black Headed, the whole of the head is black until the turquoise area. Yellow Headed are actually more of an orange colour and are a mutation of the red headed where the red colour for the feathers isn’t produced.
There is a wide range of breast colours which pair with the head colour to give the bird it’s colour mutation. These include:
The third element of the colour description of a Gouldian is the back colour. Majority of the birds will have a green back, but there are blue backs where a mutation causes the yellow from the feathers to vanish and for them to be blue. There are also yellow backed where any black and blue colour is lost.
So a bird which is described as a RH, WB, green backed will have a red head, a white breast and a green back feathers. Sometimes belly colour is also mentioned.
Gouldians are as colourful as finches get, little characters and easy to feed. Breeding can be a little trickier, but depends on what the bird has known, so find out a little about this before purchase. If this is your first pair of these birds, try to get a mature pair who are proven to raise their own young to have better chances of success.