Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why 'Gouldiae'?

G’day Blogworld,
Australia is sometimes known as the land of parrots, but I’d like to put in a word for our finches. We have almost 20 finch species, and some of them are stunners in my book, and one in particular has long held my admiration.

As a teenager I did what a lot of country boys did, and built my own aviary and trapped my own birds to help stock it. (Think I might have just lost a few readers). Most of my mates who did the same, went for the parrots – Crimson and Eastern Rosellas, King Parrots, etc, but even then I had a penchant for the local finches.

Around here, in Gippsland, there was no difficulty in pedalling our bikes a few miles, (in those days), just out of town and being able to trap a finch or two – Red brows, and Diamond Firetails and the introduced European Goldfinch in particular. I found them totally endearing.

I recall one day being taken to Melbourne and seeing for the first time, an aviary containing a small collection of other Australian finches. As I recall, there were Double Bars, Painteds, Longtails, and probably a few more. There was also a couple of these…

I’d never seen anything like them. I had to ask what they were called, and surely they were exotic? No, they were the stunning Gouldian Finch, Erythrura gouldiae, and they were Aussie. The aviary owner was quick to tell me they were almost impossible to keep in cold old Victoria, as they were native to virtually the very top end of the continent.

As education and work priorities took on more meaning, my childhood aviary was destocked and I left home for the big wide world. Probably, I barely thought of avifauna again for something like the next 30 to 40 years.

I think in 1995 we were ‘landscaping’ the back yard of our property and were deciding what to do with an unused few square metres in one corner. As I remember, I think it was Glen who asked, “What about an aviary?”

That innocent question rekindled my latent thirst for things bird!

I did heaps of research into what was being kept in aviaries at the time. I visited the aviaries of some keen local ‘aviculturalists’. Mostly I was disappointed. It’s a wonder now when I look back, that I didn’t walk away from the idea there and then. Too many home aviaries contained birds that were not suitable, or were too small, or they held incompatible species, or faced the wrong direction, etc.

In the middle of this confusion and, I must admit, a not too small a feeling of dismay, I came across a dedicated Australian finch breeder who had large, clean, attractive, well planted aviaries, one of which contained a magnificent colony of Gouldians.

I was still being cautious when I asked if he had any difficulties keeping them in cold Victoria. Not a problem at all apparently. By now, they had been well acclimatised to our conditions. He assured me you simply had to make sure the aviary was always dry, faced north, was fully roofed and had good protection from cold winds.

I thought I’d give it a go.

I built two purpose built aviaries and stocked one with a few pair of various compatible finch species from origins as far apart as I could manage, (to try and reduce the inbreeding factor), and the other with just a few Gouldians. My research had discovered that they ‘do best’ in an aviary of their own.

Success was rapid. I had very few losses and all species went to nest a few short weeks after introduction. I was away. I think I started with five pair of Gouldians, and pretty quickly had 50+ birds. Then of course came my first taste of questioning myself of why I’d started this.

By now I’d seen inside plenty of pet shops, and didn’t want to see MY birds sitting there in their tiny boxes. A few people had begun to enquire if I had birds for sale, and indeed I sold a few. I remember on one occasion visiting an aviary a few weeks after I’d sold some birds to this particular owner. I’d not been to his place before, but when he purchased his birds from me, he gave the impression his ‘set up’ was ideal. I was aghast when I saw what he’d put MY birds into.

Around about this time, we moved house. We purchased a property with plenty of yard space, so some large, well oriented, well planted aviaries went straight up. Of course the birds just expanded in to them. It didn’t take very long at all before I had overcrowding again.

I had found several like minded finch keepers by now, but of course we each had the same difficulty of how to move our stock on to reliable and dedicated people, and to keep our own stock as genetically diverse as we were able to get it. Eventually there is a limit.

I started murmuring that I was feeling troubled by this, and two or three people approached me and offered to buy the lot in one go. I hesitated a little and finally agreed. I think most of my birds went to good homes. Indeed these pics from Jim may well be of birds derived from some of my stock.

I had great success with the Gouldian. Not only are they visually stunning, I found them to be very ‘tame’ and even inquisitive of me when I was in their aviary. I had no difficulty getting them to sit on my hands, arms and head, (not plural), when I took in their daily seed grasses. I could lift the hens off the nest and put a ring on the leg of the babies while she sat on the bench beside me and watched.

I remain smitten, hence the nom de plume.


Gouldian Finch Fact Sheet.


  1. Fantastic birds

    The only native finch we have is the Beautiful Firetail. There was a much better variety when I lived in north-west N.S.W some tome back.

  2. I am about to shame our finches here.....
    I think YOUR finches trump ours. Big Time.

    *thanks for visiting my blog. Come back any time!*

  3. Love that story. I wondered where the came came from.

  4. G'day,
    Nothing wrong with the Beautiful Firetail Mosura, hey? Supposedly there's still a few pockets of them left on this side of the ditch. I don't recall seeing any myself though.
    Yep Dave and Susan, great little birds. They have the 3 principal head colours, red, black and orange. Females are similar to the males but the chest colour is more muted - that's a female at the nest box. Oddly for a finch, they nest in tree hollows. They're a very popular aviary bird now, but are declining in the wild. There are several recovery schemes in operation however, and hopes are high. Be a shame to lose them wouldn't it?

  5. What wonderful birds - and I have never seen them! So many things to see and do and not enough time to do them all!

  6. Hi Gouldiae,
    Lovely posting which tells us much about your thoroughness, as well as the birds. They are truly exquisite.
    As you said they are endangered in the wild. Some mites infecting their respiratory systems, apparently.
    Lets hope something can be done for them. Everyone knows about the Tassie Devil facial tumour disease, but it would be a shame to lose these finches for lack of interest, (or funding for research).

  7. G'day Denis,
    Yeah, the air sac mite was supposed to be a considerable issue for aviary populations too, but thankfully I never encountered it. I think 'night fright' was probably my greatest concern - cats or owls, and Butcherbirds in the daytime frightening them into panic flight around the aviary. A set of removable night/weather panels that we used to put up at dusk and down at dawn helped solve that one.

  8. Unbelievable colours in those finches!

    I love finches too, and am always thrilled to hear the Zebs in my new native garden. I usually hear them before I see them. I have planted some thick thorny shrubs hoping to provide some nesting sites for them and Double Bars, and of course the Superb Blue Wrens.