Occasionally, a parent bird will toss its chicks.  This might happen for a couple of reasons -  either the parents are too young and got "freaked out" by the new additions to their nest, there may actually be something wrong with the chicks, or the parents are overly eager to start a new clutch of eggs.  These issues should be avoided if you've waited until they are mature (at least a year old, but preferably 2 yrs old), paired your birds well, and have brought them into good breeding condition. Birds who’ve been raised by other species fosters may also toss, but in most cases we’ve seen, grow up to raise their own chicks without issue. 

One of the benefits of keeping "retired" Gouldian pairs around, is the ability to use them as fosters in case other Goulds toss or abandon their chicks. In our aviary, we have single cock birds and older pairs (older than 5yrs old) who will more than willingly accept eggs from other Gouldians. Just because a bird is retired doesn't mean it won't come into condition and want to breed. In fact, the older and more experienced the bird, the more likely they will accept eggs.

Because retirement is typically forced on our hen after 4yrs of age in order to prevent egg binding or overly small chicks, giving these experienced birds eggs to hatch & raise keeps them happy during their breeding cycle without the worry of egg binding or weakened chicks of their own. And if caught at the right time in the cycle, they will raise several clutches of fostered chicks as if they were their own.

We prefer to use "same species" to foster any eggs or chicks. It just makes sense.

Pros & Cons of Fostering



The three blue chicks in this photo are being fostered by the yellow pair, right alongside the yellow's own chicks.

Fostering can give you the ability to save chicks or eggs either tossed or abandoned by the parents. In some cases, it may be the only way to save a valued bloodline, and in "other" species, may be the best way to gain F1 captive raised chicks from wild-caught parents. Once those chicks are raised and mature, they will be less likely to toss or abandon their own chicks, also captive raised. And in our experience, tend to be much less flighty than their wild-caught parents.

While fostering may allow you to save some chicks, possibly the biggest concern facing fostered chicks is the wean time. If you use Society finches, you should be aware that they do not feed the same as Gouldian parents. Societies tend to feed millet almost immediately after hatching, while Gouldians feed crop milk for the first 3-5 days. This simple difference can lead to weak Gouldian chicks. They receive their immunities from their parents through that crop milk. If your Societies are cramming them full of millet too young, it could impede their ability to fight infections.

In addition, Societies tend to wean their chicks weeks before a Gouldian chick is ever ready. While pulling the Society hen (if used) will often force the cock to feed Gouldian chicks longer, it isn't always a given. Sometimes even the cock bird will refuse to feed a begging Gouldian chick because its internal clock is telling it that the chick should be weaning - when in fact, the chick may not be ready for weeks. And by the time the chicks have fledged, they will rarely take food from a syringe, so bumping them up with hand feeding formula at that point is hard to do.

Not every Society will make a good foster parent, so it is important that if you find a good Society pair willing to foster, you keep those birds. But even if they'll raise chicks not their own, it is just as important to track their feeding habits. You need to know if they'll feed the chicks until they no longer beg, or if you'll need to force feed the chicks if needed when the Societies will no longer feed them. The lives of the chicks may very well be in your hands if the Societies won't feed until the chicks are ready to be weaned. It can be tricky.

Either way, the MOST IMPORTANT part of fostering is making sure Gouldian chicks wean in their own time. It will be up to you to pay close attention to the foster parents AND the chicks to make sure the fosters don't attempt to wean the chicks too soon.

Signs of Attempted Weaning

When a Society attempts to wean a chick, it will literally ignore the incessant begging until the chick literally gives up. The feeding instinct runs deeps and you may see the foster parent begin to regurgitate food, then fly away from the chick. This may go on for a few days or even a few weeks. But once the Society decides it's time to wean, it will no longer feed the chicks.

Gouldian chicks are fairly persistent and will keep at the foster parents until it is obvious they won't be fed.

If the chick gives up, you may see it sitting in the seed cup attempting to feed itself. This is a crucial point in its development. If the chick is too young to crack seed hulls or can't figure out how on its own, chances are good the chick will die. If the chick is able to crack those hulls, it may survive, but it may be weakened by the effort and become shaggy in feather and weak. This weakness usually continues throughout adulthood. And while the birds may appear to be in good health, most fostered chicks we've seen have been much more susceptible to illness. In some cases, these early-weaned chicks won't make it through their juvenile molt because they don't have the stamina to ride out the rigors of that molt. They fail to thrive and eventually die.

One of the trends we've seen that just makes us sick is the use of fosters to create as many chicks as possible for sale. Those folks who produce only foster raised chicks are only out to make money. And while that may be great for THEM, it is NOT great for the buyer. Fostered birds will sometimes refuse to raise their own chicks, or will have picked up traits from their Society foster parents that makes them act more like Societies instead of Gouldians. We've seen it in our own aviary so know it can happen.

Fostered chicks are almost always less robust than parent raised chicks. Because they were fed "differently", even if the food was offered the same as a Gouldian pair would be fed, and because they are usually weaned far too soon, these birds will be weaker than their parent raised counterparts. The biggest issue we see with fostered birds is susceptibility to illness.

A healthy, parent-raised Gouldian should live to be a minimum of 8-9yrs old in captivity. A fostered bird on average lives to be 4-6 at best. This evidence is from our own experience in purchasing birds from other breeders, and the handful of times we've had to foster Gouldian chicks under Societies here. We don't make this claim without knowing there are those who will argue. But the fact remains, a parent raised chick will ALWAYS be healthier than a fostered chick.

We keep a single pair of Bengalese (Societies) for fostering, and have them always ready. They have never been allowed to raise their own chicks because it is thought that once they raise their own, they won’t feed Gouldian chicks, knowing they are not the same species. We’ve never actually found this to be an issue and have had Bengalese feed just about any chick we throw under them, regardless of species OR age of the chick. But because we prefer to err on the side of caution, we take no chances.

While we never want to think our birds are incapable of raising their own chicks, in reality, even the most experienced breeders will often set up a foster pair for “just in case” emergencies.

They prepare the fosters to receive eggs or chicks at the same time they set up their Gouldian pairs - and feed them just as they would prepare their Gouldians for breeding. The fosters are given nests and fed the same foods you want your Gouldian chicks to be fed.

Some folks leave foster-species eggs (such as Society finches) in the nest along with the fostered eggs, while others remove those eggs and either also  foster those eggs under yet another foster pair, or toss them. We tend to toss those eggs here.

Fostering Chicks Without Ever Giving The Parents A Chance

Should chicks be tossed, you basically have three options:

  1. You can put the chicks back and hope the parents will care for them - if you choose to put the chicks back under the parents, be aware that they may be tossed again and/or could be injured.  When a bird tosses a chick, it has to pick it up by something...usually a wing, a leg, or occasionally the neck.  When the parent picks the chick up, it may leave broken skin or bones. A pair intent on tossing may even regard chicks in the nest as foreign and peck them or cannibalize them. If they toss once, chances are they will continue to toss during the same breeding season. Any drop from the nest can severely injure or even kill the chick.  You need to make your decision wisely.  If you have set up a foster pair, your best bet is to move them now! Don't wait for them to be tossed again!

  2. You can "foster" them out - hopefully you've set up a foster pair of either another Gould pair (my first choice), Bengalese (Society) or Zebra finches. We’ve even had Canary hens foster our Gould chicks before, but we don’t typically recommend this unless the chicks are MUCH older than day-old, and the Canary hen is extremely receptive. Gouldian chicks are literally half the size of a Canary chick and may be squashed by the Canary hen when she sits on the nest. Been there, done that!

  3. You can hand feed them yourself, but beware. Hand feeding is a long, tedious process that once started cannot be stopped until the chick is fully independent!  Some breeders will feed their chicks around the clock. Others, like us, will only feed during the day - we pump the chicks up full right before lights out at night, then get up before dawn to feed them. If you choose not to feed around the clock, you should be prepared to get up EARLY and feed those chicks. They cannot go much longer than 8 hours without food without becoming dehydrated.

Using Gouldians to Foster Gouldians