Lady Gouldian Finches Wear Their Genes on Their Heads

A baby Lady Gouldian finch fledged this morning. While the parents are busy preening or attending to other babies who are old enough to perch near them on branches overhead, this baby is sitting on the cold aviary floor, headed tucked under her wing. Once again, I’m reminded of what a bad baby bird mother I am. Mother birds know what their babies need. Me? I’m always worried the baby is hungry or is sick because he seems to be napping too much. I crawl as inconspicuously as a large person in the midst of three inch high finches can crawl and nudge a baby on the floor just to make sure he is alive. She wakes up, startled and afraid. I crawl back out, feeling simultaneous relief and ashamed of my always thinking the worse. My concern for the welfare of this baby is not totally unfounded. The flock of Lady Gouldian finches that survived the Cryptosperidian, which is the reason they came to Pandemonium, are unbalanced in terms of head colors. Lady Gouldians have three head colors: red, black and orange. When there is a pairing of different head colors the offspring do not do as well: more males than females survive. We have mostly red heads males. The females that we have are primarily black. Therefore, a pairing of birds with different head colors is not unusual.

I’ll explain why this is both good and bad, and the startling information about the ability of these birds to determine the sex of their offspring based on the mother’s observation of the male’s head color in a later post. Hint: these birds wear their genes on their heads.