The Gouldian, or Lady Gould’s, finch Erythrura gouldiae is one of the most beautiful small finches in the world. Sadly, the species is highly threatened in the wild, and the wild population is estimated at only a few thousand birds in the Northern Territories of Australia.
Until as recently as the 1980’s, Gouldian finches were still found in large numbers, but the impact of increased grazing, and probably even more important a shift in the fire management system, has resulted in a collapse of the population. Hot, late season fires over large areas deprive the birds of their favourite grass seeds, which is the staple diet. There are habitat restoration projects underway, but time is short for these birds. Small birds tend to have short lifespans, and numbers even at the remaining sites can vary considerably from year to year. An experimental release of birds in Queensland has appeared to have at least some success, with released birds breeding in the wild.
Gouldian finches are unusual birds in that they have three colour morph’s, the Red-, Yellow- and Black-headed forms. These are correlated with different behaviour patterns and feeding and breeding strategies as follows:
Red-headed: These birds dominate at feeders in captivity, and appear to displace other morph’s at nest sites. They are often polygamous, which together suggests they should form the majority, but in fact they are much less common than the black-headed morph. It appears they are more susceptible to stress, and have higher mortality as a result.
Black-headed: These are subordinate to Red-headed birds but dominate Yellow-heads. They have a monogamous breeding strategy, and form the bulk of the wild population
Yellow-headed: These are at the bottom of the pecking order, and are very rare in the wild. In captivity they appear the most curious, and are usually the first to locate new food sources.
Gouldian finches nest in holes, laying a small clutch of eggs and raising young on unripe seeds and insects. Another cause of their decline is a lack of nesting sites –they avoid burnt trees even if they have suitable holes in them.
As with many Australian finches, the Gouldian finch has been domesticated, and is now kept all over the world. Members of Severn Counties Foreign & British Bird Society, to which I belong, breed well into double figures every year, and they are now not especially hard to breed. If you wish to seem them therefore, you do not need to visit Australia. SCF&BBS has our Open Show this Saturday 24th October (open to the public from 2.30), so if you are interested in these birds or aviculture in general please drop by. The show is at the Methodist church hall, Down road, Winterbourne, Bristol BS36 1BN. See our website for more details.