Issue 3, November 1996

Project to save the Gouldian Finch

Gouldian finch

The Gouldian finch is now far less abundant than previously and has vanished completely from some areas of the savanna grasslands. Photo: PWCNT

The Gouldian Finch Erythrura is a small grass-seed eating bird found only in the savanna grasslands of northern Australia. It is now far less abundant than previously and has vanished completely from some areas where it was formerly common.

A research program is under way to determine the reasons for their disappearance from our savannas. The research is conducted by Mr Peter Dostine of the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory, under the guiding hand of the members of the national Gouldian Finch Recovery Team. The Tropical Savannas CRC has collaborative links with this research.

The main tasks of the research are to describe the food and habitat needs of the species, document current trends in abundance, and to devise management strategies to increase numbers of the bird in the wild. A complete picture of the natural history of the bird is beginning to emerge from this research.

Gouldian Finches are selective in their choice of nest site and their choice of food. They nest exclusively in cavities, usually in hollows of smooth-barked eucalypts. The preferred nest tree differs over the range of the bird. For instance, in central Northern Territory birds select Salmon Gum Eucalyptus tintinanns, but in the western NT and Kimberley its functional equivalent is Snappy Gum E. brevolia. They breed in colonies in large patches of their preferred nest tree.

Their food is always seed of grasses, but the exact composition varies both seasonally and geographically. At one site in the NT they are reliant on seed of annual spear grass for much of the dry season, and on seed of a sequence of perennial grasses throughout the wet season. The wet season is probably a stressful period for the birds.

They need to search through large areas of the landscape to find profitable patches of seeding grasses to survive and to build up nutritional reserves prior to breeding. Fire plays a large role in influencing their local distribution. In the dry season they are dependent on fire to allow access to seed on the ground surface. In the wet season they select areas which have been burned in the previous dry season. A dependence on a particular fire regime and a specialised diet may make the Gouldian sensitive to environmental change in the savanna landscape.

We need to know a great deal more about the Gouldian Finch before we can recommend management for its conservation. We especially need to know more about their current and former distribution. If you have any information on the bird, please contact Mr Peter Dostine of the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT.

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Paradise falters for seed-eating birds