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
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
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