Townsville and its surrounds may be the last
remaining habitat of one of Australia’s most vulnerable
birds: the southern black-throated finch.
A pair of southern black-throated finches. Adult
males and females form strong bonds and are rarely apart during
Photo: Ian Montgomery
Reclassified from ‘Vulnerable’ to
‘Endangered’ by the Federal Government in February this
year, the southern black-throated finch joins other threatened
birds such as the southern cassowary, Gouldian finch and
It’s only on land outside Townsville that flocks of the
birds have been sighted in any number—but even then their
total population is probably only in the few hundreds. The
finch’s range once extended from Mareeba to northern New
South Wales, but the bird is now believed to be extinct in that
state. Sightings between Rockhampton and Townsville are
sparse, as are those between Townsville and Mareeba, where the
northern form of the bird takes over.
Townsville ecologist Peter Buosi said that the knowledge about
the species was still quite low as with many of Australia’s
endangered fauna. This species is not alone—there are other
granivorous birds (seed-eating birds) which have also shown similar
declines throughout their range.
“It’s a pattern that’s emerging in our
landscape with some of these birds declining for reasons we
don’t fully understand yet,” explained Peter. “We
think it has something to do with the way we manage our land, and
it’s perhaps also tied in with natural climatic changes.
More information on the finch is essential to understand why it
has disappeared from such a large proportion of its range, and just
as importantly, why it likes the Townsville region.
“We really don’t know why it’s disappeared,
and why it’s present around here,” he said. “It
is principally surviving on grazing land; there is something about
the way this land has been managed that suits the bird.”
It is the hard work of a local community group, the
Black-Throated Finch (BTF) Recovery Team, which has gathered enough
information to put the bird on the federal endangered list. The
team comprises a cross-section of scientists, birdwatchers and
landholders from the local area and all are volunteers. Their
recovery plan, which was adopted by the Federal Government in
April, may help keep it from disappearing altogether.
Key elements of the recovery plan include conducting much-needed
research on the bird, possible re-introduction programs, and
quantifying and identifying threats.
“Reversing the decline is probably a few steps
away,” said Peter. "The first step is to halt the
decline—and I think it is a very realistic target. The fact
that it hasn’t declined throughout its whole range suggests
that it is possible. I’m certainly optimistic that there is a
balance we can find between land use practices and this
Though small, the finch is striking-looking: between 9 and 11 cm
long, with a blue-grey head, cinnamon breast, brown back, white
belly and pink feet. Unlike other finch species, it cannot survive
in urban areas. These birds feed on the seeds of grasses, and breed
toward the end of the wet season. They build nests in the branches
and hollows of trees: and it seems the poplar gum is a favourite
haunt. “They generally live in loose colonies of about 20 to
30 birds,” said Peter. “During the breeding season they
can raise between one and five young at a time with both parents
sharing the child-raising responsibilities.”
The BTF recovery team was instigated, and is now chaired, by
Bernie Davis—who before his retirement ran the Department of
Primary Industries’ crocodile research program. And while
Bernie doesn’t need a stun gun to study his new animal
interest, he says the skills gained in running crocodile research
programs are being put to good use for the endangered finch.
“Often groups like this aren’t very well
coordinated, you really have to put the effort in to make it all
work properly,” he said. “But in our case we have a
very good chance of success; we have a good skills base as many of
the people involved work in agriculture, know the region and the
people and they are keen bird enthusiasts.”
Sightings of the bird can be reported to Marnie McCullough,
contact details below.
Dept Environment & Heritage Southern Black-throated Finch
Recovery Plan: see link below.
See also Savanna Links , Issue 6, Paradise falters for