Often referred to as the “jewel of the outback”, the Lady Gouldian finch is a small, granivorous bird, endemic to the subcoastal savannas of Northern Australia.
The iconic species was first described by ornithologist John Gould in 1844, who named the vibrantly coloured bird after his wife (Lady Gould).
The Gouldian finch is a member of the weaver finch family Estrildidae, which are small Passerine birds of Australasia and the Old World tropics.
Once believed to be one of the most common finches of the northern savannas, the Gouldian finch has suffered from a significant population decline over the last 50 years. Initially found from the Kimberleys to the Cape York Peninsula, the finch has withdrawn from nearly half its natural range. In regions such as Arnhem Land, where the species is still locally common, flock sizes have dwindled from thousands to tens and hundreds.
Competition from introduced species, trapping for the pet industry and habitat degradation are suspected to be causes for the declining population. However, recent studies have shown that changes to the fire regime (burn off) of the northern savannas have significantly impacted Gouldian finches. Indigenous Australians used to burn off sections of the bush to facilitate hunting and to alter plant and animal species in an area, thus reducing the intensity of fires. As indigenous fire management has not been practised in recent decades, wildfires have become intense, large and frequent. These fires have typified fire patterns across the region, altering the seed production of grasses, and thus impacting the distribution and behaviour of numerous bird species. The frequent and hot wildfires severely reduce the availability and diversity of perennial grass seeds, which Gouldian finches are entirely reliant on, particularly in nesting season. These preferences result in the finches being more susceptible to decline from changes to the availability of seeds than other seed-eating birds.
Since the threat of fire to Gouldian finches was recognised, pastoralists, conservationists, Indigenous rangers and the Department of Parks and Wildlife have been working together to reduce the incidence of late dry season fires in order to increase the biodiversity in the northern savannas. It has been found that with right management, the problem threatening Gouldian finches can be reversed.
To help support the Ecofire Project, aiming to prevent further declines in Australia’s endemic species, such as the Gouldian finch, head over to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to make a donation with a difference!
Kate Berry for Wildside Australia.
Kate Berry is the author of this guest post. Kate is a conservationist and a professional photographer eager to share the wonders of the natural world.