Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
 
Other EPBC Act Plans Recovery Plan for the Golden-shouldered Parrot Psephotus chrysopterygius 2003-2007 (Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley, 2002) [Recovery Plan].
 
Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006p) [Threat Abatement Plan].
 
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010l) [Admin Guideline].
 
Information Sheets Appendix to the National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) Background Information (O'Malley, C., 2006a) [Information Sheet].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
 
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
 
List of Migratory Species - Amendment to the list of migratory species under section 209 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (26/11/2013) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013af) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NT:Threatened Species Information Sheet: Gouldian Finch Erythrura gouldiae (Palmer, C., J. Woinarski & S. Ward, 2012) [Information Sheet].
State Listing Status
NT: Listed as Vulnerable (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000 (Northern Territory): 2012 list)
QLD: Listed as Endangered (Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Queensland): May 2014 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Near Threatened (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
WA: Listed as P4 (Priority Flora and Priority Fauna List (Western Australia): April 2014 list)
Scientific name Erythrura gouldiae [413]
Family Passeridae:Passeriformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Gould,1844)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Erythrura gouldiae.

Common name: Gouldian Finch.

Other names: Painted Finch, Purple-breasted Finch, Purple-chest Finch, Rainbow Finch, Scarlet-headed Finch, Gouldian Grass-finch (Higgins et al. 2006a).

The Gouldian Finch is a conventionally accepted species of the genus Erythrura (Christidis & Boles 1994; Schodde & Mason 1999).

The Gouldian Finch is about 12 to 15 cm in length and weighs about 14 to 15 g (Higgins et al. 2006a; Tidemann & Woinarski 1994). The adults are vividly multi-coloured, and exhibit three different facial colour-morphs: black-headed (most common), red-headed and yellow-headed (rare). The adult male is mainly emerald green above, with a light-blue uppertail, and a large black, red or yellow-orange mask (depending on the morph) that is bordered behind by a light-blue band; and yellow below with a purple breast and cream undertail. The adult female is similar to the adult male, but is duller and paler overall, and has a shorter tail. Adults of both sexes have black-brown irises, a ring of pale bluish-grey skin around each eye, pinkish-orange legs and feet, and a bill that varies in colour from white with a red or (rarely) yellow tip in the non-breeding season to pearl (in males) or dark grey (in females) in the breeding season (Higgins et al. 2006a; S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.). Juveniles are easily distinguished from the adults by their drab and nondescript olive-brown-grey plumage (Higgins et al. 2006a).

The Gouldian Finch may be seen singly, in twos and in flocks that vary in size from small parties (including family groups) of less than 10 birds (Campbell 1919; Dostine 1998; Hall 1902a; Sedgwick 1947; White 1917) to large flocks of up to 400 birds (Birchenough et al. 2002; Boekel 1980b; Dostine 1998; Johnstone & Smith 1981; S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.; Lendon 1966; O'Malley 2006; White 1917). It may congregate around waterholes when coming to drink, although groups may arrive at waterholes independently (Evans et al. 1985; Higgins et al. 2006a). It is regularly observed in mixed flocks with other species of finches, particularly the Long-tailed Finch Poephila acuticauda (Evans et al. 1985; Hall 1902a; Holmes 1998b; S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.).

The Gouldian Finch is sparsely distributed across northern Australia from the Kimberley region of north-western Western Australia to north-central Queensland (Barrett et al. 2003; Dostine 1998; Franklin 1999). It is currently known to occur in significant numbers (> 50 adult birds) at only 10 locations, including five in Western Australia; and five in the Northern Territory (O'Malley 2006). It has been recorded less frequently and/or in smaller numbers at numerous other sites across northern Australia (Barrett et al. 2003; Franklin 1999; O'Malley 2006). It is possible that additional significant populations could remain in vast areas of potential habitat in remote regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory in which there has been little or no survey effort (Dostine 1998).

The current extent of occurrence is estimated, with medium reliability, to be 100 000 km² (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The extent of occurrence has declined (Franklin 1999). The Gouldian Finch was formerly widespread throughout tropical Queensland with historical records extending from the Cape York Peninsula, around the lower reaches of the Archer River and Coen, south west to Burketown and Augustus Downs, south to Cloncurry, Torrens Creek and Homestead (south west of Charters Towers), and east to Laura, Mareeba, Greenvale and Maryvale (Berney 1903; Campbell 1900; Holmes 1995a; MacGillivray 1901; Smedley 1904; Storr 1984c, 1984d). In recent years it has only been recorded occasionally and in small numbers from a few sites around the Atherton Tablelands and Gregory Range and in far western Queensland (Barrett et al. 2003; Holmes 1995a, 1998; Tidemann et al. 1993). It continues to persist throughout much of its recorded range in Western Australia and the Northern Territory (Barrett et al. 2003; Franklin 1999), although it has not been recorded in recent decades at some locations such as Melville Bay (Humphries 1947; Noske & Brennan 2002), which lies at the north-eastern limit of the range in the Northern Territory, and Derby and other sites visited occasionally at the south-western limit of the range in Western Australia (Barrett et al. 2003; Franklin 1999; Storr 1980).

The current trend in the extent of occurrence is unclear. An analysis of records obtained between 1977 and 1997 show that the Gouldian Finch has only been recorded from 11 of the 40 one-degree grid squares across northern Australia from which historical records are available. In addition, many of the grid squares from which there have been no recent records lie at the periphery of the distribution (Franklin 1999).

However, there is other evidence to suggest that the extent of occurrence might no longer be in decline. The same grid-square analysis found recent records for 10 grid squares in which there had been no historical records (Franklin 1999). In addition, the majority of local populations that were known 10 years ago continue to persist. In 2005 large flocks (of 200 to 400 birds) were observed in the Northern Territory, and smaller flocks in Queensland, at sites from which, until then, there had been considerable search effort but no recent records (O'Malley 2006).

The current area of occupancy is estimated, with low reliability, to be 10 000 km² (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The area of occupancy has declined since European settlement. The current trend in the area of occupancy is unclear, but there is evidence to suggest that the extent of occurrence may no longer be in decline (Dostine 1998; Franklin 1999; Higgins et al. 2006a; O'Malley 2006; Palmer & Woinarski 2006).

The total number of locations occupied by the Gouldian Finch is unknown and difficult to estimate because of the scattered and widespread distribution (Barrett et al. 2003; Dostine 1998; Blakers et al. 1984; Franklin 1999) and because vast areas of potential habitat in remote regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory have not been surveyed (Dostine 1998). The Gouldian Finch is, however, currently known to occur in significant numbers (> 50 adult birds) at only 10 locations (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian Finch is currently held in captivity in 45 zoos and institutions worldwide (ISIS 2007). It is also a common aviary species in Australia and overseas, with the avicultural population in Australia alone estimated at about 50 000 birds (Garnett 1993).

The Gouldian Finch was once common and widespread across northern Australia (Berney 1903; Franklin 1999; Heumann 1926; Smedley 1904), but it is now absent from large areas of its former range and mainly persists in small, fragmented populations (Dostine 1998).

The Gouldian Finch has been well surveyed at some locations within its range. For example, targeted surveys have been conducted in the past two decades at selected sites in Western Australia (McNee & Collins 1992; O'Malley 2006), the Northern Territory (Donato 1996; O'Malley 2006) and Queensland (Holmes 1995a; Tidemann et al. 1993) and include:

  • annual counts at waterholes in the Yinberrie Hills since 1996 (O'Malley 2006)
  • catch and release surveys at 19 sites throughout the range in the late 1980s (Tidemann 1996; Woinarski & Tidemann 1992)
  • standardised counts of finches at waterholes in the Kimberley region since 1983, mostly on a biennial basis (Bell 1995; Birchenough et al. 2002; Dostine 1998).

In addition to these surveys, the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service maintains a database of all known historical and recent records of the species (O'Malley 2006).

However, in spite of these actions, the actual distribution and population size remain poorly known because vast areas of potential habitat in remote regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which could potentially support additional significant populations of the Gouldian Finch, have not been surveyed (Dostine 1998). Furthermore, the tendency of the Gouldian Finch to constantly move from one watering point to another over a wide area, and to undergo substantial fluctuations in population size, make it difficult to accurately assess the status of the species (S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.).

The total population size of the Gouldian Finch is estimated at 2500 or less adult birds (Dostine 1998; Garnett & Crowley 2000). It is possible that the actual population size could exceed this estimate because vast areas of potential habitat in remote regions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which could potentially support additional significant populations of the species, have not been surveyed (Dostine 1998).

The Gouldian Finch occurs in a number of small local populations.

Northern Territory:
The largest local population occurs in the Yinberrie Hills (Dostine 1998; Tidemann 1996) and is estimated to support 150 to 250 adult birds (O'Malley 2006). There are smaller populations at and around Kakadu National Park (estimated to support 50 to 150 adult birds); Newry Station-Keep River National Park (estimated to support 50 to 100 adult birds each); and at Bradshaw Field Training Area and the proposed Limmen National Park (estimated to support less than 100 adult birds each) (O'Malley 2006).

Western Australia:
Between 100 and 200 adult birds are estimated to exist at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary and around Gibb River Road. Three further local populations exist around Kalumburu Road, Wyndham and Kununurra (estimated to support 50 to 100 adult birds each) (O'Malley 2006).

These local populations might in some instances represent genuine subpopulations with little exchange of genetic material between locations. There are major disjunctions in the distribution of the species, especially between local populations in the Kimberley region, western Northern Territory, Yinberrie Hills and at Nathan River, and radio-tracking studies have recorded evidence of only short-distance movements. However, a recent sighting of wild birds at Ethabuka in south-western Queensland, far from any historical or current breeding site, suggests that the species is capable of making long-distance movements (O'Malley 2006). This record, coupled with historical reports of migration to breeding areas (Berney 1903; Smedley 1904) and a lack of substantial genetic variation between Gouldian Finch populations across northern Australia (Heselwood et al. 1998), suggest that the species might alternatively occur in a single intra-breeding population (Garnett & Crowley 2000), and that the disjunctions observed between the populations identified above might simply be an artifact of a recent loss of intervening areas of habitat (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian Finch was once considered to be one of the most common finches on the savannas of northern Australia (Dostine 1998; Heumann 1926; Smedley 1904). It was recorded in 'enormous numbers' around waterholes, and was observed at one location 'literally covering the ground and trees around the waterhole' (Heumann 1926). It has since disappeared from a number of former sites (Franklin 1999; Goodfellow 2005; Storr 1984c) and has declined at many others. It has declined considerably in Western Australia, where the number of birds captured by licensed trappers decreased by more than 80% between 1972 and 1981 (Franklin et al. 1999; Tidemann 1987, 1996). It is now absent from some former sites in the Northern Territory (Franklin 1999; Noske & Brennan 2002) and has declined at other sites including Katherine, where it was formerly "common" (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Goodfellow 2005), and Darwin, where it was formerly recorded "regularly" (Crawford 1972; Goodfellow 2005; Thompson 1977). Its distribution has contracted markedly in Queensland (Franklin 1999), and it is now absent from sites such as Laura, where it was formerly "plentiful" (Storr 1953). It is recorded only rarely, and in small numbers, on the Cape York Peninsula, where it was formerly "common" (MacGillivray 1918; White 1922e), and at all other locations for which there are recent records (O'Malley 2006). There are now only sporadic reports of large flocks similar to those described by Heumann (1926), and in most areas of the range flocks now seldom consist of more than a few individuals (Dostine 1998).

Anecdotal reports indicate that local declines had begun to occur by the 1940s, and they probably commenced earlier in some locations (O'Malley 2006), but the overall decline in numbers appears to have intensified in the 1970s (Evans & Fidler 1986; Franklin 1999; Goodfellow 2005; Tidemann 1996). The current trend in population size is unclear, but there is evidence to suggest that numbers may be stable. Counts at waterholes in the Yinberrie Hills and elsewhere have failed to detect either a continued decline or a recovery in numbers (Dostine 1998; Higgins et al. 2006a; O'Malley 2006; Palmer & Woinarski 2006). In addition, the majority of local populations that were known 10 years ago continue to persist, and in 2005 large flocks (of 200 to 400 birds) were observed in the Northern Territory, and smaller flocks were observed in Queensland, at sites from which there had until then been considerable search effort but no recent records (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian Finch is not known to undergo extreme natural fluctuations in extent of occurrence or area of occupancy. However, the well-studied population in the Yinberrie Hills exhibits substantial annual fluctuations in the numbers of adult and juvenile birds that are present (Lewis 2002 pers. comm. cited in O'Malley 2006a). These fluctuations might reflect the local availability of seeds as determined by patterns of burning in the previous year (Lewis 2002 pers. comm. cited in O'Malley 2006a) or rainfall (Tidemann et al. 1999).

The generation length of the Gouldian Finch is estimated, with medium reliability, to be two years (Garnett & Crowley 2000). However, it is thought that most of the birds that breed in the current wild population are only one year of age (S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.).

The Gouldian Finch has been recorded in a number of conservation reserves across northern Australia including Mitchell River National Park (Ngauwudu Management Area), Mirima (Hidden Valley) National Park, Keep River National Park, Gregory National Park, Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park, Carinbirini Conservation Reserve, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary and Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve (Dostine 1998; O'Malley 2006; Palmer & Woinarski 2006). It has also been recorded at Nathan River Station within the boundaries of the proposed Limmen National Park (Griffiths et al. 1997; Palmer & Woinarski 2006). Four of the 11 populations that are known or thought to contain significant numbers occur at least partially within conservation reserves (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian Finch also occurs on Commonwealth land (such as Bradshaw Field Training Centre) (Dostine 1998) and on other tenures including crown land, pastoral and mining leasehold land, freehold and Aboriginal freehold land, and Aboriginal trust land (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian Finch inhabits open woodlands that are dominated by Eucalyptus trees and support a ground cover of Sorghum and other grasses (Boekel 1980b; Ford 1978; McKean 1985; Tidemann 1987, 1993a; Tidemann & Woinarski 1994; Woinarski & Tidemann 1991). For example, in the Yinberrie Hills during the dry (breeding) season it occurs in upland open grassy eucalypt woodland comprised of E. tintinnans, E. tectifica, E. confertiflora, Erythrophleum chlorostachys and some Eucalyptus brevifolia, with a ground cover of Sorghum intrans and S. stipoideum. During the wet season it occurs in lowland open woodland comprised of E. latifolia with a low, open understorey of Petalostigma quadrioloculare and a ground cover of dense grasses including Chrysopogon phallax, Alloteropsis semialata and Triodia bitextura (Dostine et al. 2001; Lane & Goodfellow 1989 cited in O'Malley 2006a; Tidemann 1996; Tidemann et al. 1992d; Woinarski & Tidemann 1992). It has also been recorded in undescribed thickets of vegetation along streams and gorges, and at the margins of stands of mangroves (Campbell 1919; Keast 1958). It sometimes occurs around homesteads and townships (Goodfellow 2005; Higgins et al. 2006a; Thompson 1977). The Gouldian Finch drinks regularly (Evans et al. 1985; O'Malley 2006; Tidemann 1987) and thus is often seen at watering points and associated habitat such as beds of grass and grass-covered banks around shallow waterholes, watercourses, soaks and springs (Goodfellow 2005; O'Malley 2006).

The critical components of suitable core habitat for the Gouldian Finch appear to be the presence of favoured annual and perennial grasses (especially Sorghum), a nearby source of surface water and, in the breeding season, unburnt hollow-bearing Eucalyptus trees (especially E. tintinnans, E. brevifolia and E. leucophloia) (Higgins et al. 2006a; O'Malley 2006; Tidemann 1996; Tidemann et al. 1999). Its breeding habitat is usually confined to ridges and rocky foothills, but the tendency to nest in these upland areas is probably due to the presence of Sorghumgrasses rather than to the actual topography of the landscape (Higgins et al. 2006a; O'Malley 2006; Tidemann 1996). It often forages in areas that have been burnt by fire (Dostine et al. 2001; Tidemann 1993a, 1996; Woinarski 1990), which might reflect the ability of dry season fires to eliminate dense ground cover vegetation and thus improve the access of the Gouldian Finch and other granivores to fallen seeds (Tidemann 1993a, 1996).
The Gouldian Finch is not known to associate with any other threatened species. However, its distribution does overlap with the distributions of the Golden Bandicoot (mainland) (Isoodon auratus auratus), Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), Butler's Dunnart (Sminthopsis butleri), Partridge Pigeon (western) (Geophaps smithii blaauwi), Partridge Pigeon (eastern) (G. s. smithii), and Purple-crowned Fairy-wren (western) (Malurus coronatus coronatus), all of which are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian Finch can breed at less than one year of age (S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.) and survive to five or more years of age in the wild (Dostine 1998; Lewis 2002, pers. comm. cited in O'Malley 2006a). No information is available on post-fledging mortality rates, but they are assumed to be high for juveniles in their first year. Based on recapture rates, post-fledging mortality rates might be higher for females than males (Dostine 1998).

The Gouldian Finch has been recorded breeding in all months of the year except for October (Higgins et al. 2006a). Eggs have been recorded in December (Le Souëf 1903) and from February to August, with a peak in the number of clutches in April (Higgins et al. 2006a; Tidemann & Woinarski 1994; Tidemann et al. 1999). They usually nest in a hollow limb or trunk of a Eucalyptus tree (Barnard 1914; Campbell 1900; Hill 1913; Le Souëf 1903; McNee & Collins 1992; Tidemann et al. 1992a). Recent records have recorded them as nesting almost exclusively in hollows of E. tintinnans, E. brevifolia or E. leucophloia (Higgins et al. 2006a; Tidemann et al. 1999). They are claimed to have historically nested in shrubs and among grass (Campbell 1900; Hall 1902a; North 1906-1907, 1909), and in hollows in termite mounds (Immelmann 1982). However, there are no recent records of breeding in any such sites (Higgins et al. 2006a). They build a shallow cup-shaped nest of coarse grass (Le Souëf 1903; Tidemann et al. 1999), and are also claimed to build roofed or domed nests (Campbell 1900; Immelmann 1982; North 1906-1907, 1909). When nesting in hollows, the species is claimed to sometimes not build a nest at all (Immelmann 1982).

The female lays a clutch of three to eight white eggs (Campbell 1900; Higgins et al. 2006a; Le Souëf 1903; North 1906-1907, 1909; Tidemann et al. 1999). The eggs are incubated by both adults (Tidemann 1991) for a period of about 14 days (Tidemann et al. 1999). The nestlings are fed and brooded by both adults (Higgins et al. 2006a; Tidemann 1991). The nestling period is usually about 21 days in duration (Tidemann et al. 1999), but can be as short as 14 days if the nest is disturbed (Tidemann 1991).

Gouldian Finch pairs can rear up to three broods in a single breeding season. Based on a study in the Yinberrie Hills and at Newry Station in the Northern Territory, it is estimated that an individual breeding bird produces, on average, about 2.5 fledglings per breeding season. Breeding productivity is influenced by the amount and timing of rainfall during the wet season, which promotes the growth of Sorghum grasses, the seeds of which are a major source of food for both adult birds and their young. Breeding failures in the Yinberrie Hills and at Newry Station have been attributed to predation and the abandonment of nests, with abandonment found to be the more common cause of failure (Tidemann et al. 1999).

The Gouldian Finch feeds almost entirely on grass seeds. The majority of seeds are taken from grasses in the genus Sorghum, although they also take seeds from grasses in other genera including Alloteropsis, Aristida, Chrysopogon, Digitaria, Echinochloa, Eriachne, Heteropogon, Panicum, Schizachyrium, Sehima, Themeda, Triodia and Xerochloa (Dostine & Franklin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001; Goodfellow 2005; Tidemann 1993b, 1996; Tidemann et al. 1993). They have been reported to feed extensively on insects and lerp (Immelmann 1982), but detailed studies and intensive observations in the field indicate that these are rarely ingested (Dostine & Franklin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001; Goodfellow 2005; Higgins et al. 2006a; Tidemann 1993b, 1996; Tidemann et al. 1993).

There is some seasonal variation in the diet. Seeds of annual grasses, and especially species of Sorghum, dominate the diet during the dry season, but there is a shift to seeds of perennial grasses during the wet season (Dostine & Franklin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001; Tidemann 1993b, 1996).

The foraging behaviour of the Gouldian Finch varies throughout the year. During the dry season it gleans fallen seeds from the ground, and during the wet season it gleans ripening seeds directly from the heads of standing grasses (Dostine et al. 2001; Garnett & Crowley 1994; Higgins et al. 2006a; Immelmann 1982; Tidemann 1996). It has also been observed to occasionally glean lerp (a sugary substance secreted by insects in the family Psyllidae) (Goodfellow 2005), and is claimed to capture insects in flight and to pluck insects and spiders from spider webs (Immelmann 1982).

The Gouldian Finch appears to be a resident, and probably largely sedentary, species that disperses from breeding areas to nearby sites (up to about 20 km away) during the wet season in response to local changes in the availability of food (Dostine 1996, 1998; Dostine et al. 2001; Higgins et al. 2006a; Lewis 2002 pers. comm. cited in O'Malley 2006a; Tidemann 1993a). It has been claimed to migrate from northern to southern areas of the distribution in the wet season with the onset of heavy rains (Immelmann 1982), but recent intensive studies have found no evidence of such movement (Dostine 1998; Higgins et al. 2006a). It may nonetheless be capable of making long-distance movements as suggested by a sighting of wild birds at Ethabuka in south-western Queensland, far from any historical or current breeding site (Magrath et al. 2004; O'Malley 2006). The extent of daily movements are better known and vary depending on the proximity of sources of food, with radio-tracking studies showing that individual birds may travel less than 2 km or as much as 17 km in a single day (O'Malley 2006; Palmer 2005; Tidemann 1993a; Woinarski & Tidemann 1992).

The home range size of the Gouldian Finch has not been determined precisely. However, radio-tracking studies have shown that birds may travel up to 17 km per day (O'Malley 2006; Palmer 2005; Tidemann 1993a; Woinarski & Tidemann 1992). Other observations indicate that birds nest within 4 km of water during the breeding season, and remain within 10 km of Sorghum grasses and water during the non-breeding season (Tidemann 1996).

The Gouldian Finch is not overtly territorial. Pairs breed together in loose colonies or clumps which may feature several pairs in neighbouring trees, in different hollows of one tree, or even in a single hollow (Barnard 1914; Immelmann 1982; Tidemann et al. 1999). However, breeding birds will (at least sometimes) approach intruders at their nest hollow (Higgins et al. 2006a).

Distinctiveness
The Gouldian Finch is unmistakable in adult plumage. In juvenile plumage there is potential for confusion with juveniles of the Chestnut-breasted Mannikin Lonchura castaneothorax, Yellow-rumped Mannikin L. flaviprymna, Pictorella Mannikin Heteromunia pectoralis or Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis. The juvenile plumage of the Gouldian Finch can be distinguished from the juvenile plumages of the other species by its olive-green tinge (Higgins et al. 2006a).

Detectability
The Gouldian Finch is described as shy and quiet (Campbell 1919; Immelmann 1982). It can be difficult to observe when perched in vegetation because of its tendency to remain fairly still (S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.), but the adults are rendered conspicuous when out in the open by their bright multi-coloured plumage.

The recommended method to survey for Gouldian Finches is to conduct targeted searches and watches at waterholes. It is recommended that such surveys be undertaken in the dry season when the Gouldian Finch and other finches congregate around waterholes to drink (Bell 1995; Evans & Bougher 1987). It is recommended that observers also check for associations with breeding Black-faced Woodswallows, Artamus cinereus, early in the wet season. Standard survey techniques can be difficult to employ in the rugged terrain that occurs across northern Australia (Evans & Bougher 1987).

The decline of the Gouldian Finch may have been caused by a combination of factors including loss and degradation of habitat; a reduction in numbers caused by harvesting for the avicultural trade; an elevated mortality rate caused by the endoparasite Sternostoma tracheacolum; and a reduction in the availability of breeding sites and food because of competition with other species (Bell 1996; Dostine 1998; Garnett & Crowley 2000; Franklin 1999; Franklin et al. 1999; Franklin et al. 2005; Tidemann 1996; Tidemann et al. 1992c). The potential threats to the Gouldian Finch at present include further declines in the extent and/or quality of habitat due to grazing pressure, fire, or the development of infrastructure for transport corridors or mining operations; disturbance of habitat around critical dry season water sources by cattle (Bos taurus) or Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis); direct and/or indirect detrimental effects caused by the introduced invasive Red Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta); and a possible elevated mortality rate caused by predation by a suite of native animals when numbers of the Gouldian Finch are very low (Franklin et al. 1999; Koertz 2003; O'Malley 2006; Tidemann 1996).

Habitat Alteration
The main causes of the past declines, and the main threats to the species at present, are thought to be grazing pressure, establishment of pastoral, agricultural and mining operations, and fire (Dostine 1998; O'Malley 2006). Grazing by livestock and feral herbivores may reduce the availability of food resources by reducing the abundance of important perennial grasses and inhibiting the production of seeds by such grasses (Crowley & Garnett 2001a; Dostine 1998; Fraser 2001; Garnett & Crowley 2002; O'Malley 2006; Tidemann 1996). Grazing intensity has been found to be the process most strongly correlated with historical declines of granivorous (seed eating) birds on the savannas of northern Australia (Franklin et al. 2005).

The fire regime in northern Australia has shifted from a pattern of small and scattered burns, as implemented by Aboriginal peoples prior to European settlement, to a pattern dominated by frequent, intense and extensive wildfires in the late dry season which burns out large tracts of habitat each year (Dyer et al. 2001; O'Malley 2006). This pattern may affect the Gouldian Finch by inhibiting or preventing the production of seeds by some important perennial food grasses (O'Malley 2006), reducing the availability of hollows suitable for nesting (no Gouldian Finch nests have been recorded in burnt hollows) (Dostine 1998; Tidemann 1996) and reducing the amount of vegetative cover in inhabited areas and thus increasing exposure to radiant heat (the Gouldian Finch has a low tolerance for extreme heat and may abandon waterholes that have been exposed to intense fire in the late dry season) (Burton & Weathers 2003; Tidemann 1993a, 1996). Additionally, the Gouldian Finch has a more restricted diet than other granivorous birds (Dostine & Franklin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001; Fraser 2001; Garnett & Crowley 1994, 1995a, 1999; Todd et al. 2003), and a moult period that may be presumed to be energetically demanding and finishes at a time when the availability of food is low (Franklin et al. 1998). The Gouldian Finch may thus be more vulnerable than other granivorous species to a shortage of seed resources caused by grazing or fire (Crowley & Garnett 2001a; Dostine & Franklin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001).

The establishment of infrastructure for mining operations and transport in northern Australia (such as the creation of Lake Argyle) has reduced the area of suitable habitat available and may have been a factor in the decline of local populations of the Gouldian Finch (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Franklin et al. 1999).

It has been speculated that the expansion of pastoral operations throughout northern Australia, and the subsequent disturbance of native habitats, may have benefited more generalist species such as the Long-tailed Finch. Generalist species may compete with the Gouldian Finch for food and breeding resources (Dostine 1998; Tidemann et al. 1992a). However, there is no compelling evidence to illustrate that competition between the Gouldian Finch and more generalist species is having a detrimental effect on the Gouldian Finch population (Dostine 1998).

Aviculture
Large numbers of the Gouldian Finch were taken from the wild for the avicultural trade during the 20th century. For example, more than 20 000 birds were taken from the Kimberley region alone from 1968-1981. It is possible that the harvest of birds for the avicultural trade could have been a factor in the decline of the Gouldian Finch (Evans & Fidler 1986; Franklin et al. 1999). However, the lack of evidence for the recovery of populations in the Kimberley region or elsewhere since commercial trapping was prohibited (in 1981 in Western Australia, in the 1970s in Northern Territory and in 1972 in Queensland) suggests that other processes may have been involved (Bichenough et al. 2002; Dostine 1998; Evans & Bougher 1987; Franklin et al. 1999; O'Malley 2006; Tidemann 1996). It is unlikely that the population is currently threatened by illegal trapping because the Gouldian Finch is a common aviary species and can be purchased at little cost (Franklin et al. 1999; Garnett 1993).

Parasites
The air-sac mite Sternostoma tracheacolum is an endoparasite that is present in a high proportion of the Gouldian Finch population and is capable of causing respiratory problems that can lower fecundity and lead to death (Bell 1996; Tidemann et al. 1992c, 1993). It is possible that S. tracheacolum might have had, and might continue to have, a negative effect on the Gouldian Finch population. It has been speculated that the impact of S. tracheacolum might be exacerbated during periods of physiological stress associated with food shortages at the onset of the wet season (Lane & Goodfellow 1989 cited in O'Malley 2006a; O'Malley 2006). Blood tests have failed to produce evidence of infection by any other pathogens (Tidemann et al. 1992b).
Other
Band and recapture studies in the Yinberrie Hills have recorded a male-biased sex ratio of 1.5 males to each female (Tidemann 1996). While this result could be an artifact of the technique, if the observed ratio is real it could represent a biological factor limiting the growth of Gouldian Finch populations.

The following recovery actions have been implemented based on actions recommended in the first two recovery plans for this species (Dostine 1998):

  • A database of all known records has been established and is being maintained by the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service (O'Malley 2006).

  • The distribution, habitat, potential threats and conservation status of the Gouldian Finch and other granivorous birds of the savannas of northern Australia have been reviewed (Franklin 1999; Franklin et al. 2005).

  • A coarse analysis of habitat characteristics using GIS-based techniques has commenced in the Yinberrie Hills, and detailed habitat data also is being collected at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary (O'Malley 2006).

  • A study of the breeding habitat and breeding biology has been conducted in the Yinberrie Hills, and a second study is currently underway at Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve (O'Malley 2006).

  • Studies of the diet and foraging ecology have been conducted at Newry Station (O'Malley 2006) and the Yinberrie Hills (Dostine & Frankin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001) and further research is currently underway at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary (O'Malley 2006).

  • Radio telemetry studies to elucidate seasonal movements have been conducted in the Yinberrie Hills (Palmer 2005; Tidemann 1993; Woinarski & Tidemann 1992) and at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary (O'Malley 2006).

  • Fire history data have been collated for a 10 year period in the Yinberrie Hills (O'Malley 2006). The effect of fire and rainfall on wet season food resources in the Yinberrie Hills has been documented (Dostine et al. 2001), and data on the effect of specific fire regimes on two important wet season grasses at the same site have recently been analysed. A study to assess the impact of grazing and fire is currently underway at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary (O'Malley 2006).

  • Annual counts have been conducted at waterholes in the Yinberrie Hills since 1996 and have commenced more recently at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary. Less comprehensive monitoring has been conducted at Newry Station and Nathan River (O'Malley 2006).

  • Targeted surveys have been conducted in suitable habitat at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, Bradshaw Field Training Area and Nathan River (O'Malley 2006).

  • Three unsuccessful experimental attempts have been made to reintroduce the species into suitable habitat at Mareeba (S. Legge 2007, pers. comm.; O'Malley 2006).

  • Methodology for conducting counts at waterholes was distributed to stakeholders in 2005. Posters, leaflets, survey questionnaires and a sightings information kit have been prepared and widely distributed, recovery information has been posted on the internet, and a DVD and activity kit has been produced for use in schools (O'Malley 2006). There has also been some media coverage of the recovery effort (O'Malley 2006), including an article in Australian Geographic (McGhee 2005).

  • Prescriptions for fire management are in place for Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, Yinberrie Hills, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park and Nathan River (O'Malley 2006).

  • A regional action group was established in Queensland to conduct surveys and assist with the reintroduction program at Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve (O'Malley 2006).

The following actions have been recommended in the current National Recovery Plan (O'Malley 2006):

  • Reduce the frequency, extent and/or intensity of late dry season fires at important sites in the Kimberley region and Northern Territory.

  • Trial optimal parameters (timing, frequency, scale) for patch-burning regimes at important sites in the Kimberley region and Northern Territory and assess population response annually.

  • Incorporate adaptive burning strategies for Gouldian Finch habitat into management plans for Keep River National Park, Gregory National Park, Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, Limmen Gate National Park, King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park, Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve, Bradshaw Field Training Area and Yampi Sound Field Training Area.

  • Develop indicators of habitat health based on assessment of the impacts of grazing and fire on wet season habitat in the Kimberley region and northern half of the Northern Territory.

  • Incorporate actions to manage grazing, feral herbivores and fire, and population monitoring programs, into existing federally-funded land management projects on key sites on pastoral and Aboriginal land in the Kimberley region and Northern Territory.

  • Develop and disseminate best practice guidelines for the management of grazing and fire in preferred wet season habitat of the Gouldian Finch on pastoral properties in the Kimberley region and northern half of the Northern Territory.

  • Calculate costs to landholders of any reduced productivity associated with management to promote the Gouldian Finch and develop, trial and evaluate an incentives package to encourage participation by landowners in the recovery process.

  • Collaborate with Jawoyn Aboriginal Corporation to increase participation in burning and feral herbivore management on Jawoyn lands.

  • Refine techniques to develop a standardised population monitoring method.

  • Develop and standardise effective methods for the rapid assessment of the health of the Gouldian Finch population.

  • Establish a network of monitoring sites in key areas of habitat in the Kimberley region and Northern Territory and implement annual population and/or health indicator monitoring at these sites.

  • Regularly review and report on monitoring results, and if necessary, revise management programs.

  • Integrate population health and trend monitoring actions into management plans for Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, Limmen Gate National Park, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary and Bradshaw Field Training Area.

  • Maintain the national Gouldian Finch database and solicit sightings from all stakeholder groups.

  • Undertake, evaluate and report on trials to define factors limiting the success of reintroduction at Marreeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve.

  • Undertake habitat restoration at Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve.

  • Develop more generic reintroduction guidelines and habitat suitability assessments, and assess additional sites for potential reintroduction trials.

  • Develop and disseminate information on the recovery program.

  • Report regularly and widely on the recovery effort.

  • Develop links with other recovery programs or projects on tropical savannas, especially those with a focus on improved fire and pastoral management.

In 2008, the Kimberley Land Council Aboriginal Corporation received $99 000 through the Caring for our Country Grants program for Gouldian Finch conservation through Indigenous fire management in the East Kimberley's.

There have been many detailed studies on the Gouldian Finch. These include published studies on breeding habitat and breeding biology (Tidemann et al. 1992a; Tidemann et al. 1999), diet and foraging ecology (Dostine & Franklin 2002; Dostine et al. 2001; Tidemann 1993b, 1996), drinking behaviour (Evans et al. 1985; Evans et al. 1989), survivorship (Woinarski & Tidemann 1992), moult strategies (Franklin et al. 1998), plumage morphs (Franklin & Dostine 2000), parasite and viral loads (Bell 1996; Tidemann et al. 1992b, 1992c, 1993) and energetics (Burton & Weathers 2003). There have also been several reviews concerning the status of the species and the probable causes of its decline (Franklin 1999a; Franklin et al. 1999, 2005; Tidemann 1996).

Two recovery plans have been developed and implemented for this species (Dostine 1998), and a national recovery plan has recently been adopted (O'Malley 2006). In addition to these documents, a brief recovery outline for the Gouldian Finch is featured in The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett & Crowley 2000). A Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories (DEH 2006p) has also been prepared to reduce the potential impact of introduced invasive tramp ants on the Gouldian Finch and other native species that are, or could be, at risk.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Grazing natural vegetation and associated habitat changes National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Grazing pressures and associated habitat changes Gouldian Finch recovery Plan Erythrura gouldiae (Dostine, P., 1998) [Recovery Plan].
National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Causes of the decline of the Gouldian Finch Erythrura gouldiae. Biological Conservation International. 6:49--61. (Tidemann, S.C., 1996) [Journal].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat alteration (vegetation, soil, hydrology) due to trampling and grazing by livestock National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat loss and modification due to clearance of native vegetation and pasture improvements The Impact of Global Warming on the Distribution of Threatened Vertebrates (ANZECC 1991) (Dexter, E.M., A.D. Chapman & J.R. Busby, 1995) [Report].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Energy Production and Mining:Mining and Quarrying:Habitat destruction, disturbance and/or modification due to mining activities Species threats data recorded on the SPRAT database between 1999-2002 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012i) [Database].
National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Sus scrofa (Pig) National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Predation, competition, habitat degradation and/or spread of pathogens by introduced species National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Causes of the decline of the Gouldian Finch Erythrura gouldiae. Biological Conservation International. 6:49--61. (Tidemann, S.C., 1996) [Journal].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Presence of pathogens and resulting disease Survivorship and some population parameters for the endangered Gouldian Finch Erythrura gouldiae and two other finch species at two sites in tropical Northern Australia. Emu. 92:33--38. (Woinarski, J.C.Z. & S.C. Tidemann, 1992) [Journal].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate and/or changed fire regimes (frequency, timing, intensity) National Recovery Plan for the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae) (O'Malley, C., 2006b) [Recovery Plan].
Natural System Modifications:Fire and Fire Suppression:Inappropriate prescribed regimes and/or vegetation management to control fire regimes Gouldian Finch recovery Plan Erythrura gouldiae (Dostine, P., 1998) [Recovery Plan].

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Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Erythrura gouldiae in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Thu, 28 Aug 2014 06:51:29 +1000.