Lady Gouldian Finches
These finches are known for their vivid colors. Endemic to Australia, they are experiencing a worrying decline in population numbers. John Gould discovered these five-inch birds in the mid-nineteenth century, naming them after his lovely wife. There are three distinct head colors: red, yellow, and black. There is also a growing number of chest and back color mutations, varying from gold and silver to lime and lilac.
The 1992 estimate for population in the wild was 2,500 mature birds, classifying Lady Gouldians as endangered. These numbers continue to decline, despite a current conservation program. Prefering tropical savanna woodlands, Lady Gouldians are nomadic birds that move to a new location when food and water become scarce. New diseases compounded with fires in their forest territory have greatly reduced the population. The Australian government is trying to implement a recovery and management project, but attempts at reintroduction have so far proved unsuccessful.
Flamboyant hues make the finch very visible to predators, so flocks of up to a thousand individuals used to gather for protection. Adults mate on sparse slopes, breeding in the early part of the dry season when there is abundant food. Male courtship is an elaborate show of dancing and ruffling. The male bobs his head, puffing out his chest and fluffing out his forehead feathers. Once mated, both parents help incubate the clutch of four to eight eggs. Young birds begin to venture out from the nest when they are about twenty days old, gaining full independence at about forty days.
Young Lady Gouldians are very fragile until their final molt. According to some scientists, the parents play a vital role in ensuring the viability of offspring. Other species of finches such as Society finches and Spice finches are less successful when rearing Lady Gouldian chicks. Scientists have also discovered that females in Northern Australia are controlling the sex of their offspring by choosing the head color of their mate.
These jewel-colored bundles of energy are always in motion. No matter how many times we try to count Pandemonium’s Lady Gouldian finches, we always come up with a different number! When these beauties first arrived, we wanted to be able to tell them apart so we marked them with colored bands. This probably confused the birds in their search for mates since we now know that they pick their mates partially based on color. Furthermore, they use not only the visible spectrum, but also the ultra-violet. We were using artificial “bird-specific” lighting which lacked range. Once moved outside, the flock seemed much happier. Now we have them outside our office window where we can watch their antics all day long.
Research to determine why the wild flock has declined so much has netted very interesting results. You can read about this in our blog posts about Lady Gouldian finches.