Gouldian Finch


 The Gouldian Finch, Chloebia gouldiea, of Australia was named after Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841), a British bird artist of the early 19th century. Elizabeth Gould married John Gould, a famous taxidermist and bird artist of that time. She designed, lithographed, and painted over 640 plates for birds of the Himalayas, Europe, Australia, and Charles Darwin’s The Zoology of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, as well as other works. There is considerable controversy about the attribution of her works – John may have taken credit for the work she had done. John named the Gouldian Finch after her but with the name Gouldian, it could have been either of them.


One of the most attractive of all birds, the Gouldian Finch, also called the Lady Goulding Finch, Gould’s Finch, and Rainbow Finch is native to northern Australia in isolated small populations. In the early 1900’s the population consisted of hundreds of thousands of birds. Today the population numbers about 2500 birds. Many birds were captured for the pet trade although this was banned in the 1980’s. The primary threat to the survival of the Gouldian Finch is altered fire regimes – especially an increase in extensive, hot wildfires in the late dry season. Wildfires reduce the availability of seeds at key times during the year and limit the availability of tree hollows for nesting.


 Gouldian Finches live in tropical savanna woodland in the grassy understory that contains a mixture of their preferred annual and perennial grass species; they nest in tree hollows. The birds eat mainly sorghum seeds, rarely other seeds, and never insects. It is seldom found far from water. The population decline seems not to be related to the food source but to late-season fires and an air-sac mite infection, lowering breeding success.


Adult Gouldian Finches can be one of three different color varieties: about 70-80% of birds have jet-black faces; 20-30% have scarlet faces; yellow-faced Gouldians are very rare. The yellow color results from a lack of red pigment in the red-faced varieties. One idea to explain why there are more black-faced birds than red-faced ones has to do with levels of testosterone and aggressiveness. Red-faced male and female birds have more testosterone and are more aggressive and spend more time defending their nest and fending off competitors than do the black-faced forms. The black-faced lower-testosterone birds instead put their energy into raising their offspring; both sexes live longer as well.