Home | Bird Research or Recent News | Flashy Finch Chicks: the Colorful Mouths of Gouldian (Erthyrura gouldiae), Zebra ( Taeniopygia guttata) and Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) Finch Hatchlings

Flashy Finch Chicks: the Colorful Mouths of Gouldian (Erthyrura gouldiae), Zebra ( Taeniopygia guttata) and Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) Finch Hatchlings

Peer into a nest containing hungry Estrildid (order Estrildidae) finches and you may be surprised by the array of colors and odd tongue and mouth markings that greet you.

Mouth Adornments in Three Common Finches
Gouldian finch chicks sport bright blue and yellow nodules in their capacious gapes. Like those of related species, these reflect what little light is available in the dark nest hollow, and no doubt guide the parents during feeding.

Zebra finches take the strategy a bit further…in addition to black and yellow markings in the mouth, their tongues bear distinctive nodules that move about as the chicks beg for food.

The colorful firetail finch parent is guided to its chicks even before they open their mouths, as each bears a stark white flange of skin along the sides of the bill. Once opened, the mouths reveal a series of bright yellow and black nodules.

Deceiving Parasites?
In addition to their obvious role in garnering a meal, mouth markings may serve to deter parents from feeding the young of brood parasites – birds which lay their eggs in the nests of other species, leaving the chicks to be reared by unwitting foster parents.

Indeed, species whose chicks have distinctive mouth markings often make poor foster parents in captivity (fostering is commonly used when parents reject young, or if eggs are pulled in order to stimulate a second clutch). Zebra finches, for example, often reject the chicks of other species, and may even fail to properly feed their own albino or pale-colored offspring (such chicks often have indistinct mouth markings).

Birds have innumerable strategies to assure that their chicks reach adulthood…please pass along your own thoughts and questions.

The abstract of an article that proposes interesting theories for the development of mouth markings is posted at:

Image referenced from Wikipedia creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:IMG_2535_1000_crop.jpg

About Frank Indiviglio

Read other posts by

I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
Scroll To Top