The Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) is at once a popular pet and an endangered species. Large and stocky (for a finch), it boasts a stunning array of 7 bright colors, a fact that has long rendered it among the most expensive of all finches. However, it is now widely bred here in the USA, and prices are coming down a bit.
Color and Male Dominance
In addition to thrilling bird owners for the past 100 years or so, it seems that the males’ spectacular plumage plays an unexpected role in Gouldian finch behavior as well. Wild Gouldian finches are unique in possessing heads that may be red, black or yellow in color. Red-headed males dominate all others, with yellow headed males being at the bottom of the pecking order.
Mixing Things Up
To discover if head color granted any specific survival advantage, University of New South Wales researchers applied black dye to yellow-headed males. Although the behavior of the dyed birds did not change, other individuals avoided fights with these formerly bullied males.
When red-headed males were dyed yellow, the former red-heads remained aggressive, but other birds did not readily give way to them at feeding stations (it might be interesting to show the redheads a mirror – maybe they would “realize” they were no longer dominant!).
So it seems that red-headed males truly are more aggressive than others, and that a red head likely confers competitive advantages in activities such as feeding and access to favorable nest sites. Future research will focus on the connection between color and behavior in other species.
Gouldian Finches in the Wild
In the wild, Gouldian finches are limited to small sections of wooded savannah in Australia’s tropical north, and are considered highly endangered.
They live in small groups both in and out of the breeding season and are, as finches go, rather specialized in their feeding habits. Gouldian finches vary their diets with the seasons. For much of the year, sorghum seeds (a grass) are their primary food, but during the rainy season they subsist nearly entirely upon moths, grasshoppers, termites, spiders and other invertebrates.
Next time I’ll go over some special concerns to bear in mind when considering a pair of these lovely birds.
World Wildlife Fund Australia has posted an interesting article on the dire threats facing Gouldian finches in the wild: http://www.wwf.org.au/articles/feature17/
Gouldian finches make wonderful pets and aviary birds, but require more room than similarly-sized finches. Please see my article Bird Cage Overview for further information.
Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Martybugs.