The brilliantly-colored Gouldian Finch is something of an avian anomaly. One of the most sought-after of all cage birds, it is bred in huge numbers by aviculturists worldwide. Wild populations, however, are in serious decline, and have been so for over 30 years. But, in conjunction with governmental and private groups, one dedicated conservationist is helping to brighten the species’ prospects.
Self-made millionaire Michael Fidler was first captivated by Gouldian Finches over 40 years ago, when he chanced upon a group in a store in Manchester, England. From that point on, he has been concerned for their future. And while few people can afford to follow in his footsteps, his efforts illustrate the importance of doing whatever is within one’s abilities on behalf of conservation. Be it through money, ideas, teaching or a new observation, we all have some potential to help.
Fire Management Changes a Unique Habitat
The Gouldian Finch is limited in distribution to Australia’s tropical north (please see map), where its lifestyle and feeding habits are uniquely influenced by rain and fire. Having evolved in a harsh, ever-changing habitat, the Gouldian Finch is, in many ways, highly specialized.
For millions of years, fires and varying rain cycles necessitated a diet comprised largely of grass seeds for one part of the year, and insects for another. Researchers believe that modern fire management practices are the most important reason for the 30-year-long decline in Gouldian Finch numbers…and despite 20 years’ worth of conservation programs, the downward trend continues.
Gouldian Finches first began having problems in Queensland, on the eastern edge of their range. Studies indicate that the population declines progressed westward…just as did the change in fire management practices and the growth of cattle ranching.
Cattle consume grasses upon which the finches depend, and the manner in which they feed stifles re-growth and encourages the establishment of non-native plants. The spread of cattle ranching has also been implicated in the recent scarcity of other animals, including the Carpentarian Rock Rat and the Partridge Pigeon.
Eco-Tourism and Release Programs
Conservationists believe that many species will benefit if birding is encouraged as a form of eco-tourism on cattle ranches, but progress has been limited. Captive-bred Gouldian Finches are easy to come by, but when released into the wild most are quickly captured by kites, hawks and other avian predators.
Mr. Fidler relocated from his native UK to New South Wales, Australia, and now lives close to prime Gouldian Finch habitat. Over the past 20 years, he has donated vast sums to Gouldian Finch conservation programs and personally participated in captive and field research. One gift of $600,000 has helped to insure the survival of central Kimberley’s Gouldian Finches, one of the largest remaining populations.
Mr. Fidler also funds researchers at the University of New South Wales, and allows them access to his huge private aviary, home to several hundred birds…hats off!
Annual Gouldian Finch Count and other conservation efforts
Gouldian Finches image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Nigel Jacques
Gouldian Finch range map image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Nrg800