Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae)

Also known as: Lady Gouldian finch, rainbow finch
Synonyms: Chloebia gouldiae
GenusErythrura (1)
SizeLength: 11.5 - 12.5 cm (2)

The Gouldian finch is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) is an extremely attractive and strikingly coloured bird. It has a grass-green upper body from the lower nape to the back and wings, a pale blue rump and a purple breast (2). The belly is bright yellow, and the bill is whitish, with a red or yellow tip (2) (3). There are three distinct colour variations in the Gouldian finch, with individuals having either a red, black or yellow head. These variations were thought to distinguish three separate species, but it is now known that all three colour variations can occur together in the same geographical area (4). These splashes of colour determine the common names of this species: the red-headed, black-headed and yellow-headed Gouldian finch (4).

Like many finches, this elegant bird has two tail feathers which are long and end in a point (4). Female Gouldian finches are less brightly coloured than males, and juveniles are also recognizable by their different colouration, having ash-grey heads, sides and necks, and olive-green backs, wings and tail feathers (4). The young develop the adult colours as they mature (4).

The Gouldian finch is endemic to northern Australia, where it occurs mainly in the north-west regions of the Northern Territory and in the Kimberley region of Western Australia (2) (3). It has also been occasionally recorded in Queensland (2). 

These beautiful finches prefer tropical savannah woodland with grassy understorey and open wide plains with hollow-bearing Eucalyptus trees (2).

The Gouldian finch forages in upright grasses on semi-ripe to ripe seeds, such as those of spear grass or sorghum (Sarga) species (2) (4).

Pairs nest in tree hollows, with courtship taking place for months before nesting (3) (5). Males commence the courtship ritual with head bobbing, beak-wiping and ruffling the feathers to display the brilliant colours. The male holds his body and tail erect, expands his chest and fluffs the forehead feathers. The female may also follow with some beak-wiping. After the female lays the eggs, both the adults incubate the eggs and help to raise the young (3) (4). Gouldian finches may produce up to two broods in succession (3), with four to eight eggs per clutch (4).

The Gouldian finch is threatened by habitat modification due to cattle grazing, wildfires and increasing human developments (2) (3). Cattle prevent grass from seeding, and therefore reduce food availability for these finches (2). Fires can also destroy large areas occupied by the Gouldian finch (2).

In the past, the removal of wild birds for aviary collections may have threatened the Gouldian finch, but trapping was banned in the early 1980s (3). However, all of these factors have reduced the viable breeding population of the Gouldian finch, and there at present estimated to be only between 2,500 and 10,000 mature individuals in the wild (2).

A recovery plan is being developed for this colourful bird, and a range of conservation actions and monitoring work are underway within its range (2). Ironically, the removal of the Gouldian finch from its natural habitat has led to the creation of secure populations in aviaries worldwide (4).

Find out more about the Gouldian finch and its conservation:

More information on the birds of Australia:

Authenticated (24/02/11) by Dr Sarah Pryke, Research Fellow, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney.

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. BirdLife International (March, 2011)
  3. Pryke, S. (February, 2011) Pers. comm.
  4. HonoluluZoo - Gouldian Finch (February, 2004)
  5. Enehjelm, A.F. (1983) Australian Finches. T.F.H. Publications Ltd, New Jersey.