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Black-throated Finch Recovery Project

Townsville and its surrounds may be the last remaining habitat of one of Australia’s most vulnerable birds: the southern black-throated finch.

Southern Black-throated Finch

A pair of southern black-throated finches. Adult males and females form strong bonds and are rarely apart during daily life.
Photo: Ian Montgomery 

Reclassified from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ by the Federal Government in February this year, the southern black-throated finch joins other threatened birds such as the southern cassowary, Gouldian finch and golden-shouldered parrot.

It’s only on land outside Townsville that flocks of the birds have been sighted in any number—but even then their total population is probably only in the few hundreds. The finch’s range once extended from Mareeba to northern New South Wales, but the bird is now believed to be extinct in that state. Sightings between Rock­hampton and Towns­ville are sparse, as are those between Townsville and Mareeba, where the northern form of the bird takes over.

Townsville ecologist Peter Buosi said that the knowledge about the species was still quite low as with many of Australia’s endangered fauna. This species is not alone—there are other granivorous birds (seed-eating birds) which have also shown similar declines throughout their range.

“It’s a pattern that’s emerging in our landscape with some of these birds declining for reasons we don’t fully understand yet,” explained Peter. “We think it has something to do with the way we manage our land, and it’s perhaps also tied in with natural climatic changes.

More information on the finch is essential to understand why it has disappeared from such a large proportion of its range, and just as importantly, why it likes the Townsville region.

“We really don’t know why it’s disappeared, and why it’s present around here,” he said. “It is principally surviving on grazing land; there is something about the way this land has been managed that suits the bird.”

It is the hard work of a local community group, the Black-Throated Finch (BTF) Recovery Team, which has gathered enough information to put the bird on the federal endangered list. The team comprises a cross-section of scientists, birdwatchers and landholders from the local area and all are volunteers. Their recovery plan, which was adopted by the Federal Government in April, may help keep it from disappearing altogether.

Key elements of the recovery plan include conducting much-needed research on the bird, possible re-intro­duction programs, and quantifying and identifying threats.

“Reversing the decline is probably a few steps away,” said Peter. "The first step is to halt the decline—and I think it is a very realistic target. The fact that it hasn’t declined throughout its whole range suggests that it is possible. I’m certainly optimistic that there is a balance we can find between land use practices and this species.”

Though small, the finch is striking-looking: between 9 and 11 cm long, with a blue-grey head, cinnamon breast, brown back, white belly and pink feet. Unlike other finch species, it cannot survive in urban areas. These birds feed on the seeds of grasses, and breed toward the end of the wet season. They build nests in the branches and hollows of trees: and it seems the poplar gum is a favourite haunt. “They generally live in loose colonies of about 20 to 30 birds,” said Peter. “During the breeding season they can raise between one and five young at a time with both parents sharing the child-raising responsibilities.”

Recovery team

The BTF recovery team was instigated, and is now chaired, by Bernie Davis—who before his retirement ran the Department of Primary Industries’ crocodile research program. And while Bernie doesn’t need a stun gun to study his new animal interest, he says the skills gained in running crocodile research programs are being put to good use for the endangered finch.

“Often groups like this aren’t very well coordinated, you really have to put the effort in to make it all work properly,” he said. “But in our case we have a very good chance of success; we have a good skills base as many of the people involved work in agriculture, know the region and the people and they are keen bird enthusiasts.”

Sightings of the bird can be reported to Marnie McCullough, contact details below.

Dept Environment & Heritage Southern Black-throated Finch Recovery Plan: see link below.

See also Savanna Links , Issue 6, Paradise falters for seed-eating birds.

Contacts

Ms Marnie McCullough
Botanist
Dpt Primary Industry - Townsville
Tel: 07 4722 2519

PO Box 1085
TOWNSVILLE, QLD 4810