The star finch is a seed-eating bird species observed in Australia’s northern territory. It has a unique red face and bill and broad white spots down its thighs. One of its three subspecies may have been extinct.
Bird Name: Star Finch
Status: Near Threatened
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Genus: Neochmia
- Class: Aves
- Order: Passeriformes
- Species: N. ruficauda
- Family: Estrildidae
- Phylum: Chordata
The Star Finch, also known as Rufous-tailed Finch and the Red-faced Finch, is endemic to Australia. One of the primary threats to this bird is its natural habitat’s constant degradation due to burning during the dry season and overgrazing. The caged-bird trade also threatens it. The Star Finch has three subspecies: Neochmia ruficauda clarescens, Neochmia ruficauda subclarescens, and Neochmia ruficauda ruficauda (thought to be extinct).
Jacquinot and Hombron first found these birds when they stopped off in Australia as part of the French expedition to Antarctica of 1837, traveling aboard the Astrolabe. While Hombron originally placed the bird in the genus Erythura, he indicated that the bird’s short legs could command a new genus, Neochimia. Gray ultimately adopted the name in 1849. Derived from the Greek, neokhmos meaning new it implies “new bird.”
The star finch is technically an estrildid finch, between 8 and 12 cm in length, with red fore-parts of the head and a vibrant bill. The lower and upper plumage is yellowish-green, white-spotted on the underparts, the belly extra yellow. The upper tail brushes are scarlet; tail feathers are red-brownish scarlet. The female has less red on the head, and normally duller than the male. The immature star finch is olive to red-brownish with a grey head and face. Juveniles have pale olive underparts and olive-brown upperparts. There can also exist numerous mutations of the Star Finch, most common of which is the yellow-faced color.
The large white spots under its chin and down its flanks give rise to its popular name. It has a wingspan of between 45 to 56 mm, a bill length between 9 and 13 mm, and weighs between 8 and 14 grams.
The star finch diet includes ripe and half-ripe grass seeds, insects such as ants and flies, and greens. The Star Finch loves to grasp on to the seed heads of grasses instead of landing on the ground to eat.
The bird lives in rice and sugarcane fields, tropical swamps, woodlands, dense scrubland, and tall lush areas near water. They evolved in northern Australia and range from Shark Bay to the north of New South Wales. They have also moved to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
They nest in a globe of grass lined with feathers. The female lays about 4-5 eggs per clutch. She incubates them for about two weeks, with the male sometimes sitting in with her or taking her place. Fledging happens at about three weeks of age.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ranks this species as Least Concern with a lower population. Although its population may be gradually declining (and the nominate subspecies may now be completely extinct), many large populations remain. Therefore, it is no longer reasonable to assume a moderately rapid reduction in the overall population.