Stagonopleura guttatadiamond firetail

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Geographic Range

Diamond firetails are found from east-central to southeastern Australia, from the Carnarvon Ranges in Queensland to the Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island in South Australia. (National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2004; Slater, et al., 1993)

Habitat

Diamond firetails are commonly found in grassy eucalypt woodlands, along rivers and creeks, occasionally in open forests, and sometimes in agricultural areas. (Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Weiner, 1994)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 300 m
    0.00 to 984.25 ft

Physical Description

Adult males are brown above the wings, on the wings, and on the rump. The upper tail converts are a bright crimson while the tail feathers, forehead, and the crown of the head are black. The hind neck is ash gray, lores are black, throat white, the forehead and flanks are black. They have a white breast, abdomen, and under tail-coverts. The bill and iris are red, while the legs and feet are dark gray. Adult females are usually smaller than males but are similar in appearance except that females have a narrow black band on the forehead and paler lores. (Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; Harris, 2006; Hill, 1968; Slater, et al., 1993; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Average mass
    17 g
    0.60 oz
  • Average length
    12 cm
    4.72 in
  • Average wingspan
    26 cm
    10.24 in

Reproduction

Diamond firetails often take time to accept a mate, but are loyal to their partner once the pair has bonded. This makes defending a mate rarely a problem. It is unknown how they select a mate, but some speculate that males choose a female based on how colorful her feathers are. During courtship a male holds a long piece of grass in his beak and bobs up and down while puffing out his chest. While the male is bobbing he emits a long raspy sound. If the female does not fly away while the male is performing this display, copulation will follow. (Barker and Vestjens, 1990; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Frauca, 1974; Garnett, 1992; Harris, 2006; Weiner, 1994)

Diamond firetails generally breed twice a year. They breed in the spring and then again in the fall. They do not breed in exceptionally hot or cold weather. The breeding season for diamond firetails is from August to January. During this time individuals build a nest with an entrance tube up to 15 cm long. Nests are lined with fine grass and feathers and are usually located in trees or shrubs with dense foliage, or high in trees, often under hawk or raven nests. Females lay between four and nine eggs per clutch, and both parents incubate the eggs for 13 days on average. Diamond firetail young fledge at about thirty days. The young become independent two weeks after fledging. Juveniles gain their adult coloring fairly quickly and can breed after nine months. (Blakers, 1984; Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; Garnett, 1992; Hill, 1968; National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2004; Slater, et al., 1993; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Weiner, 1994)

  • Breeding interval
    Diamond firetails breed twice a year.
  • Breeding season
    Diamond firetails commonly breed in both the spring and fall (August and January).
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 9
  • Average eggs per season
    6
  • Average time to hatching
    13 days
  • Average fledging age
    30 days
  • Average time to independence
    44 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    9 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 months

Males generally gather nest materials and females build nests. Both male and female parents take turns brooding the eggs. During daylight hours, each parent sits on the nest for approximately one and a half hours at a time. Often, when the male returns to the nest to relieve the female, he brings a present of a blade of grass or even a feather. At night, both the male and the female sit together in the nest. The young generally eat only half ripe seeds. When the young beg for food they lay their neck flat on the nest floor and turn only the gape upwards. During this begging, the chicks bills are wide open and their heads move from side to side in a lively manner. (Barker and Vestjens, 1990; Blakers, 1984; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Frauca, 1974; Garnett, 1992; Harris, 2006; Hill, 1968; Macdonald, 1973; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Weiner, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male

Lifespan/Longevity

Both in and out of captivity diamond firetails live for five to seven years. (el Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 7 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5 to 7 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 to 7 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5 to 7 years

Behavior

Diamond firetails are commonly found in groups of five to forty birds. Sometimes they live in mixed flocks with other grass finches. They are sometimes viewed as somewhat aggressive birds. Diamond firetails are generally social birds but there is no known social hierarchy. These birds are more often seen on the ground in search of food than in the air. Their flight is strong and at times slightly undulating. When they are flushed from the ground their wings often “whirr” loudly. (Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Harris, 2006; Hill, 1968)

Home Range

The range for individual diamond firetails is not known and there is no indication that this species is territorial. (Stattersfield and Capper, 2000)

Communication and Perception

Diamond firetails have two calls: a “twooo-heeee” which is a contact call, and “tay tay tay” which is an alarm call. Their song is often described as a series of low-pitched, raspy, “buzzy” notes. When the young are just beginning to communicate the often learn the calls by mimicking their parents. (Blakers, 1984; Frauca, 1974; Hill, 1968; Slater, et al., 1993; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000)

Food Habits

Diamond firetails are granivorous, feeding primarily on ripe and partly ripe seeds of grasses and herbs. Diamond firetails also feed on green leaves of grasses and herbs, and on insects, especially during the breeding season. (Barker and Vestjens, 1990; Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; Frauca, 1974; Hill, 1968; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

Predation

Hawks, owls, pied currowongs, humans, and other birds are all predators of diamond firetails. (Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Harris, 2006; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Weiner, 1994)

Ecosystem Roles

Diamond firetails feed on various grasses, herbs, and seeds and can act as seed disperses of the plants they feed on. They are also prey to hawks, owls and currowongs, although they do not constitute a significant portion of these predators diets. (Blakers, 1984; Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Macdonald, 1973; Weiner, 1994)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Diamond firetails are commonly kept as pets. They can be of interest to tourists and conservationists because of their beauty and because they are an endangered species found only in Australia. (Blakers, 1984; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Hill, 1968)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The only known adverse effects of the diamond firetail on humans is that they are occasionally seen as crop pests. (el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Harris, 2006; National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2004; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Weiner, 1994)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

The invasion of exotic grasses within the range of diamond firetails has made these areas more suitable for competing red-browed finches, which has put many of the diamond firetail populations at a disadvantage. Much of the land that diamond firetails once inhabited is turning into farmland which is reducing their numbers. As a result, this species now lives in restricted and scattered subpopulations, many of which continue to decline. They are commonly kept in captivity. The criteria that is used to determine their status is unknown. The IUCN considers diamond firetails endangered. (Hill, 1968; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005; el Hoyo, et al., 1992; Hill, 1968; National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2004; Stattersfield and Capper, 2000; Weiner, 1994)

Other Comments

This is the only species of firetail to be kept in zoos. (; Hill, 1968)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Alex Gardner (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Barker, R., W. Vestjens. 1990. The Food of Australian Birds. Lyneham, ACT: CSIRO Australia.

Blakers, M. 1984. The Atlas of Australian Birds. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

Department of Environment and Conservaton (NSW), 2005. "Diamond firetail - profile" (On-line). DEC | NSW threatened species - Diamond Firetail. Accessed October 15, 2006 at http://www.threatenedspecies.environment.nsw.gov.au/tsprofile/profile.aspx?id=10768.

Frauca, H. 1974. Australian Birds. Sydney: Australian Universities Press Pty. Ltd.

Garnett, S. 1992. The action plan for Australian birds. Australia: Canberra : Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, 1992.

Harris, C. 2006. "Finches" (On-line). Wikipedia. Accessed October 14, 2006 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finch.

Hill, R. 1968. Australian Birds. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

Macdonald, J. 1973. Birds of Australia : a Summary of Information. London: Witherby.

National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2004. "Diamond Firetail - vulnerable species listing" (On-line). National Parks and Wildlife Service. Accessed October 14, 2006 at http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/npws.nsf/Content/Diamond+firetail+-+vulnerable+species+listing.

Slater, P., P. Slater, R. Slater. 1993. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Sydney: Lansdowne.

Stattersfield, A., D. Capper. 2000. Stagonopleura guttata. Pp. 685 in Threatened Birds of the World, Vol. Volume 1, 1st Edition. Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions.

Weiner, J. 1994. The Beak of the Finch. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

el Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, D. Christie. 1992. Birds. Pp. 36-65 in Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. Volume 1, 1st Edition. Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions.