Diamond Firetail Finch


Scientific names:

Emblema guttata, Stagonopleura quttata, and Zonaegnithus guttatus. The first stated name is the most recent.

Other names:

Diamond Firefinch, Diamond Finch; also frequently Diamond Sparrow (a name that is not recommended as this bird is no close relation to sparrow-like birds), and Spotted-sided Finch.


None. According to JA. Keast 0958), there are no geographical races; the species philordi, mentioned by G.M. Matthews in his book, "The Birds of Australia" (London, 1910-27) must therefore be regarded as a synonym of guttata.

Description of Wild Bird

Cock: The head and neck are grayish-blue; hack and wings olive-brown; rump and upper tail coverts crimson; throat white; breast with a wide, black band that runs along the flanks and is bordered by the wings; underside whitish; flanks, black with white spots "diamonds"; the second part of the scientific name guttata means "spotted" and zona, in the already from 1796 dated name Zonaegintbus, is the Latin word for "band": the Greek aigiruba is a "kind of bird." Beak maroon; the lores are black. The eyes are bordered with a conspicuous red eye-ring, the same color as the iris. The legs and feet are grayish-brown.

Hen: Is usually difficult to distinguish from the male; with enough comparative material the hen's head and body seems generally slighter in structure. The lores are brown instead of black; this is a good distinguishing mark in older birds. The eye-ring is generally lighter in color, as is the beak (pinkish-red).

Immature: Generally less colorful, with greenish-brown wings and back; the rump and upper tail coverts are carmine-red; the tail feathers are not black, but brownish-black; unlike the conspicuous ash-blue head of the adults, in juveniles it has a greenish wash, as has the sides of the head. The flanks are greenish-brown with large graywhite bars and spots; the underside of hens is light gray, in young cocks, however, much lighter, almost white. The beak of young hens at about three months of age is generally light red; that of young cocks is dark red with a violet tinge. The rump and upper tail coverts of young hens are dull red; that of young cocks are lighter red with a pale sheen. These color differences can sometimes be seen in older birds, especially when not in breeding condition. A cock bird ready for mating, however, is easy ro distinguish by his frequent singing, and his vivid-red eyerings. Should rhe bird moreover rake a grass stem in rhe beak, stand high on rhe legs, and press rhe beak down against the breast, it is definitely a male. During this performance he will also let his song be heard. The cock sometimes sings outside rhe breeding season, bur much less frequently. Also, outside the breeding season, the hen takes no notice of the male's singing; she just keeps ro herself.

Apart from the male song, sexes of young birds are difficult to determine outwardly. Even the white spots on rhe flanks - which are sometimes larger in hens - are no sure indication. The only sure way, as we have said, is the song of rhe male.

Size: 4.5 inches (11.5 cm), sometimes a little smaller, sometimes ro 4.75 inches (12 cm); tail 17 in (4.3 cm); wings 2.5-2.75 inches (6-7 cm).

Distribution: Central and southern Queensland, and via the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales, through Victoria ro western South Australia (Eyre Peninsula); also on Kangaroo Island (large island south of Adelaide, South Australia).

Field Biology: Diamond finches live in open terrain, including grasslands, mallee thickets, gardens, parks, and open woodland, generally in the immediate neighborhood of water. I have seen these birds on Kangaroo Island close to towns, especially in gardens and parks. In Queensland I have also frequently seen them close to human habitations. In Adelaide I observed them especially in the sparsely wooded hills, where they had plenty of space to move about in. By leg-banding numbers of birds over a two year period, I ascertained that they were largely sedentary and almost never left the area in which they were hatched and reared. It seems that most pairs build a new nest in the same shrub in which they nested the previous year. I observed some pairs even repairing or rebuilding their old original nests and reusing them. It is therefore understandable that in some areas, where the habitat is in their favor. they remain all year round.juveniles usually also stay in the area in which they were reared, breeding themselves when the time is ripe. In spite of this, continual urbanization is gradually forcing populations of the birds further inland. I observed a typical example of this when, on Kangaroo Island in 1983, Diamond Finches were forced more than 1,100 yards (about 1 km) further inland in a single year.

Diamond Finches are very strong on the wing; they fly powerfully with flowing, light undulations - this is a characteristic of birds that live in open terrain and must be quick on the wing to escape from predators. This typical kind of flight can be seen with many Australian Finches, but especially in all firetail species. However, it has to be said that the flight of the Diamond Finch is the most beautiful of all.

 Food: Diamond Finches are mainly seedeaters. Like sparrows, the finches hop on the ground in search of seeds, but they also jump up to the heads of seeding grasses with some success. During the breeding season, the birds supplement their menu with insects which they also find on the ground or "pluck" from the foliage of plants. In captivity, Diamond Finches will be content with a commercial seed mixture as the main part of the diet, but they show preference for white and Japanese millets, especially outside the breeding season. During the breeding...