Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Not listed under EPBC Act
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans National recovery plan for the white-bellied subspecies of the Crimson Finch Neochmia phaeton evangelinae and the northern subspecies of the Star Finch Neochmia ruficauda clarescens (Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008zzm) [Recovery Plan].
 
Scientific name Neochmia ruficauda clarescens [67118]
Family Ploceidae:Passeriformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author  
Infraspecies author (Hartert, 1899)
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map not available for this taxon.
Illustrations Google Images

The Star Finch (Cape York Peninsula) is not listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 or any State/Territory Government legislation.

Scientific name: Neochmia ruficauda clarescens

Common name: Star Finch (Cape York Peninsula).

Other common names: Red-tailed, Rufous-tailed or Red-faced Finch or Firetail.

The subspecies is conventionally accepted (Schodde & Mason 1999).

The Star Finch (all subspecies) is a small bird growing to 11.5 cm long and weighing up to 10 g, with an olive-brown back and slightly browner wings. The tail is a dull purple-red colour and the face, forehead and throat are bright red. Fine white spots are located on the face, breast and flanks. The bill is red and the legs are yellow. Female birds resemble males but are duller and have less red on the face. Immature birds have a black bill and are olive-brown in colour (Immelmann 1982; Pizzey & Knight 1997a).

The Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch can be distinguished from all other subspecies by its dark creamy-lemon coloured belly in males and yellowish cream belly in females. The western subspecies (N. r. subclarescens) has a paler lemon to cream belly while the southern subspecies (N. r. ruficauda) has a dull cream belly (Schodde & Mason 1999).

The Star Finch (all subspecies) is largely sedentary. Outside of the breeding season it can form large flocks (up to 500 individuals) although the average size is 10-20 individuals (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Holmes 1998b; Immelmann 1982).

The Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch occurs on the eastern coast of the Cape York Peninsula at Princess Charlotte Bay. On the west coast of the peninsula, it is present near Aurukun, Pormpuraaw (Edward River), Kowanyama and Karumba, all of which are on the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Holmes 1998b; Todd et al. 2003). There appears to be a gap in the distribution of the east and west coast populations with no records from the inland central region of the Cape York Peninsula.

The current extent of occurrence of the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is estimated to be 55 000 km². This was calculated from published maps and encompasses the area within a line drawn round the perimeter of all subpopulations. This estimate is of medium reliability (Garnett & Crowley 2000) and pre-dates more recent survey work. Large areas of the central Cape York Peninsula where there are no recent records are unlikely ever to have been occupied by the species as the grasslands there differ markedly in species composition and patterns of seed availability to those near the coast (S. Garnett June 2005, pers. comm.). No other estimates of the extent of occurrence of the subspecies have been made.

The subspecies is still locally numerous and there is no evidence of a historical decline in the extent of occurrence (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Holmes 1998b). There is potential that further surveys may locate this subspecies at new locations (Holmes 1998b), although these are likely to be confined to a few localities along the west coast of Cape York Peninsula (S. Garnett June 2005, pers. comm.). The vegetation unit from which the subspecies is most frequently recorded is associated with saline flats of Cape York Peninsula, particularly along the west coast (Garnett et al. 2005).

The area of occupancy for the Star Finch (Cape York Peninsula) is estimated to be 536 km² (Dorricott & Garnett 2007). This is slightly more than the 400 km² estimated by Garnett and Crowley (2000). This was calculated from the number of 1 km² grid squares in which the species is thought to occur at the time when its population is at its most constrained. This estimate is considered to be of low reliability (Garnett & Crowley 2000). There have been no other estimates of the area of occupancy of this subspecies.

The area of occupancy is not contiguous but broken into several discrete concentrations, with a major disjunction between the grasslands south of Princess Charlotte Bay and of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula.

The subspecies is still locally numerous (Holmes 1998b), with flocks at Lakefield National Park and Pormpuraaw exceeding 200 birds in the dry season. Further surveys of the west coast of Cape York Peninsula will build a more accurate estimate of the true area of occupancy. There are no data to indicate that the subspecies has declined markedly in the last decade. Large aggregations of over 100 birds can still be observed and they have been known to be continually present at two sites for over two decades (Garnett & Bredl 1985b; Garnett et al. 2005; Holmes 1998b).

The area of occupancy may be reduced in coming decades by rises in sea level, changes in fire regime and cattle grazing. The grasslands the species occupies occur just above the high water mark so may be inundated by sea level rise. Their inland margins are occupied by melaleuca woodland, particularly Melaleuca viridiflora, which is expanding its range in response to grazing and changed fire regimes (Garnett et al. 2005).

The subspecies occurs at four locations;

  • the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula in the vicinity of Princess Charlotte Bay,
  • the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula south-west of Aurukun
  • the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula Pormpuraaw in the south and
  • the south coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in the vicinity of Karumba.

Although the distribution of the subspecies occurs in four locations (Garnett & Crowley 2000), it is not severely fragmented. The three locations on the Gulf of Carpentaria are connected by superficially similar habitat which may allow movement between them. It is remotely possible that a single threatening event such as a storm surge from cyclonic activity may rapidly affect all individuals of the species present at these locations.

As a species, the Star Finch is a popular aviary bird and is kept in numerous collections (Immelmann 1982). There are however no captive populations of the Cape York subspecies that are maintained with the express purpose of re-introduction to the wild.

Surveys have been published in the following studies:

Garnett, S.T., Clarkson, J.R., Felton, A., Harrington, G.N. and Freeman, A.N.D. (2005). Habitat and diet of the Star Finch (Neochima ruficauda clarescens) in the early wet season at Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Emu 105, 81-85.

Holmes, G. (1998b). A review of the distribution, status and ecology of the Star Finch Neochima ruficauda in Queensland. Australian Bird Watcher 17, 278-289.

There is however scope for further surveys, particularly in coastal areas between Karumba and the Mitchell River. Although Holmes (1998b) suggested that potential locations for the species include the Archer Bend, Mitchell and Alice Rivers and Staaten River National Parks, the grasslands in these areas differ markedly from those on the coast (S. Garnett June 2005, pers. comm.).

The total population size of the species is estimated to be 5000 breeding birds. This estimate is of low reliability (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

Banding studies suggest that around 400 birds are present at Pormpuraaw (Edward River) on the west coast of the peninsula and several thousand individuals are suspected to occur on the east coast in the vicinity of Princess Charlotte Bay. The numbers are believed to be lower around Princess Charlotte Bay than on the west coast of the peninsula.Congregations of up to 500 birds have been recorded on the west coast (Holmes 1998b).

The species occurs in two subpopulations (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The eastern subpopulation is located at Princess Charlotte Bay. It is believed to be smaller than the western population and thought to number "several thousand" individuals (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Holmes 1998b). No quantitative information exists on the trends in numbers of this population. Most of the population probably occurs within the Lakefield National Park and adjoining pastoral leases.

The western population is patchily distributed on the west coast of the peninsula between Aurukun in the north and Karumba in the south. This population is estimated to number approximately 3000 birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000). No quantitative information exists on the trends in numbers of this population. This population is located on Aboriginal lands and adjoining pastoral leases.

The population of this subspecies is suspected to be stable. It is considered to be still locally numerous (Holmes 1998b).

There are no quantitative data to indicate future changes in population size.

The species is not known to undergo any extreme fluctuations.

The generation length of the species is estimated to be two years. This estimate is of low reliability due to a lack of reliable life history data for this species in the wild (Garnett & Crowley 2000). One individual is known to have survived at least five years (Garnett et al. 2005).

Since the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is known from only two subpopulations, both of these must be considered as important to its long-term survival.

Cross-breeding between the Star Finch (Cape York Peninsula) and the Crimson, Zebra and Red-browed Finch sometimes occurs in captivity (Immelmann 1982).

Currently, only the eastern population of the subspecies at Princess Charlotte Bay is known to occur in a nature conservation reserve (Lakefield National Park). Lakefield National Park is managed to conserve and enhance natural habitats, including those on which the finch is dependent. No protected areas with suitable habitat occur on western Cape York Peninsula.

The Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is a bird of tropical savannas and woodlands. Most records during the wet season are from grassland near coastal saltpans and during the breeding season they are recorded from lightly wooded grassland (Garnett et al. 2005).

The Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is found primarily in native grasslands and grassy open woodlands. It is always found relatively close to water (Holmes 1998b). Most recent records are from flat, low-lying, near-coastal plains and especially from grasslands on the landward side of coastal saltpans. The saltpans consist of mainly bare ground surfaces and the margins support a sparse herbland of saltbush and grasses. Birds are usually present in areas of dead grass which have not been burnt for at least a year. The dominant grass species occurring where birds have been recorded are Xerochloa imberbis and Sporobolus virginicus (Garnett et al. 2005).

The Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is also recorded in lightly wooded grasslands dominated by Panicum and Eriachne spp. On the west coast of the peninsula, they have been observed feeding on the seeds of Coastal Sheoaks Casuarina equisetifolia (Garnett et al. 2005; Holmes 1998b).

Dry season flocks are believed to disperse in the early wet season to adjoining saltmarsh and return to grassland to commence breeding as the wet season ends (Garnett & Crowley 2000, Garnett et al. 2005).

The grasslands dominated by Xerochloa imberbis and Sporobolus virginicus appear to be protected from frequent fire due to the fact that they are surrounded by saltpans that are devoid of vegetation. They also hold their seed in the early wet season. Consequently, they provide an important and reliable food source for the subspecies during the early wet season when seed in surrounding grasslands has germinated with the first storms (Garnett et al. 2005).


The following regional ecosystems are currently being managed as part of the Neochmia species (Cape York) recovery process:

  • Melaleuca dealbata ± Acacia crassicarpa open forest: Occurs in dune swales on the west coast.
  • Casuarina equisetifolia woodland: Occurs on foredunes.
  • Sorghum plumosum, Themeda arguens closed tussock grassland on erosional flood clay plains.
  • Grassland/sedgeland with Pandanus spp.

Details on life-history traits of the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch are lacking. In captivity the species (all subspecies) reaches sexual maturity at around 12 months and life expectancy can be up to six years (C. Tzaros June 2005, pers. comm.). No information is available on life expectancy and natural mortality in the wild.

The information below, unless otherwise stated, relates to the entire species as a whole.

The Star Finch forms monogamous pair bonds and breeding commences towards the end of the wet season with eggs recorded in Queensland during March and April. Breeding is preceded by a courtship display where the female bird engages in an elaborate display flight with a long piece of grass in her bill. The male also carries a long piece of grass in his bill during courtship (Higgins et al. 2006; Immelmann 1982).

The Star Finch constructs a rounded enclosed nest of either dry or green grass stems and lines the interior with feathers. The nest is 10 to 15 cm in diameter and may be placed in a shrub or small tree, within dense grass or in reeds or sedges. Nests are often located near water and may be located very low to the ground (30 cm) or up to 6 m above the ground in small trees (Higgins et al. 2006; Holmes 1998b; Immelmann 1982). In the east Kimberley two thirds of star finch nests were between 50 cm and 100 cm from ground level, with none being higher than two metres. Favoured nest sites were in Acacia farnesiana, although these nests were subject to high rates of predation. The most successful nests were those in Sorghum plumosum.

Clutches consist of three to six eggs. The eggs are small, white and oval or long oval. Both sexes incubate the eggs and, in captivity, the incubation period is around 12 days. The chicks mature quickly and fledge after 17 to 21 days (Higgins et al. 2006; Immelmann 1982). Near Kununurra, Western Australia, out of 25 nests, 14 (56%) hatched at least one young. Of the nests that failed to hatch, six were preyed upon and five were deserted (Higgins et al. 2006; Immelmann 1982).

Because nests are often located close to the ground, they may be vulnerable to threatening processes such as predation by native and introduced vertebrates and to human interference and collection. The impacts of these processes remain poorly known (S. Garnett June 2005, pers. comm.).

The Star Finch is largely sedentary (Holmes 1998b). Regional populations seldom interact although regular formation of large flocks indicates some localised mobility. At Lakefield large groups of juveniles were observed in August 1996 (Holmes 1998b). Mortality rates of fledgling birds are high during their first year (Todd et al. 2003).

The Star Finch is primarily a granivorous bird eating the ripe and half ripe seeds of grasses. During the dry season when most grasses have died off, it feeds on dry seeds from the bare ground. During the breeding season, insects are also consumed (Immelmann 1982).

At Princess Charlotte Bay on the east coast of the Cape York Peninsula, a large flock of up to 300 birds was observed feeding on the seeds of the salt-tolerant grass Xerochloa imberbis. This grass is considered to be a critical food resource during the early wet season. Because it is located in close proximity to bare saltpans, this grass is afforded some protection from early dry season fires and therefore carries a substantial seed load into the start of the wet season before other grass seeds have ripened. Other grasses on which the finches fed include Panicium decompositum var. tenuior and Eriochloa decumbens (Garnett et al. 2005).

Samples examined from crops of the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch found the contents to be almost exclusively granivorous. During the dry season seeds with a larger mean diameter (1.13 mm) were consumed while smaller seeds (0.67 mm) were consumed during the wet season. At Pormpuraaw (Edward River) it has also been observed feeding on seed from the cones of Casuarina equisetifolia. In total, 13 different seed types were recorded from the crops of the subspecies during the dry season and 28 seed types during the wet season (Todd et al. 2003).

The foraging behaviour of the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch mainly consists of gleaning seeds from panicles and seed heads or from bare ground (Garnett et al. 2005; Holmes 1998b).

Daily patterns of movement may occur between grassy areas with ripe seed that are used for foraging, and nearby shrubs and mangroves that are used for roosting and shelter (Garnett et al. 2005).

Banding recoveries (93 birds) of the species as a whole indicate that it is sedentary with all banded birds recovered within 10 kilometres of the banding site. The greatest distance between banding and recovery was 4 km (Higgins et al. 2006).

At Princess Charlotte Bay and Pormpuraaw (Edward River) local movements occur between the near-coastal saltmarsh vegetation during the wet season and grassland and grassy woodland near water during the dry season (Garnett et al. 2005; Garnett & Crowley 2000).

There is no information available on home ranges/territories.

The Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is distinctive from all other finch species on Cape York Peninsula and unlikely to be confused. Birds may be difficult to detect if feeding or roosting in rank grassland or reed beds (Higgins et al. 2006).

In the past, the entire species (especially the southern subspecies) suffered from illegal trapping for the aviculture trade. This is likely to have had only temporary localised effects (Holmes 1998). There is no current information on whether this threat still exists although it has been speculated that the recognition of birds on the Cape York Peninsula as a distinct subspecies may lead to an increase in illegal collection (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The greatest current threats to the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch are inappropriate fire and grazing regimes. These threats are believed to have been responsible for the demonstrable decline of a range of granivorous species throughout northern Australia (Franklin 1999).

Burning regimes under pastoral management promote mild early dry season fires. These altered fire regimes allow grasslands to become invaded by woody shrubs, especially Melaleuca viridiflora. Previous Indigenous burning regimes are believed to have consisted of higher intensity fires that suppressed woody shrub invasion (Neldner et al. 1997). A number of grasslands have been significantly reduced in extent through the invasion of woody shrubs over the past 30 years and are continuing to be invaded at a rate of 1% per year (Crowley & Garnett 1998; Neldner et al. 1997).

Livestock grazing is suspected of being a key threat to the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch by trampling and overgrazing of its habitat, reducing fuel loads and favouring growth of Melaleuca viridiflora.

A potential future threat to the Cape York subspecies of the Star Finch is climate change. Many key foraging habitats occur on the landward side of saltpans which are inundated by king tides. Because these habitats are less than 1 m above high tide mark, a modest increase in tidal height may destroy large areas of habitat (Garnett et al. 2005).

Because much of the subspecies' habitat lies in low-lying near-coastal areas, it is susceptible to disturbances from cyclonic activity and associated storm surges. However no storm surge within the last century has inundated Star Finch habitat.

Morphometric data suggests that the Cape York subspecies of Star Finch has less variation in beak size and a narrower dietary range than the western subspecies, N. r. subclarescens, possibly because of lower genetic variability (Todd et al. 2003).

The National Recovery Plan for the white-bellied subspecies of the Crimson Finch, Neochmia phaeton evangelinae and the Cape York Peninsula subspecies of the Star Finch Neochmia ruficauda clarescens, 2004-2008 includes the following proposed actions:

  • Reduce grazing by cattle and pigs on Lakefield National Park
  • Burn to restore grassland on Lakefield National Park
  • Develop a strategy for protection of habitat at Pormpuraaw
  • Monitor persistence of Star Finches
  • Monitor grasslands at Nifold Plain
  • Analyse and report on monitoring
  • Ensure legislation matches biological status of Star Finch
  • Manage the recovery process
  • Facilitate stakeholder involvement

The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is collaborating with traditional owners in undertaking these actions and the management of these species.

Dorricott, K.E. & S.T. Garnett (2007). National recovery plan for the white-bellied subspecies of theof the crimson finch Neochmia phaeton evangelinae and the Northern subspecies of the star finch Neochmia ruficauda clarescens. Report to Environment Australia, Canberra. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Brisbane.

Garnett, S.T., Clarkson, J.R., Felton, A., Harrington, G.N. and Freeman, A.N.D. (2005). Habitat and diet of the Star Finch (Neochima ruficauda clarescens) in the early wet season at Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Emu 105, 81-85.

Holmes, G. (1998b). A review of the distribution, status and ecology of the Star Finch Neochima ruficauda in Queensland. Australian Bird Watcher 17, 278-289.

Todd, M.K., Felton, A. and Garnett, S.T. (2003). Morphological and dietary differences between common and uncommon subspecies of Crimson Finch Neochima phaeton, and Star Finch Neochima ruficauda, in northern Australia. Emu 103, 141-148.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat loss and modification due to clearance of native vegetation and pasture improvements The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley, 2000) [Cwlth Action Plan].
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Loss of terrestrial climatic habitat caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001u) [Listing Advice].

Crowley, G.M. & S.T. Garnett (1998). Vegetation change in the grasslands and grassy woodlands of central Cape York Peninsula. Pacific Conservation Biology. 4:132-148.

Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2008zzm). National recovery plan for the white-bellied subspecies of the Crimson Finch Neochmia phaeton evangelinae and the northern subspecies of the Star Finch Neochmia ruficauda clarescens. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/n-evangelinae-n-clarescens.html.

Franklin, D.C. (1999a). Evidence of disarray amongst granivorous bird assemblages in the savannas of northern Australia, a region of sparse human settlement. Biological Conservation. 90:53-68.

Garnett, S. (2005). Personal communication.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/index.html.

Garnett, S.T. & R. Bredl (1985b). An annotated list of the birds in the vicinity of the Edward River Settlement. Sunbird. 15:6-40.

Garnett, S.T., J.R. Clarkson, A. Felton, G.N. Harrington & A.N.D. Freeman (2005). Habitat and diet of the Star Finch (Neochima ruficauda clarescens) in the early wet season at Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Emu. 105:81-85.

Higgins, P.J., J.M. Peter and S.J. Cowling (2006). Boatbill to Starlings. In: The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. 7. Melbourne: Oxford Press.

Holmes, G. (1998b). A review of the distribution, status and ecology of the Star Finch Neochmia ruficauda in Queensland. Australian Bird Watcher. 17:278-289.

Immelmann, K. (1982). Australian Finches in Bush and Aviary. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Magrath, M.J.L., M.A. Weston, P. Olsen & M. Antos (2004). Draft Survey Standards for Birds: Species Accounts. Melbourne, Victoria: Report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage by Birds Australia.

Neldner, V.J., R.J. Fensham, J.R. Clarkson & J.P. Stanton (1997). The natural grasslands of Cape York Peninsula, Australia: Description, distribution and conservation status. Biological Conservation. 81:121-136.

Pizzey, G. & F. Knight (1997). The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1999). The Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. Melbourne, Victoria: CSIRO.

Todd, M.K., A. Felton & S.T. Garnett (2003). Morphological and dietary differences between common and uncommon subspecies of Crimson Finch Neochima phaeton, and Star Finch Neochima ruficauda, in northern Australia. Emu. 103:141-148.

Tzaros, C. (2005). Personal communication.

EPBC Act email updates can be received via the Communities for Communities newsletter and the EPBC Act newsletter.

This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Neochmia ruficauda clarescens in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:15:51 +1000.