Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Diamond Firetail

Posted on 26 June, 2023 by Ivan

Welcome to Bird of the Month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Damian’s stunning photos.

Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata)

Connecting Country’s Feathered Five includes the small but striking Diamond Firetail. It is a tricky bird to find, but not impossible.  Their conservation status was unfortunately recently upgraded to Vulnerable under the EPBC Act. It means that over the last 10 years, the population has an estimated decline in the region of 30-50%, with a high probability of declining further in the future. No wonder they are such a hard bird to see.

It’s all in the bright red bill … the shape indicates it’s a finch, and finches eat the seeds of native grasses. The decline of the Diamond Firetail is one result of native vegetation clearance and habitat degradation. Where perennial native grasses manage to persist (despite invasive annual exotic grasses taking over in many places), they struggle to produce the seed the Diamond Firetail needs at critical times of the year, largely because of overgrazing and invasive herbivores such as rabbits. Grazing animals also take out shrubby habitat which these little birds need for protection.  This means our gorgeous Diamond Firetails may go hungry in late autumn and winter and are more vulnerable to predators, such as foxes and cats.

Flock of Diamond Firetails enjoying a lovely bath in a puddle. Photo by Damian Kelly.

The healthy diet for the Dimond Firetail isn’t just native grass seed, they also require some insects, especially for the baby birds still in the nest who are growing rapidly.

Clutch size ranges quite widely, from 3-7 eggs. If conditions allow and food sources are plentiful, a pair of Diamond Firetails may have more than one clutch in a season. The nest is a beautifully constructed bottle shape with a tunnel entrance, or a ball shape with a small hole for an entrance, made from grass and twigs and lined with feathers. They are good little recyclers, because sometimes rubbish such as fishing line, frayed plastic and drinking straws are incorporated into nests. Both parents build the nest, sit on eggs to incubate the chicks, and then feed chicks when they hatch.

Damian recently took this beautiful photo of a Diamond Firetail at Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. Photo by Damian Kelly.

A bit more on nests – the Diamond Firetail can make some interesting choices in nesting sites. They are a flock bird, getting around in small mobs of 5-30 birds. This extends to nesting, where they often nest in small groups, or colonies, with a number of nests in the same place. That place may be in the base of other much larger birds stick nests, such as White-faced Heron, Square-tailed Kite, Whistling Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Falcon and Kestrel nests. You’ll notice most of those birds are raptors, you’d think it a scary prospect, but White-browed Babblers think it’s a great idea too, and have been known to take over Diamond Firetail nests. Maybe it’s a deterrent to other predators?

Another way it’s thought Diamond Firetails avoid predators is the mechanics of how they drink. Like pigeons, they suck up water instead of dip and sip, then tilt the head back. The theory is it’s much quicker to slurp your water down in big gulps!

To listen to the call of the Diamond Firetail – click here

Jane Rusden
Damian Kelly

One response to “Bird of the month: Diamond Firetail”

  1. Sue+Boekel says:

    Golly, a flock of 30! I’d love to see that. I’m only seeing 1 or 2 in various areas now. The so-called slow burns appear to have redistributed the DFs I used to observe.

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