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Rainbow Plumage Makes the Gouldian Finch One of the World's Most Gorgeous Birds

Mike and Dorothy are avid birders and nature lovers. Dorothy is a former newspaper reporter who has written several nature-related books.

Three Different Varieties of Gouldian Finch: They are generally categorized by the color of the head. The color variations are most common in birds bred in captivity, while in the wild, most of them have black heads.

Three Different Varieties of Gouldian Finch: They are generally categorized by the color of the head. The color variations are most common in birds bred in captivity, while in the wild, most of them have black heads.

The Gouldian Finch: A Beautiful Winged Rainbow

If you close your eyes and picture a tiny rainbow with wings you will have an idea of the beauty of the Gouldian finch. These birds with their kaleidoscope of colors were once quite common in the wild in northern Australia. Their numbers—estimated in the hundreds of thousands—have declined considerably over the past several years, leaving less than 3,000 of them in the wild in small, isolated populations in the Northern Territory and Kimberley regions of Western Australia.

Eco-System Threatened

Fires are the primary threat to natural populations of these stunning birds. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the fact that their entire ecosystem is "under threat" has led to the creation of the Kija Fire and Feathers Project underway in the Kimberley region of Australia. The WWF is working with Kija Rangers and the Kimberley Land Council to conduct prescribed burning at the beginning of the dry season in an attempt to prevent the spread of late-season fires.

The prescribed burns are guided by the Rangers' reliance on maps that show the breeding and habitat of the Gouldian finches. The WWF has plans to expand the project to other areas in Australia.

Another WWF project designed to better understand the finch population's habitat and identify other breeding areas is the Dampier Peninsula Gouldian Finch Project.

Other Animals Declining

Obviously, the decline of the habitat of the Gouldian finch is an indication that other species are declining in the region as well since healthy grasslands and woodlands are the most important habitats for many other animals across northern Australia. So the prescribed burning may protect the numbers of those animals as well.

Named for Elizabeth Gould

John Gould, a famous 19th-century British ornithologist/bird-artist, thought only one particular bird was beautiful enough to be named after his wife Elizabeth, the Lady Gouldian finch, more commonly known as the Gouldian finch. His wife, who bore him eight children, was an accomplished bird illustrator who remained devoted to her husband until her death.

Had she not succumbed to a type of fever after the birth of her last child, she certainly would have been honored to have such a striking bird named in her honor.

"It was with feelings of the purest affection that I ventured, in the folio edition [Birds of Australia], to dedicate this lovely bird to the memory of my late wife, who for many years laboriously assisted me with her pencil, accompanied me to Australia, and cheerfully interested herself in all my pursuits."

— John Gould


The Gouldian finch needs to drink water several times a day so you will rarely see it far from a water source. They inhabit the edges of thickets and mangroves, as well as grassy plains with few trees in tropical and subtropical regions.

This colorful bird is partly migratory outside the breeding season. Large flocks of them move to more coastal areas, returning inland to breed upon the arrival of the rainy season.

Newly-hatched Gouldian finch chicks.

Newly-hatched Gouldian finch chicks.

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In the wild, the diet of the Gouldian finch during the breeding season consists almost entirely of insects, which are rich in protein. During the rest of the year, however, they feed mainly on grass seeds or sorghum seeds.

Birds in captivity are usually fed fruits and leafy vegetables, along with commercial seed mixes designed specifically for finches.


In captivity, Gouldian finches are fairly quiet birds that don't tolerate being handled by humans very well, although they love interacting with other finches. For this reason, it is best to keep them in pairs or in small flocks. If you want a pet bird that you can handle, the Gouldian finch is not a great choice for you; they rarely ever bond with their owners or caretakers.

But these finches are beautiful and the only noise they make is a slight, persistent peeping sound, which most owners consider quite soothing so they remain a popular pet.

White Gouldian finch and yellow Gouldian finch mutation bred in captivity.

White Gouldian finch and yellow Gouldian finch mutation bred in captivity.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney


Lora Hollings on August 13, 2019:

What incredibly beautiful birds the Gouldian Finch are! I'm sure that Elizabeth, John Gould's wife, would have been deeply honored to have such an awesome bird named after her. Hopefully, their strategy on saving their habitat will be successful and will also help to save other species as well. Thanks Mike and Dorothy for your well researched and well written article on these amazing birds. I really enjoyed it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 13, 2019:

The Gouldian finch is so colorful and beautiful. I hope they do not become extinct. It seems like we hear that story much too often anymore. I never saw a picture of them before, but I like learning about them. This is a very good article about these birds whose numbers have declined so significantly.

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on August 13, 2019:

Never heard of this bird before. Thank you for sharing!

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