Of these four Australian beauties, the commonest is the hardy, well-mannered ZEBRA FINCH (upper pair, male right). Rarer in America is the DIAMOND FINCH (center). The showy RED-FACED GOULDIAN FINCH (male and female, left-hand pair) and the BLACK-FACED GOULDIAN (female below male, lower right), long considered distinct, are now known to be merely color varieties of one species. They are not easily acclimated in colder places. Paler purple on the breast distinguishes the females from their mates.
By Alexander Wetmore
Originally appeared in the December 1938 issue of the National Geographic Magazine
This Web version COPYRIGHT 2004
Of all the Australian weavers the most attractive are the Gouldian finches (Poephila gouldiae), named by the English naturalist John Gould for his wife, in recognition of her long assistance to him in illustrating his books on birds.
Viewed in the abstract, a combination color pattern composed of brilliant yellow, purple, black, red, and green can only impress the color-conscious person as gaudy. That this may not necessarily be true is shown by the trim form of the Gouldian finch, which, dressed in these identical colors, is beautiful and pleasing (Color Plate VI).
These small birds, an attraction in any aviary, are natives of northern Australia. Their nests are the usual globular structures of grass, suspended in trees or bushes except when the birds elect to nest in holes of trees. The eggs are white.
Gouldian finches breed readily in captivity, and many are reared for sale. For years it was supposed that the birds with black faces and those with red were distinct, while a third kind with orange head was also recognized. Breeders find, however, that the three are merely color variations. and that all belong to the same species. Even the sexes cannot always be distinguished with certainty, as the breasts are lighter in young males, and some females are as bright as the brilliant males.
The young, when in the nest, have curious mouth tubercles, light in color, the reason for which is not entirely certain. However, as they show plainly in scanty light they may be of help in directing the parents toward the open mouths of the young in feeding.
As Gouldian finches live in nature in a mild climate, they are delicate in captivity and need protection from drafts and cold. In England they become acclimated so that they live outdoors in summer and under these conditions breed freely. It is difficult, however, to accustom them to any degree of cold.