Backyard Buddies
Diamond Firetail

Photo: Francesco Veronesi

Diamond Firetail

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Diamond Firetails are part of the finch family and look like they have been coloured in by a 7-year-old. Their bright scarlet tail feathers and white spotty sides make them very distinctive and easy to recognise. In a rare departure from most female birds, female Firetails are not the usual dull brown – they have the same colouring as the males.

They live in open grassy woodland, heath and farmland across south-eastern Australia, and they nest amongst prickly shrubs and bushes to protect their eggs and chicks from predators. If there are no spiky bushes around, the Firetail will sometimes build a nest at the bottom of a larger nest of a bird of prey, like a falcon or eagle, to provide its new family with a round-the-clock bodyguard. The nest is built from grass and stems and lined with feathers and soft grass.

The conservation status of the Diamond Firetail differs from state to state as their preferred habitat is under threat in some areas and to a lesser extent in others.They tend to stay in the same place and do not migrate although when they do travel, it is in flocks. Populations have been shrinking for decades as native predators like the Pied Currawong are increasing in numbers, and their habitat is cleared for agriculture and urban development.

Seeds and fruits are on the menu for Firetails – ripe or partially unripe. They also have the occasional meal of insects and insect larvae. Firetails feed on the ground and will hop around rather than fly in search of food.

The male Firetail doesn’t exactly sing – he makes a low-pitched buzzing especially during the courtship ritual. He catches the attention of the female by bobbing up and down with dried grass in his beak until she notices him then opens his mouth as if he is a chick begging for food. She apparently likes this enough to set up home with him.

Firetails mate for life. They breed from 9 months old and the timing depends on the temperature – they won’t breed if it is very hot or very cold. The female lays 4 to 6 eggs which hatch 2 weeks later.

Although Diamond Firetails prefer open habitat, they have been seen in urban areas. They are mostly seen in pairs or groups of 4 or 5, feeding together.

 

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Photo: OEH