A group of Mitta Valley Land Carers had the pleasure of seeing the Diamond Firetail on a bird walk on Greg Hayes property at Talgarno recently. The walk was lead by David Watson from Charles Sturt University and was organised by Wise Creel Talgarno Landcare Group.
Diamond Firetails are part of the finch family. Their bright scarlet tail feathers and white diamond shaped 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. These small birds measure about 12-13cm in length. 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.
STATUS AND DISTRIBUTION
The conservation status of the Diamond Firetail differs from state to state as their preferred habitat is under threat in some and to a lesser threat 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. However, the scientific world list its existence as vulnerable.
They live in open grassy woodland, heath, and farmland across south-eastern Australia, and they make a bottle shaped nest amongst prickly shrubs and bushes to protect their eggs and chicks from predators. The nest is built from grass and stems and lined with feathers and soft grass. Firetails will sometimes build a nest at the bottom of a bird of prey like a falcon or eagle to provide its new family with a round-the-clock-bodyguard. They are mostly seen in pairs or groups of 4 or 5, feeding together. Although Diamonds Firetails prefer open habitat, they have been seen in urban areas.
Firetails mate for life. The male Firetail doesn’t 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. 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 nest is built from grass and stems and lined with feathers and soft grass. The female lays 4 to 6 eggs which hatch 2 weeks later.
CALL / FLIGHT
The usual contact call is a rather plaintive, drawn out, whistled ‘tioo-whieer’ and slightly higher for the female. The bird’s flight is low with only slight undulations
Submitted by Marie Condon