Despite being a highly distinctive species with striking plumage, the painted finch (Emblema pictum) blends surprisingly well into its surroundings, with its brown upperparts and wings providing camouflage when feeding on the ground (3).
The male painted finch has a conspicuous red forehead and face (2) (3), contrasting starkly with the black breast (2). A jagged scarlet line extends down the mid-line of the breast and belly, while the sides of the breast, belly and flanks are black and marked with white spots and bars (2) (3). These spots and bars are larger on the flanks than on the breast (2). The painted finch’s tail is deep brown above and a dark brownish-grey below (3). The rump and uppertail-coverts of the male painted finch are rich scarlet, and highly conspicuous when the bird is in flight, while the undertail-coverts are black (2) (3).
The painted finch has a long, slender, pointed bill (2) (3), which in the male is black above with a red tip, and red below with a whitish to pale bluish base. The eyes are dark brown, often with a whitish outer rim and a grey eye ring, while the legs are fleshy pink (2).
The adult female painted finch looks much like the adult male, although the red colouration of the face is duller and is restricted to the lores, cheeks and the stripe above the eye (2) (3). The jagged red stripe down the centre of the belly and breast is also less extensive, while the underparts are generally a duller brownish-black and more obviously spotted (3). The red on the upper part of the female’s bill is restricted to the tip (2). The juvenile painted finch is similar in appearance to the adult female, but its upperparts are duller and browner, it lacks the red colouration on its face, and it has mottled spots on the sides of the breast and flanks (2) (3). It has a black bill, which becomes paler, almost pinkish, on the lower part (2), and its eyes are grey-brown (3).
Despite the painted finch being generally less vocal than other Australian grassfinches, its calls are among the loudest and harshest of this species group (3). Its contact calls have been described as being scratchy and staccato (3), and sound like ‘trut, chek-chek’ or ‘ced up, cheddy-up’ (2). The painted finch’s song is given by the male during courtship and also when alone (3), and has a wheezy, chattering quality (2). In response to danger near the nest site, the female painted finch emits a rattling call (3).
- Also known as
- emblema finch, mountain-finch, painted firetail, painted firetail finch, painted grassfinch.
- Length: 11 cm (2) (3)
- 9.6 - 13 g (2) (3)
Painted finch biology
Generally a resident species (2) (3), the painted finch usually only moves large distances during years of exceptional inland rain, when it may disperse hundreds of kilometres south of its usual range (2).
Foraging in pairs or in small flocks, the painted finch spends much time on the ground (2), searching for grass seeds, particularly spinifex grass seeds, which it gleans from among grass tussocks or rocks with its long, pointed bill. The painted finch occasionally also eats fruit or blades of grass (2) (3).
Breeding in the painted finch occurs at almost any time of the year (2), although the exact timing is influenced by rainfall and depends on the location. Courtship usually occurs on the ground, and either involves both sexes picking up twigs or other items and dropping them, or a greeting display. The greeting display involves the male painted finch raising its body feathers and singing to the female while regularly pivoting its head from side to side (2) (3).
Before nest building begins, a poorly constructed platform of small stones, clods of earth, bark and twigs is laid on the ground in a well-concealed area or within a clump of spinifex grass (2) (3). The nest is then built on top of this structure, and is a compact ball formed from grass, stems and rootlets, which is lined with soft material such as plant down and hairy seeds (2). The opening of the nest is often decorated with a piece of charcoal (3).
The female painted finch lays a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs (2), which are thought to be incubated for 13 to 14 days by both the male and the female (2) (3). Painted finch chicks hatch naked, with pinkish skin, and do not leave the nest until they are 21 to 25 days old. After this time, the chicks are fed by both adults for a further two weeks, and begin courtship behaviour at ten weeks old (2).
Painted finch range
The painted finch occurs in the arid and semi-arid interior of Australia (2) (4), with its widespread but patchy distribution ranging across western and central Australia, including Western Australia, the Northern Territory, western Queensland and South Australia (2) (3) (4). This species is also found on Depuch, Angel and West Lewis Islands, and is seen occasionally on Barrow Island (3).
Species with a similar range
Painted finch habitat
The painted finch is found in arid and semi-arid zones (2) (3) (4) (5), in rocky areas with a ground cover of spinifex grass (3) (4) (5). This includes rocky outcrops (3), stone deserts, gorges and rocky hills with Acacia scrub and spinifex grasslands, as well as orchards (2). Usually found near a source of water (2) (3), the painted finch is known to occur far inland in dry parts of Australia during times of good water availability (2).
Species found in a similar habitat
Painted finch status
The painted finch is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Painted finch threats
The painted finch has an extremely large range (6), and in the absence of any major threats, this species is not considered to be at risk of extinction (2).
Painted finch conservation
The painted finch is not currently considered to be threatened, and so there are no known conservation measures in place for this species at present.
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- Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- The catching of prey by plucking it from or within foliage.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- The space between a bird’s bill and eyes.
IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2010) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 15: Weavers to New World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Forshaw, J., Shephard, M. and Pridham, A. (2012) Grassfinches in Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B. (1991) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, Connecticut.
Thomas, R., Thomas, S., Andrew, D. and McBride, A. (2011) The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
BirdLife International - Painted finch (October, 2012)