The Diamond Firetail Finch

Diamond Firetail8,11,13,14,22,23,30,31,32,34,35,37,40, 41
Emblema guttata or Stagonopleura guttata,
previously Zonaeginthus guttatus
Diamond Firetail
Grassfinch
Hardiness:Hardy
Reproduction:Medium difficulty
Singing ability:Poor
Compatibility:Aggressive, may mix well with other aggressive species
[Compatibility Chart]
Size:4.5-4.75" (11.5-12 cm)
Weight:18 grams
Approx. cost:$60-120 (US) per bird


Other common names

Diamond Firetailed Finch, Diamond Sparrow (misnomer), Diamond Fire-tail, Diamond Finch, Spotted-sided Finch, Spot-sided Finch

Origin

Australia

Area of distribution

Eastern Australia: from southern Eyre Peninsula and Kangaroo Island in South Australia through most of Victoria and eastern New South Wales, north to Carnarvon in Queensland.

Distribution


Wild populations seem to have been in decline since the 1960's due largely to habitat destruction.

Disposition

Bold and assertive. Individuals vary in how aggressive they are, giving the species an unpredictable temperament. Diamond Firetails tend to become particularly aggressive while breeding, especially towards closely-related Australian finch species such as zebra finches, owl finches, and shaft-tail finches. Although they may be generally suitable to keep in a mixed collection, troublesome individuals may need to be removed from the enclosure. Diamond firetails may steal the nests of other finches to roost in and thus disrupt breeding activity.

Physical descriptions

Silvery grey head with black lores, white chin and throat, red eye rings, and maroon beak. The back and wings are deep grey-brown, the rump crimson, the tail black. The chest has a black band across it, the flanking is black with white dots, the belly is white, and the legs are dark grey. The juvenile looks like a grey-brown or dull version of the adult and has a black bill, flanks barred grey and white, and a bright red rump.

Mutations include:
  • Fawn (where the dark brown-grey areas of the bird are replaced with a soft brown, and the black feathers become dark brown) - sex linked recessive
  • Orange-billed or "Yellow" (where the bird has an orange bill, orange rump, and orange eye ring) - autosomal recessive
  • Isabel (black and red markings remain intact, but the bird otherwise becomes diluted so the head is a pale silver and the back is a grey-brown) - sex-linked
  • Pastel (the red markings remain vibrant, but the black markings become a pale grey, the tail and head white and the back becomes off-white) - autosomal recessive
  • Pied (bird has random splashes of white feathering)


Fawn Diamond Firetail
Fawn diamond firetail. Photo by Ornitologia Lodato.


Sexing

When comparing the sexes while in breeding condition, hens may have lores which are thinner and greyer or duller, a paler/less prominent eye-ring, a lighter-colored bill (the cock's becomes more plum-colored when he is in breeding condition), and sometimes a thinner breast-band, though this may be unreliable. The cock usually has a small stripe of white feathers just above the black lore which the hen lacks, and may have more white on his face. The hen may have a lighter rump (bright red compared to the cock's blood red rump) and have a smaller (more rounded & narrow) skull when compared to the cock (his skull is wider and flatter), but the most reliable method of sexing is that the cock will sing and perform a courtship display using a blade of grass.

Diamond Firetails
Hen on left, cock on right. Photo by Patricia Stockebrand.


Song

The cock's song consists of a series of very low-pitched buzzing or raspy calls.

Pictures

If you keep this species and have a photo of your birds to share, please submit your photo for possible inclusion on this site! Credit will be given to you.

Diamond Firetail
Photo by David Jenkins


Diamond Firetail
Photo by David Jenkins


Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail

Diamond Firetail
Photo by David Cook


Diamond Firetail
Juvenile. Photo by David Cook


Diamond Firetails
Fledglings. Photo by David Jenkins


Favorite foods

Greenfood (e.g. dandelion), white & Japanese millet, live food (e.g. ant pupae, mealworms, termites, fruit flies), sprouted seed, egg food.

Natural habitat

Open eucalypt forest with grassland, lightly wooded savannah or acacia scrub, mallee, open country, parks, gardens, cultivated areas, suburban fringes, riparian areas (near creeks or rivers).

Habits

Pair bonds are strong and mated pairs often remain together for life. Outside of the mating season, these finches form loose groups of up to 30 birds and may join flocks of mixed species. Pairs breed in a colony fashion. Wild Diamond Firetails build bulky nests using blades of grass, seed heads, and roots; the location of the nest is often in mistletoe bunches, bushes, eucalyptus trees, acacias, and occasionally in the lower portions of the stick-nests created by birds of prey. The inside of the nest is lined with plant silks and feathers.

Diamond Firetails roost communally in a nest at night, and should always have nesting material available to build roosting structures. The roosting nest is sometimes constructed with two entrance tunnels. Because they enjoy hopping on the ground, their enclosure should include a large, open floor space. They feed on the ground on grass seeds, green vegetation, and occasionally insects.

Diamond Firetails have a special method of drinking. Contrary to popular belief, this is not accomplished by "sucking" the water. Rather, the way a diamond firetail drinks is by tipping its bill down into water, then while the bill is immersed, using the tongue to 'scoop' water into the pharynx where the front of the larynx then immediately forces the water into the esophagus; peristalsis of the esophagus then transports the water to the crop. Using this method, they imbibe water quickly and spend less time being vulnerable to predators at water holes; additionally, their method allows them to exploit small volumes of water such as dew drops as well as draw water up vertically from otherwise difficult to access sources.

Diamond Firetail drinking
Photo by David Jenkins


Special considerations

If housed in a cage, Diamond Firetail finches become inactive and are prone to obesity. Providing a large enclosure designed to maximize exercise and feeding an austerity diet when not breeding will help to prevent this. Life expectancy in captivity is 5 years on average, but can approach 10 years. Although robust, Diamond Firetails should not be subjected to prolonged low temperatures (below 41-54°F or 5-12°C), especially while breeding. Wintering birds indoors in cooler climates is recommended. The enclosure should be sheltered from cold winds and heavy rains, and kept dry--the floor should not be allowed to stay damp to prevent illness.

Diamond Firetails are prone to developing fungal infections such as Aspergillosis, and can become ill if fed half-ripe grass seed from seedheads infected with Ergot or Rust. Due to their ground-feeding and insectivorous habits, Diamond Firetails are prone to intestinal parasites (e.g. roundworms, tapeworms) and may need regular deworming. They are also prone to infections with mycoplasma. A sudden increase in green food or providing stale food may result in enteritis. If birds are overcrowded, they may become prone to feather plucking; damaged feathers may regrow as white.

Diamond Firetails have reportedly hybridized with a number of species including: pin-tailed parrotfinch (Erythrura prasina), pictorella munia (Heteromunia pectoralis), Bengalese munia (Lonchura acuticauda), society finch (L. domestica), white-rumped munia (L. striata), crimson finch (Neochmia phaeton), java sparrow (Padda oryzivora), shaft-tail finch (Poephila acuticauda), owl finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii), and zebra finch (T. guttata), so take care to prevent cross-breeding if housing these species together.

Breeding season

August to January (Southern Hemisphere's spring & summer) in the wild. Some pairs have been reported to breed nearly year-round if conditions are favorable, only ceasing in June and July (Southern Hemisphere's winter).

In captivity, spring-summer (warm weather) breeding is recommended.

Breeding tips

Diamond Firetails form a life-long, monogamous bond. Male-female pairs will not breed unless they are compatible. The best way to ensure a compatible pair is to house a group of individuals together, and allow the birds to choose their own mates. This practice is most successful using juveniles who have not yet completed their molt into adult colors, since diamond firetails tend to pair bond at a young age. Bonded birds will preen each other, roost together, and eat together. If pairing young birds, wait until they are ideally a year old before permitting them to breed. Birds aged 1 to 4 years are best suited for breeding.

A full breeding diet should be started about 1 month prior to breeding. Pairs may be bred in a colony fashion if they are housed in a very large, well-planted aviary (where arrangement of plants permits flight paths and open floor space); otherwise, each pair will need to be bred in its own large flight cage. Diamond firetails are unlikely to breed in a smaller cage.

A male will court a female by holding a long, stiff piece of grass in his bill while fluffing out his spotted flank feathers, standing up straight with neck stretched up and head pointing down to the chest, and bobbing up-and-down on a perch. He will sing, and if the hen approaches, he may mimic the begging posture of fledglings by bowing low, turning his head toward her, and opening his beak. Copulation usually occurs in the privacy of the nest.

Diamond Firetail with nest token
Holding a nest token.


Pairs may be able to use a large nest box, however, due to the bulky nature of their nests, they are more likely to successfully build in a shrub or clump of dried brush. The brush can be stuffed into a large wire basket or directly affixed to the wall of the enclosure. Most pairs prefer to nest high in the enclosure. Make sure all nest sites provided are secure since the nests are heavy, and located under cover which adequately protects from rain. Nests should be secluded with dense cover to provide pairs with a sense of security. Provide coconut fiber, long blades of fresh grass, soft grasses, and white chicken feathers for nesting material. Ensure a hefty supply of nesting material since diamond firetails use copious amounts and will typically build roosting nests in addition to the breeding nest.

Both sexes share incubation, and both will roost in the nest at night. It is not uncommon for pairs to continue adding material to the nest even after incubation has begun. Chicks hatch flesh colored but gradually darken as they age. Some pairs will create a second entrance to their nest once their chicks have hatched; this is thought to act as an "emergency exit." Provide soaked seed, sprouted seed, and egg food for rearing purposes. Half-ripe seed will also be appreciated if available. Live food is not necessary, but may increase the odds of successful breeding if it is provided. Both sexes will feed the chicks; begging becomes audible around day 7. The young are brooded until they are 10 days of age.

Because Diamond Firetails are intolerant of nest inspection, avoid nest checks (which can lead to the parents abandoning their eggs or young). If the breeding pair is domesticated enough and will permit it, young can be close banded at 6 days of age. If foster parents are needed, society finches and possibly zebra finches can be used.

Once the young are weaned (3 weeks after fledging), they should be moved to their own enclosure to prevent the father from acting aggressively toward them in defense of the nest. Pairs typically raise 3 broods a year. In the non-breeding period, diamond firetails should be fed an austerity diet (consisting primarily of dry seed and a small quantity of daily greens); additionally, males and females should ideally be separated.

Life Cycle

Clutch size:4-8 eggs
Incubation date:After the 3rd egg is laid
Hatch date:After 13-14 days of incubation
Fledge date:At 21-26 days of age
Wean date:2-3 weeks after fledging
Begin molt:Around 4 weeks of age
Finish molt:Around 12 weeks of age


Related Article(s)

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Diamond Firetail Finches

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