Description and appearance
The Black-throated Finch is a small (to 12cm), sleek and stocky bird with a grey head, thick black bill, cinnamon-brown body and a conspicuous black bib on its throat. There are two subspecies; the northern (Poephila cincta atropygialis) and southern (Poephila cincta cincta). The two subspecies can be distinguished by the colour of their rump. The northern subspecies is black from the lower back to the tip of its tail. In the southern subspecies the black is broken by a white patch on the rump.
Both subspecies occur in the Burdekin Dry Tropics region and are believed to intergrade around the Atherton Tablelands (Burdekin-Lynd Divide, north Queensland).
The northern subspecies extends north to Cape York Peninsula and west to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The southern subspecies formerly occurred from north-east New South Wales to the Atherton Tablelands (north Queensland) and west to central Queensland. However, since the late 1970s the southern subspecies has rarely been recorded south of Clermont or Aramac (Queensland – 23°S).
This equates to a 50 per cent to 80 per cent contraction in its former range and the southern subspecies is now listed as endangered at the national level and in New South Wales, and vulnerable in Queensland. Black-throated Finches are most frequently seen in lightly grassed open woodlands close to water where they spend most of their day feeding on the fallen seed of grasses and herbaceous plants, and occasionally insects. The Black-throated Finch is a social bird and adult male–female pairs form strong bonds – the members of a pair are rarely seen apart. The Black-throated Finch forms loose flocks for at least part of the year, usually 10-30 individuals; although in a few areas congregations of 60 or more are still seen. Black-throated Finches mostly form communal nesting sites, with multiple nests occurring in a small area.
The decline in the southern subspecies is thought to be due to a combination of overgrazing (domesticated and non-domesticated herbivores) and drought. Illegal trapping is an ongoing threat in some areas and has probably led to the loss of some local populations. As the Black-throated Finch does not occur in built-up areas, urban sprawl is an increasing threat. The Black-throated Finch Recovery Team is working with all levels of Government and interest groups such as NQ Dry Tropics to improve the conservation of the species.
Nests are used for breeding and roosting, and the birds return each night to roost. Both adults in a pair engage in the construction of bottle-shaped nests of woven grass. The nests may be built in the outer branches of trees and tall shrubs, in tree-hollows, in mistletoes, and the base of raptor nests.
The timing and duration of the breeding season appears to depend on food resources and therefore varies according to rainfall patterns and site-specific circumstances. Under optimal conditions the species can breed continuously throughout the year but in the Burdekin Dry Tropics region most breeding occurs in the first half of the year. Usually five or six eggs are laid at one time and juveniles remain with their parents for a few months after fledging.
Daily movements appear to be influenced by season, with shorter, localised movements during the breeding season and longer excursions during the non-breeding season. Some populations are known to migrate up to three kilometres between breeding and non-breeding areas.