Australian Bush Birds
Long-tailed Finch  -  Poephila acuticauda
Long-tailed Finch
Long-tailed Finch with the characteristic black throat patch, grey head and cinnamon belly. The long, black tapering tail is also visible. The bill is red or yellow depending on location
photograph photograph
Long-tailed Finch on the ground showing the blue-grey head and the more heavily blue cheeks.
map map The Long-tailed Finch - Poephila acuticauda - is a small (14 to 15 centimetres) bird with an obvious black throat patch and a long, black tail. Found only in tropical Australia from the Kimberley through the Top End to north west Queensland, where it is common in savanna grassland, especially in and around eucalyptus trees along waterways. Despite the black throat patch seen here, the Black-throated Finch is a different species.

The head is blue-grey, back and wings are fawn-brown, cheeks are also blue-grey but more blue than the head, there is a broad, short black line from eye to beak. Throat and upper breast are a black throat patch, lower breast and belly are cinnamon-fawn, undertail is white with a black bar extending across the rump onto the lower flanks, eye is brown. Feet are red-orange. The long black tail tapers to a fine point.

Beak is yellow or red depending on locality. Red in western Queensland, red to orange in the Northern Territory and red to yellow in the Kimberley.

Males and females are similar, females have a slightly smaller black throat patch. Immature birds are coloured as adults but with duller colours, they have a black bill and black feet.

Long-tailed Finch - page 2
Long-tailed Finches are highly social forming small sedentary flocks of 10 to 15 pairs. They bob the head up and down a few times when they land and when one bird lands near another it performs more conspicuous bobs and makes a soft cackling sound; this is understood to be an appeasement ritual. At night the birds sleep in pairs in small, round, unlined roost nests high in the foliage.

Lives in open eucalyptus and paperbark woodland near creeks, often around pandanus, never far from water. They eat mainly ripe and half-ripe seeds picked off the ground, occasionally they jump up and pull down spikes of seeds. Sometimes they take flying insects, including termites and ants.

Long-tailed Finches have the strongest pair-bond of Australian finches . Male and female are always together, never more than a metre apart on the ground and nearly as close in flight. When landing in a tree they greet each other with head bobs and cackles followed by mutual preening by mated pairs.

Courtship involves a long dance during which the couple hop around each other among twigs at the top of a tree, bobbing heads, wiping bills and bowing and pivoting. The male selects several possible nest sites on the top of eucalyptus and pandanus and the female decides which one to use. The male brings loose grass from the ground and the female weaves it into the nest which is 20 centimetres long, 13 centimetres high, 11 centimetres wide with a side entrance tunnel 7.5 centimetres long. The nest is lined with down and feathers. Four or five eggs are laid; pure white, oval; about 16 by 12 millimetres. Both parents share incubation and brooding changing over every one or two hours at the entrance to the nest. Incubation lasts 13 days and chicks are brooded for a further nine to 12 days; they are fed regurgitated green seeds and insects. At night the parents sleep in the nest. After they are independent nestlings remain with their parents for another three weeks after fledging.

One pair of Long-tailed Finches can raise up to three broods in a season.