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A photo of a Painted Finch (Emblema pictum)
Painted Finch

Painted Finch

Emblema pictum

The Painted Finch, Emblema pictum, is a diminutive and vibrant estrildid finch endemic to Australia. It is distinguished by its striking red and white spotted underparts, which have inspired its name. The males boast a vivid red forehead and face, contrasting sharply with their black breast, adorned with a central red patch. The sides of the breast, belly, and flanks are black with white spots, while the upper body and wings are a warm reddish-brown. The rump and uppertail coverts are predominantly red, becoming particularly noticeable during flight. The species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females displaying a more subdued red on the face and underparts.

Identification Tips

Males can be identified by their black upper mandible with a red tip and a lower mandible that is mostly red with light blue-grey patches at the base. Females have similar bill coloration but with less red on the upper mandible. Both sexes have cream or off-white irises and legs that range from dark brown to pinkish. Juveniles resemble females but lack the red facial coloration and have a black bill that lightens to pinkish on the lower part.

Habitat

The Painted Finch favors arid and semi-arid zones, particularly rocky areas with a ground cover of spinifex grass.

Distribution

This species is widespread across Western Australia, Northern Australia, Queensland, and South Australia. Notably, there have been recent expansions into western New South Wales, where a resident population is now thought to be established.

Behaviour

Painted Finches are typically seen in pairs or small flocks, though larger gatherings of up to 100 individuals may occur near water sources, often mingling with other finch species and honeyeaters. They are less vocal than other Australian grassfinches, but their calls are among the loudest and harshest of the group. Males may sing a loud wheezing and chattering song when alone, and females emit a rattling call in response to danger near the nest.

Song & Calls

The contact calls of the Painted Finch are described as trut, chek-chek, or ced up, cheddy-up. The male's song is a loud wheezing and chattering, while the female's alarm call is a rattling sound.

Breeding

Painted Finches are monogamous and may breed at almost any time of year if conditions are favorable. Courtship often involves ground displays with twigs and a greeting display where the male sings to the female, raising its body feathers and pivoting its head. Nests are typically well-concealed in spinifex grass or natural cavities and are constructed from grass stems, twigs, or rootlets, lined with soft materials. Females lay 3 to 5 oval white eggs, which are incubated by both parents.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet primarily consists of grass seeds, particularly from spinifex species, and occasionally fruit and grass blades. They forage on the ground, adeptly hopping among rocks and grass tussocks to glean fallen seeds. While captive birds have been observed feeding on insects, this behavior has not been recorded in the wild.

Conservation status

The Painted Finch is currently classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, indicating a stable population without significant threats to its survival.

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