Neochmia ruficauda 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Passeriformes Estrildidae

Scientific Name: Neochmia ruficauda
Species Authority: (Gould, 1837)
Common Name(s):
English Star Finch
Taxonomic Source(s): Christidis, L. and Boles, W.E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Identification information: 11.5 cm. Small, compact finch with rounded head and slender bill. Moderately long tail with rounded tip. The nominate subspecies ruficauda is a plain olivey brown with a pale belly. It has a red face and bill and is spotted white on the face, breast and flanks. The tail is reddish brown dotted white on the uppertail coverts. Subspecies subclarescens is similar but the base colour is a brighter olive-green fading to yellow on the belly. The spots are also much smaller, about 50% of the size of those of ruficauda. Juveniles are mostly plain brown with a rusty tail and dark bill. Similar spp. Not easily confused with other finches.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Freeman, A., Garnett, S., Holmes, T. & Todd, M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Garnett, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J.
This species has been downlisted to Least Concern because although its population may be declining slowly (and the nominate subspecies may now be extinct), several large and apparently stable populations remain and it is therefore no longer reasonable to suspect a moderately rapid reduction in the overall population. The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure), and the species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation).

Previously published Red List assessments:
2008 Near Threatened (NT)
2007 Near Threatened (NT)
2004 Near Threatened (NT)
2000 Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
1996 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Vulnerable (VU)
1988 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Neochmia ruficauda is endemic to Australia. Subspecies subclarescens occurs in three separate sub-populations, from Pilbara, Fitzroy River Valley and Gibb River, Western Australia to the Northern Territory/Queensland border. It may number 200,000 individuals, and may be declining in density, particularly in the east of its range. However, the subspecies remains common in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory and at Kununurra in association with the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, with no evidence of decline in these areas (Garnett et al. 2011). It is patchily distributed in the Pilbara and the lower Fitzroy River valley. Subspecies clarescens has a stable population of c.3,500 individuals located on the Cape York Peninsula and is suspected to be stable (Garnett et al. 2011). Subspecies ruficauda probably numbers less than 50 individuals and may be extinct, with the last reliable sighting c.1994 (S. Garnett in litt. 2006, Garnett et al. 2011).

Countries occurrence:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO): Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO): No
Estimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2: 1230000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO): Yes
Extreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO): No
Number of Locations: 11-100
Continuing decline in number of locations: Yes
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations: No
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The eastern subspecies ruficauda may be extinct, and surveys of clarescens (confined to Cape York) estimated the population to number c.3,500 individuals (Garnett et al. 2011), however subclarescens is very common at Kununurra in association with the Ord River Irrigation Scheme and moderately common in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory (Garnett and Crowley 2000). Therefore, the global population has been crudely estimated at c. 200,000 individuals.

Trend Justification:  On-going declines are thought to have slowed (and may have stabilised). Subspecies ruficauda is possibly extinct following historic declines but recent surveys suggest clarescens is stable in Cape York. Subspecies subclarescens is thought to be relatively stable as its habitat is protected by seasonal rains (S. Garnett in litt. 2006), but may be declining in the east of its range. Based on this information, the species is estimated to be declining slowly.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals: Yes
Extreme fluctuations: No Population severely fragmented: Yes
No. of subpopulations: 2-100 Continuing decline in subpopulations: Yes
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations: No All individuals in one subpopulation: No
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation: 1-89

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Principally inhabits low, dense, damp grasslands and sedgelands bordering estuarine areas, watercourses, swamps and other freshwater-bodies. Also found in grassy, open savanna type sclerophyll woodland. It probably survives in towns and irrigated areas because seeding, weedy grasses are not grazed. Patterns of burning during the year may be important during the wet season when fallen seed is in short supply, and where these patterns have been altered, subclarescens and clarescens may be less able to survive. It is granivorous, typically foraging in vegetation just off the ground. It often feeds on the ground, almost entirely so in the dry season (M. Todd in litt. 2007). The species forms large flocks but is sedentary or resident with some local dispersal.

Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat: Yes
Generation Length (years): 3
Movement patterns: Not a Migrant
Congregatory: Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The overgrazing of grasslands near water by livestock is probably the principal threat to subclarescens, removing essential cover, as well as sources of food. Selective grazing of perennials during the dry season may also remove grasses that are needed for survival during the wet season. While livestock damage habitats through trampling and grazing, they are naturally excluded from some nesting sites in the north by seasonal flooding. Subspecies ruficauda disappeared before the process of decline could be described. The grasslands occupied by clarescens are also being invaded by woody weeds (such as Melaleuca species [S. Garnett in litt. 2006]) at a rate of c.10% per decade, probably also due to cattle grazing and altered fire regimes (Todd et al. 2003). These processes could potentially increase in the future, threatening this subspecies's disjunct populations (T. Holmes in litt. 2006). Sea-level rise across northern Australia, as predicted for the next 30 years, will result in the inundation of coastal refuges used by some populations early in the wet season, including three sites used by clarescens (S. Garnett in litt. 2006). Depending on the extent of sea-level rise some populations abutting estuarine areas may even be at risk of extinction. Subsistence trade in cage birds may have occurred in the past or be continuing at low levels.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
Surveys were conducted to estimate the population and trends of the eastern subspecies clarescens. An understanding of the natural fire regime is being built up. All three subspecies are listed separately in the Action Plan for Australian Birds: ruficauda as possibly extinct, clarescens as endangered and subclarescens as near threatened.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Determine whether subspecies ruficauda remains extant. Monitor remaining populations in order to detect trends. Manage key sites by maintaining natural fire regimes and preventing overgrazing, which together lead to invasion of grasslands by alien invasive plants and a loss of native seed diversity.

Citation: BirdLife International. 2012. Neochmia ruficauda. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22719673A38411323. . Downloaded on 26 November 2015.
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