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Blue-faced Parrot Finch
Photo courtesy of Lochman Transparencies.
Range and abundance
In Australia, the Blue-faced Parrot-finch is restricted to high rainfall, coastal north Queensland, between Tully and Cooktown, with occasional sightings from northern Cape York Peninsula. It is most often observed at relatively high altitudes on the tablelands and mountains which form part of the Great Dividing Range. The Blue-faced Parrot Finch is considered to be relatively common within its narrow range, but population estimates are difficult because of its elusive habits. However, the species is regularly seen at particular sites that are well-known by local bird enthusiasts, notably the site on Brooklyn.
Outside Australia, the Blue-faced Parrot Finch occurs across eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and the South-west Pacific. In these locations and Queensland, it is associated with grasses on the rainforest edge. The Queensland population is considered a distinct subspecies (E. t. macgillivrayii).
Adult birds are 11-12 cm in length, with a grassy green body (slightly darker above), a bright blue mask around the eyes, extending over the top of the head, and a red rump and central tail feathers. Males are the brightest – the females have similar colouration but are duller.
The Blue-faced Parrot Finch prefers grasslands edged by rainforest; they often perch on low woody shrubs whilst feeding. Since much of their native habitat is now disturbed or cleared, they are often observed eating the seeds of introduced grasses such as Signal Grass (Brachiariadecumbens)and Guinea or Hamil Grass (Megathyrsus maximus). Very little is known about their preferences for native food-plants, although they are known to eat the seeds of Sarsparilla (Alphitonia petrei) and Native Lasiandra (Melastoma spp.), and have been observed feeding on fruits and seeds within rainforest where they are much less visible.
Birds are usually seen either in pairs (especially during the breeding season in February-March), or in small groups of about 10. Very occasionally they have been reported in larger flocks of up to 70 birds. Nests are a pear-shaped dome, in lower branches of trees and shrubs, often with prominent mosses and vine tendrils in the construction.
The causes of rarity of the Blue-faced Parrot Finch continue to be puzzling given the abundance of introduced grasses. Their preference for using grasslands at the edge of rainforest may put them at risk if these areas are all allowed to progress to rainforest due to lack of fire (as is the case across much of lowland Wet Tropics).
What is AWC doing?
AWC currently protects the site at Mount Lewis on Brooklyn where the Blue-faced Parrot Finch is regularly observed, and maintains the site as a grassland. More generally, AWC uses fire to maintain grassy wet sclerophyll forest along the edge of rainforest on Brooklyn. Across much of the wet tropics, lack of fire has seen the ‘capture’ of grassy forests by rainforest plants, causing a loss of habitat for grassland specialists.