Wednesday, April 13, 2011

South-west Endemics Part 1: Red-eared Firetail

The Red-eared Firetail is an attractive finch endemic to the southwest of WA. As there is only one native firetail in the region, many locals tend to just call them “Firetails” or “Firetail Finches”. The Red-browed Finch, which also has a fiery tail, is present in some Perth hills locations and has established a self-sustaining population from aviary escapees at least 50 years ago [1]. So they are tickable too!

Adult Red-eared Firetail.

Firetails are found in near coastal and coastal zones from the Perth to Cape Arid but are most common in the forested areas of the lower Darling Scarp, Warren region, and sand dune heaths on the South Coast from Walpole to Bremer Bay. They are also found in small numbers in the Perth hills (upper Darling Scarp), and used to reside on the Swan Coastal Plain, but are now absent from this area after extensive clearing of suitable habitat [1]. They occur in a variety of habitats but generally prefer thick vegetation along creeks and streams, dense heaths on coastal dunes, paperbarks, and gardens with thick bushes interspersed with grass.

Immature Red-eared Firetail at Denmark.

Red-eared Firetails have been described as “the most solitary of the Australian grass finches” and they generally remain sedentary as mated pairs within a small territory of only 100-200 metres [2]. This solitary habit, combined with their shy nature and dense habitat, means they can be difficult to find even when present. One survey [3] found that the use of call playback allowed their detection in many jarrah forest gullies where they were otherwise invisible. So, while they have always been uncommon (especially in the northern jarrah forest), it is thought their population remains stable and continuous across their range, thus they are one of those few species to have actually been downgraded to a status of ‘least concern’.

Red-eared Firetail at Denmark.

Some southwest hotspots for Red-eared Firetail include:  Albany (Ellen Cove Boardwalk, Little Grove, Lake Seppings (teatree thickets north of carpark), and beach dunes at Two Peoples Bay), Cheynes Beach, Bridgetown (Blackwood River), Denmark (Little River area), Dunsborough (Cape Naturaliste), Manjimup (Fonty’s Pool and Smiths Brook Reserve).

They are common in Dwellingup (Lane Poole Reserve at Nanga, Scarp Pool and generally along the Murray River) and Serpentine Falls (teatree thickets below the falls). If you can’t get that far from Perth they are in the Perth hills but are less common and can be hard to find. They are seen regularly at Ellis Brook (below the falls), Victoria Reservoir (lawn area below the dam wall), Bickley Brook (east of Hardinge Road on the heritage trail), and Wungong Gorge (in the orchard well west of the toilets at recreation lake or further west along the brook).

Close to Perth they can be particularly hard to find and it is best to listen for their calls, though sometimes they are seen feeding in the open on the grass at Victoria Reservoir. Victoria Reservoir is also a great spot to find the Red-browed Finch, also Schipp Rd in Kalamunda and Carmel Rose Gardens (which also occasionally has Red-eared Firetails). Red-broweds are also found at Bickley Brook and Ellis Brook, although they are less common than the Red-eared Firetails.

Red-browed Finch, an introduced species from the east coast that has estalished a self-sustaining wild population in the Perth hills.

[1] Serventy, D.L. and Whittell, H.M. (1948) A Handbook of the Birds of Western Australia (with the exception of the Kimberley Division). Patersons Press Ltd, Perth, WA, 1948.
[2] Frith HJ (Ed) Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. Reader’s Digest Services, Sydney NSW, 1983.
[3] Nichols OG, Watkins D & Kabay ED (1982). The Distribution of the Red-Eared Firetail Emblema oculata in Relation to Bauxite Mining in the Northern Jarrah Forest. Emu 82(3): 169-172


  1. They are magnificent. Fairly common down around Albany on the walk between Middleton Beach and the old light house building

  2. These are also very visible at the Lavender and Berry Farm in Pemberton.

  3. I Have four or five of these delightful little birds visiting my garden, I live just south of Margaret River

  4. The Bickley Brook population has increased over the years and it isn't a far walk to see them from the picnic area. My Bickley surveys have them sighted at 85%. Surveys done between 2000 and 2012.

  5. I have 6 of these special little birds that come to our bird feeders, they have been coming to our property in Chapman Hill, Busselton for over 20 years. They have such a placid nature and we are so very privileged to have them around our home.

  6. Just spotted one of these in our garden in Dunsborough. We have been here for 20 years and that is the first time I have seen one of these beautiful little birds.

  7. We had two of these little fellows in our bird bath this afternoon. We're at Argyle between Donnybrook and Boyanup.

  8. Heard an unusual call and later saw for the first time, one leaving our front garden at Prevelly
    I guess it was feeding on the coastal sword sedge we have growing in the shrubbery. Now I can match the call to the bird I hope to hear it there again :)

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