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Star Finch Neochmia ruficauda
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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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).

Taxonomic source(s)
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.

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.

Distribution and population
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).

Population justification
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.

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.

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 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.

Garnett, S. T.; Crowley, G. M. 2000. The action plan for Australian birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra.

Garnett, S.T., Szabo, J.K. and Dutson, G. 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Todd, M. K.; Felton, A.; Garnett, S. T. 2003. Morphological and dietary differences between common and uncommon subspecies of Crimson Finch, Neochmia phaeton, and Star Finch, Neochmia ruficauda, in northern Australia. Emu 103: 141-148.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Garnett, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Freeman, A., Garnett, S., Holmes, T., Todd, M.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Neochmia ruficauda. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

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Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Star finch (Neochmia ruficauda)

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Estrildidae (Waxbills, grass finches, munias and allies)
Species name author (Gould, 1837)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,230,000 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species