Friday, September 30, 2011

The Rainbow That Can Fly

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There is something about the Rainbow Finch
 that makes it look like an animal made up, using Photoshop.
 The colors seem too bright to be real and each garish hue
ends abruptly to be replaced by one equally as
preposterous for a wild animal.

Found in Australia, there are only around
 two thousand of them left in the wild.
Although conservation attempts are ongoing, the
question is whether or not this beautiful species will
join the ranks of those who only survive in captivity.

The history of the Rainbow (or Gouldian) Finch is almost
as interesting as its plumage. It was discovered by the Ornithologist
John Gould who named the finch after his wife rather than himself.
First called the Lady Gouldian Finch, the lady part of the name
has been largely dropped, possibly because it was something
of a mouthful, but most likely because Mrs Gould was no Lady
(this is a reflection on her lack of title rather than her personal behavior).
Gould himself is largely forgotten outside of ornithology circles and Australia,
 where he discovered the Finch in 1840. This is a shame as without him we
would not have had the concept of ‘Darwin’s Finches’ from the Galapagos.
 Darwin himself thought that the specimens he collected were variants of
other species (albeit including the finch). It was Gould who classified the
twelve distinct new species that formed a new finch group.

Gould’s Finch is found in the north of Australia.
Their preferred habitats are those places with open
plains with tall trees and it must be close to water.
Even in captivity their water must be changed each day.

The reasons for the decline in the wild of this gorgeous species are manifold.
Certainly we are partly to blame as much of their habitat has been altered
and thereby reduced by humans. A mite parasite has also had damaging effect
on their population as has their general susceptibility to disease.
They are also not the kind of species that can blend in easily and it is thought
 that their plumage attracts the attention of predators somewhat more than
 it would if they were plain creatures. Finally, the increasing amount of fires in
the parts of Australia that they frequent has also had an impact â€"
 some say the largest â€" on their numbers.

Although reintroduction programs have been introduced in to areas
 where they have ceased to be present they have so far proven
to be unsuccessful. The program continues however â€" although the natural
pessimism of many points towards the fact that once an ecosystem shifts
due to the absence of a species it is extraordinarily difficult for
 that species to be reintroduced.

Some good news, in a way. There are no numbers recorded to suggest how many
 Rainbow (also known as Gouldian) Finches exist in captivity but it is very probably
in the hundreds of thousands. It is a hugely popular pet â€" because its unique plumage,
but it would be a shame if this stunning bird’s existence in the future relied purely
 on it being kept in cages.

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