F is for firetails, of the beautiful, big-boned persuasion. #MelaleucaMiscellany

Firetails Melaleuca

“Dave Watts called us WHAT?!” “Shut up and pass the millet.”

“Says here they’re tubby.”

We are poring over the classic Field Guide to Tasmanian Birds by Dave Watts when the insult comes to light.

“Apparently, they’re a ‘tubby, dark finch with a scarlet bill and rump’…”

“So basically, he’s calling them fat. That’s rude, that is.”

Someone needs to take umbrage on behalf of the beautiful firetails.  Poor little things can’t even read.

The Birds in Backyards website is only marginally more polite, describing them as small and “thick-set”.

Beautiful firetails (Stagonopleura bella) are Tasmania’s only native finch, and while I wouldn’t call them fat, at Melaleuca, they have every opportunity to reach their full potential.  Over the summer breeding period, the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program puts on a lavish seed spread on two separate feed tables, twice daily, ostensibly with the critically endangered orange-bellied parrots in mind.  While many of the parrots do make the most of this all-you-can-eat buffet, they’re not the only birds stuffing their feathery little faces.

Far and away the most common self-selected feed-table guests are beautiful firetails – as finches, seeds are their favoured food.  It’s lucky they’re cute – they’re not backwards in coming forwards for a serve of seeds, and are often observed wiping their bills with great enthusiasm on the edge of the food trays.  The orange-bellied parrots don’t seem to mind them too much – there’s plenty to go around – and perhaps being in a bigger crowd makes everyone feel that little bit safer, should a hungry bird of prey happen to cruise by.


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