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Finches (Fringillidae)

Finches

(Fringillidae)

Class Aves

Order Passeriformes

Suborder Passeri (Oscines)

Family Fringillidae


Thumbnail description
Small to medium-sized, seed-eating birds with a conical-shaped, pointed beak, a short neck, compact body, and plumage that varies from rather drab to quite colorful, especially in male birds

Size
Body length about 4–10 in (10–25 cm) and weight 0.3–2.1 oz (8–60 g)

Number of genera, species
20 genera; 137 species

Habitat
Forest, shrubland, grassland, agricultural areas, parks, and gardens

Conservation status
Critically Endangered: 1 species; Endangered: 5 species; Vulnerable: 3 species; Near Threatened: 4 species; Conservation Dependent: 1 species; Data Deficient: 2 species; Extinct: 1 species

Distribution
Almost global distribution, except for Madagascar, Australasia, many Pacific Islands, and Antarctica. A few species have been introduced beyond their natural range

Evolution and systematics

The family Fringillidae, or the "true" finches, consists of 20 genera and about 137 species. The family is divided into two subfamilies: the Fringillinae, consisting of three species of chaffinches, and the Carduelinae, comprised of numerous species variously known as bullfinches, canaries, citrils, crossbills, goldfinches, grosbeaks, linnets, rosefinches, seedeaters, serins, and siskins, among other common names. The systematics of the Fringillidae is not, however, entirely settled. Some ornithologists group additional families of birds within a greatly expanded Fringillidae, including the tanagers (Thraupidae), sparrows and buntings (Emberizidae), Hawaiian honeycreepers (Drepanididae), and Galapagos finches (Geospizinae).

Physical characteristics

The species of true finches range in body length from 4–10 in (10–25 cm) and in weight from 0.3–2.1 oz (8–60 g). The shape and structure of the beak can vary enormously within the family, but all are conical-shaped, stout, short, and pointed. The beak is well adapted for holding seeds and removing the outer shell (or seed-coat). The true finches also have rather small outer primaries on their wings, and these are entirely concealed by the wing coverts. Species of fringillids also differ from the emberizid finches (Emberizidae) in that the edges of their mandibles fit closely together all along the length of the beak. Some true finches have a particularly large beak for dealing with relatively large seeds, for example, the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus). Other species have a smaller beak with crossed mandibles adapted for extracting seeds from conifer cones, such as the red crossbill (Loxia curvirostra). Plumage coloration varies widely among species of fringillids. Species may be brown, yellow, grey, orange, or red, and they may be patterned with spots, patches, or streaks. Most species are dimorphic, with males often being more brightly colored than females.

Distribution

Species of true finches occur extremely widely over the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa, being absent only from Madagascar, Australasia, many Pacific islands, and Antarctica.

Habitat

Species of true finches inhabit a wide range of terrestrial habitats, including many types of forests and woodlands, shrubby places, savannas, grasslands, agricultural areas, and gardens and horticultural parks.

Behavior

Finches may occur as solitary pairs, particularly during the breeding season, but most species are at least seasonally

gregarious, particularly when not breeding. Finches are strong fliers, and ground-foraging species hop and run well over short distances. Species that breed in regions with a highly seasonal climate, such as the tundra, boreal, or temperate zones, are often migratory during the winter. Some species migrate over relatively long distances to warmer climates, while others form flocks and wander extensively looking for locally abundant food sources. Finches have short, sharp call notes to communicate within flocks and to warn of impending danger. They also have distinctive songs that males use to defend a breeding territory and attract a mate. Young male finches have an innate ability to learn the song of their species, but when young they must hear mature males singing in order to learn how to perfect their own song. Widespread species of finches may have local song dialects. Some finches, such as the canary, are kept as prized pets because of their enthusiastic and musical singing ability.

Feeding ecology and diet

Finches mostly eat seeds, grains, and other vegetable matter, often supplemented by insects and other small invertebrates. Many species forage on the ground, while others feed mainly on tree seeds. Chaffinches are particularly insectivorous when feeding their young, which receive little plant food until they are fledged. All finches have a strong beak used to crush seeds so the edible kernel can be extracted and eaten. To do this, the seed is wedged against a special groove at the side of the palate, and then crushed by raising the lower jaw. The shell is then removed with the aid of the tongue, and the edible kernel is swallowed. The beaks of finches vary greatly, however, depending on the kinds of foods they specialize on. The crossed points of the beak of crossbills enables them to extract seeds from the cones of conifers; they hardly feed on anything else. The beak of goldfinches is long and narrow enough to reach the seeds of the teasel, which lie at the base of a rigid tubular structure. Hawfinches have a particularly stout beak, used to feed on the pits of cherries and rose-hips.

Reproductive biology

Most finches build a cup-shaped nest of grasses and other plant fibers and locate it in a tree or shrub or in a rocky crevice. Most species breed as isolated pairs, but some others are loosely colonial. Once a pair of finches bonds for the breeding season, they are typically monogamous. They lay two to six eggs, which vary in color and markings among species. The eggs may be incubated by the female or by both sexes in turn. Both of the parents share in tending the young and fledglings.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists 17 species in the family Fringillidae as being at various levels of conservation risk. One of them, the Bonin siskin (Chaunoproctus ferreorostris), was only known from the Japanese islands of Chichi-jima and Ogasawara-shoto (Peel and Bonin Islands). Unfortunately, the Bonin siskin became extinct in the late nineteenth century, likely because of deforestation and uncontrolled predation by introduced cats and rats. The Sao Tome grosbeak (Neospiza concolor) of Sao Tome and Principe is listed as Critically Endangered because of the loss of almost all its natural habitat of primary forest on its tiny island home in the eastern Atlantic just off the west coast of tropical Africa. The red siskin (Carduelis cucullata) of Colombia, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela is Endangered because of a rapid population decline caused by habitat loss and uncontrolled trapping for the commercial pet trade. The Warsangli linnet (Carduelis johannis) is a highly local (or endemic) species of Somalia that has become Endangered because most of its limited habitat is being lost to timber harvesting. The Hispaniolan crossbill (Loxia megaplaga) of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica is Endangered because of severe habitat loss and fragmentation. The Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina) is Endangered because it only survives in a tiny area of habitat on one of the Azores Islands off northwestern Africa. The Ankober serin (Serinus ankoberensis) of Ethiopia is Endangered because of its very small range (it is known from only four locations). The saffron siskin (Carduelis siemiradzkii) of Ecuador and Peru is

listed as Vulnerable because of extensive habitat loss. The yellow-faced siskin (Carduelis yarrellii) of Brazil and Venezuela is Vulnerable because of uncontrolled trapping for the pet trade and habitat loss. The yellow-throated seedeater (Serinus flavigula) of Ethiopia is Vulnerable because of habitat loss through agricultural activities. Species listed as Near Threatened include the Vietnam greenfinch (Carduelis monguilloti) of Vietnam, the Kipingere seedeater (Serinus melanochrous) of Tanzania, the Syrian serin (Serinus syriacus) of the Middle East (Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria), and the Salvadori's serin (Serinus xantholaema) of Ethiopia. The blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) of the Canary Islands (Spain) is considered Conservation Dependent. (This designation is given to species that would become threatened within five years if conservation programs targeting them were suspended.) Sillem's mountain-finch (Leucosticte sillemi) of China and the Scottish crossbill (Loxia scotica) of the United Kingdom are listed as Data Deficient, meaning that appropriate data on their abundance and/or distribution are lacking.

Significance to humans

The island canary (Serinus canaria) was the first passerine bird to be domesticated and kept as a cage-bird. The Spaniards conquered the Canary Islands in 1478, and they soon brought canaries to Europe in large numbers. A lively trade in this popular cage-bird soon developed. The most common color of the domestic canary is the well-known bright yellow, or "canary yellow," but numerous other color varieties also have been

bred. Red-colored canaries owe their origin, and their reddish coloration, to captive interbreeding of the island canary with the black-capped red siskin (Carduelis atriceps). Canaries are still a common pet and are prized all over the world as eager songsters. Selective breeding has produced varieties of canaries with distinctly different songs. A variety of other finches also are kept as cage-birds for their song, lively behavior, and/or attractive plumage. Other than the domesticated canary, all finches have some indirect, local economic importance through ecotourism associated with birding.

Species accounts

List of Species

Chaffinch
Blue chaffinch
Brambling
Greenfinch
Common redpoll
American goldfinch
European goldfinch
Eurasian siskin
European serin
Hawfinch
Eurasian bullfinch
Evening grosbeak
Red crossbill
Gray-crowned rosy finch
Pine grosbeak
Island canary

Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs

subfamily

Fringillinae

taxonomy

Fringilla coelebs Linnaeus, 1758. Seventeen subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Common chaffinch; French: Pinson des arbres; German: Buchfink; Spanish: Pinzón Común.

physical characteristics

Chaffinches are 5.5–7.1 in (14–18 cm) in body length, have a wingspan of similar length, and weigh 0.7–0.9 oz (20–25 g). They have a white patch on the shoulder, a white wing-bar, and white markings on the tail. Males have a slate-blue back of the head, a pink to deep-red face and breast, and a gray-blue tail. The female is yellow-brown in color, with a lighter belly. However, there is significant geographic variation in the coloration and patterns of streaking of chaffinches, especially in males.

distribution

Chaffinches are widely distributed, occurring in almost all of Europe, across the Middle East, through Ukraine and western Russia to Afghanistan, and in North Africa, the Canary Islands, and the Azores.

habitat

Chaffinches occur in a wide variety of woodlands and open forests, urban and suburban parks and gardens, and fields with hedgerows. They tend to occur in more open habitats during the winter.

behavior

Chaffinches are migratory in winter, but the sexes do this differently. Their scientific name, coelebs, is derived from the Latin

word for "without marriage," and acknowledges the preponderance of male chaffinches that winter in northern parts of their range, while females migrate further to the south. Studies of banded birds have shown that more males winter in Scandinavia, Britain, and parts of central Europe, while more females winter in Ireland. The territorial song is a bright series of rattling notes.

feeding ecology and diet

Chaffinches forage on the ground and in trees for seeds and fruit, including pine seeds. Unlike other kinds of true finches, the young of chaffinches are mostly fed insect larvae, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates, which are regurgitated by the parents. When the ground is snow-covered, chaffinches will attend bird feeders, or they may gather in farm yards to eat seed put out for domestic fowl and at barns where seed is stored.

reproductive biology

Chaffinches build a well-camouflaged, cup-shaped nest of grasses and lichens. The nest is neatly constructed and sturdy, and is located in a tree or shrub close to the trunk or a large branch. The eggs are incubated for 11–13 days. Only a single brood is raised each year.

conservation status

Not threatened. The chaffinch is a widespread and abundant species. It probably has benefited from relatively open habitats created when older forests were converted into urbanized and agricultural land-uses, as long as some trees, shrubs, and hedgerows persisted.

significance to humans

Chaffinches are common, much-appreciated birds that enrich residential and agricultural areas with their beauty and song. They have been kept in cages as prized songbirds.


Blue chaffinch

Fringilla teydea

subfamily

Fringillinae

taxonomy

Fringilla teydea Webb Berthelot & Moquin-Tandon, 1841. Two subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Canary Islands chaffinch, Teydefinch; French: Pinson bleu; German: Teydefink; Spanish: Pinzón Azul.

physical characteristics

The body length is about 5.9 in (15 cm). The male is uniformly slate-blue, darker on the back than on the belly, and whitish beneath the rump. It has faint wing-bars and a whitish eye-ring. The female is more drably gray-blue.

distribution

The blue chaffinch is endemic to the Canary Islands off northwestern Africa. It is restricted to the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

habitat

The blue chaffinch inhabits pine forest almost exclusively, at altitudes ranging from 2,300 to 6,600 ft (700 and 2,000 m). It inhabits both natural pine forest and older planted stands. It prefers areas with an undergrowth of broom (Chamaecytisus proliferus).

behavior

The blue chaffinch is a non-migratory species. It is a melodic singer and is rather unafraid of humans.

feeding ecology and diet

The blue chaffinch feeds on seeds, particularly those of pine. It also eats insects and other arthropods, and feeds its young almost exclusively with this food.

reproductive biology

The female blue chaffinch builds a nest of pine needles and branches of broom lined with moss, feathers, grasses, and rabbit hair. It is usually located in a pine tree, but occasionally may be found in heath (Erica arborea) or laurel (Laurus azorica). The female incubates a clutch of (usually) two eggs for 14–16 days. The chicks are blind and down-covered when hatched and are fed by both the male and female. Fledging takes place in 17–18 days.

conservation status

The IUCN lists the blue chaffinch as Conservation Dependent. This songbird has declined greatly in abundance. This decline began in the early decades of the nineteenth century because of the destruction and disturbance of their restricted habitat of mountain pine forests, and also because of excessive shooting by naturalists and commercial specimen collectors. In 2001, only about 1,500 breeding pairs were left, and their remaining forest habitat is becoming increasingly lost and fragmented, largely because of inappropriate forestry management. Without effective conservation of this rare species and its habitat, it could soon become endangered.

significance to humans

The blue chaffinch is a rare species, and its sightings are much appreciated by birders and other naturalists that visit its island habitat. This can lead to some local economic benefits through ecotourism. In the past their melodic songs made them a prized possession among sailors, but commercial trade in these rare birds has ceased.


Brambling

Fringilla montifringilla

subfamily

Fringillinae

taxonomy

Fringilla montifringilla Linnaeus, 1758.

other common names

French: Pinson du Nord; German: Bergfink; Spanish: Pinzón Real.

physical characteristics

Bramblings are small, stout birds, with a body length of about 5.7 in (14.5 cm). Males have a black head and back, a rich orange throat and breast, wings and tail marked with white and black, and a whitish belly. Females have a similar but much duller coloration. During the winter, males look similar to the females, but they start to molt into their breeding plumage in late winter.

distribution

Bramblings range widely through northern Eurasia, from Scandinavia to eastern Siberia as far as the Kamchatka Peninsula. During the winter, bramblings may wander extensively. In the United Kingdom, for example, it is a sporadic winter visitor, arriving in early October and departing for the more northerly breeding grounds by mid-March.

habitat

Bramblings breed in subarctic birch and willow groves and shrub tundra of the northern boreal and tundra regions. Its common name, brambling, means "the little bramble bird," implying it occurs in thorny thickets, but its natural habitat is actually northern deciduous woodlands and shrubby tundra. During the winter it may occur in more open habitats.

behavior

Bramblings are migratory, wandering extensively during the winter. They often occur in mixed flocks with other species of finches. During a particularly cold and snowy winter in 1946–1947, an estimated eleven million bramblings plus other finches were observed feeding on an abundant crop of beech mast (or beech-nuts) at the village of Porrentruy in Switzerland. Each night these innumerable birds gathered in a particular, small valley to roost communally. Winter irruptions of bramblings typically, however, vary greatly from year to year. They are influenced by both local and large-scale weather and snow conditions over their wintering range. In addition, a lack of suitable food in northern parts of the wintering range may trigger immense out-migrations into more southern regions. As such, bramblings are extremely unpredictable in their migratory routes and wanderings, often appearing in the millions in a region in one winter, but not in other years. Bramblings are territorial during the breeding season. The male has a wheezy song, and the birds also have high-pitched, wheezy "yeep" flight calls during the non-breeding season.

feeding ecology and diet

Bramblings eat a wide variety of seeds, including the relatively large nuts (or mast) of beech trees.

reproductive biology

Bramblings court and mate in the late winter and breed as territorial pairs. They build a cup-shaped nest in a tree or shrub.

conservation status

Not threatened. A widespread and abundant species.

significance to humans

Bramblings are popular birds that enrich the lives of many people. They are sought by birders and other naturalists, and this can result in local economic benefits through ecotourism.


Greenfinch

Carduelis chloris

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Carduelis chloris Linnaeus, 1758. Nine subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: European greenfinch; French: Verdier d'Europe; German: Grünling, Grünfink; Spanish: Verderon Común.

physical characteristics

Greenfinches are about 5.5 in (14 cm) in body length. They have pink legs and a stout beak. Both sexes are colored overall yellow-brown, with grayish, yellow-edged wings, and black on the tail. Females are duller than males, and juveniles have streaked breasts.

distribution

Greenfinches range widely across Europe and western Asia. They have also been introduced to parts of South America and Australasia, where they persist as wild, non-native songbirds.

habitat

Greenfinches inhabit a wide range of forests and woodlands, orchards, parks, gardens, and farmland containing hedgerows.

behavior

Greenfinches are migratory birds, breeding in northern parts of their range and spending the winter further to the south. They are social birds, especially during the non-breeding season, and are often found in small flocks. They may also occur in mixed-species flocks with other finches. The territorial song is a nasal, high-pitched call. They also have characteristic, wheezy flight notes.

feeding ecology and diet

Greenfinches feed on variety of seeds, including those of trees, shrubs, and herbs. The young are fed partly with insects and spiders, as well as plant matter.

reproductive biology

Greenfinches build an unruly nest of sticks lined with feathers. Nests are often grouped together as a loose colony. They typically have two broods each year, with four to five eggs per clutch.

conservation status

Not threatened. A widespread and abundant species.

significance to humans

None known.


Common redpoll

Acanthis flammea

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Acanthis flammea Linnaeus, 1758. Three subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Redpoll; French: Sizerin flammé; German: Birkenzeisig; Spanish: Pardillo Sizerin.

physical characteristics

The common redpoll is about 4.7–5.5 in (12–14 cm) in body length and weighs about 0.5 oz (14 g). The tail is forked and the beak is sharply pointed and has a black tip. The overall body coloration is gray-brown, with gray wings having light wing-bars, a lighter belly streaked with brown, a red crown on the top of the head, and a black patch beneath the lower mandible. The male has orange-red on the face and chest, but the extent of this varies among geographical races of this widespread species.

distribution

The common redpoll is a very wide-ranging species with a circumboreal distribution, occurring in suitable habitat in northern North America as well as in Eurasia. It occurs in Newfoundland, northern Quebec and Labrador, across the rest of northern Canada to Alaska, and through Siberia and northern Russia to northern Europe and Iceland. It is an irregular migrant that may occur as far south in the United States as California, Oklahoma, and the Carolinas, and also through much of southern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and central China. It was introduced to New Zealand in the nineteenth century, where it persists as a non-native songbird.

habitat

The common redpoll breeds in shrubby tundra, and in the winter occurs in brushy pastures, open forest and thickets, and weedy fields. During the winter they may sleep in snow tunnels to keep warm. They are able to hang upside down chickadee-like to pry birch seeds from hanging catkins. South of the boreal tree-line, the local wanderings and population densities of common redpolls depends on how abundant their winter food is.

behavior

Common redpolls are active and mobile birds. Even at rest, much fidgeting and twittering is evident. They are highly social birds, particularly during the non-breeding season when they aggregate into flocks, often with other species of finches. In areas where the ranges of the common redpoll and the hoary redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni) overlap, such as northern Norway, the two species may form mixed breeding pairs and produce hybrids of intermediate appearance.

feeding ecology and diet

Common redpolls feed on grains and seeds, particularly favoring birch seeds. A stand of winter weeds visited by a flock of these birds is a scene of feverish activity as they tear dried flower stalks apart and then drop to the ground to pick up the seeds.

reproductive biology

Common redpolls are somewhat nomadic in their local breeding. If the local supply of birch seed is abundant they may settle in numbers. After raising their first crop of fledglings, they may move elsewhere to exploit another abundant resource of birch seeds. Their nest is a neat cup of woven grass, moss, and twigs placed in a fork of a willow branch. The clutch is four to six pale green eggs incubated by the female for 10–11 days. The altricial chicks are brooded by the female. They are fed primarily by the female with some male assistance at times. Fledging takes place in 9–14 days.

conservation status

Not threatened. A widespread and abundant species.

significance to humans

Common redpolls are lively and pleasant birds, and are sought after by birdwatchers, particularly during the winter months. In New Zealand they are sometimes considered an introduced nuisance because of damage caused to fruit trees when their buds are eaten.


American goldfinch

Carduelis tristis

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Carduelis tristis Linnaeus, 1758.

other common names

English: Goldfinch, wild canary; French: Chardonneret jaune; German: Goldzeisig; Spanish: Dominiquito Canario.

physical characteristics

The American goldfinch is about 4.3 in (11 cm) in body length and weighs 0.5 oz (14 g). The male is colored overall a bright canary yellow, with black wings marked with white bars, a black tail, and a black face cap. The female is a more subdued yellow, with dark wings and tail. The juveniles are olive-yellow, with darker wings. During the winter, the male is not so brightly colored.

distribution

The American goldfinch breeds throughout much of southern Canada and the northern half of the United States. It winters in extreme southern Canada, through most of the United States, and northern Mexico.

habitat

The American goldfinch breeds in open, mixed-species forests and shrubby places. It winters in shrubby habitats, old fields, and parks and gardens.

behavior

American goldfinches have a distinctive, bounding flight. They are migratory birds, breeding in northern parts of their range and spending the winter wandering in the southern reaches. They are highly social birds, particularly during the nonbreeding season when they may form large flocks, often with other finches. They often breed in loose colonies. Their courtship and territorial display includes acrobatic aerial maneuvers by the male, which also sings during flight. The song is a high-pitched twittering, and there are also distinctive call notes.

feeding ecology and diet

American goldfinches feeds on small seeds and grains, particularly favoring plants in the aster family, including sunflower, lettuce, and thistles.

reproductive biology

American goldfinches arrive at the northern parts of their breeding range in April or May, about the time dandelions and some other early-flowering plants begin to set seed. However, the species does not breed until about mid-July. In more southerly locales, such as California, breeding can begin in March and continue through July and even, in exceptional cases, into November. Most pairs probably rear only one brood per year. The reasons for the relatively late-starting breeding of the American goldfinch is not understood, but it may be related to the timing of the maturation of the seeds of thistles, which are a major food for the young birds. The cupshaped nest is woven of grasses and other plant fibers. It may be placed in a large thistle or other tall weed, or in a shrub or tree. The eggs are colored pale blue, and a typical clutch size is four to five eggs. Incubation is 12–12 days by the female. Both male and female feed the nestlings and fledging occurs in 11–17 days.

conservation status

Not threatened. The American goldfinch is a widespread and abundant species. There is evidence that its abundance has been decreasing during recent decades, but it is not yet considered to be a species at risk. The population decrease is likely due to habitat loss through urbanization and the intensification of agricultural practices, which result in fewer areas with weedrich, shrubby habitat.

significance to humans

American goldfinches are well-known and popular birds. They can be tamed and have been kept as caged songbirds, although this is now rarely done.


European goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Carduelis carduelis Linnaeus, 1758. Ten subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Goldfinch; French: Chardonneret élégant; German: Stieglitz; Spanish: Jilguero Europeo.

physical characteristics

European goldfinches are 5–6 in (13–15 cm) in body length. They have a sharply pointed beak, and a forked tail. The back is colored dark olive-brown, the wings are black with a yellow patch, the tail black, the belly whitish, and the face is red, bordered with white and black. Females are olive-brown with yellow highlights and darker wings and tail.

distribution

European goldfinches range over almost all of Europe, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and as far east as western Russia. They have also been introduced to a few places in the United States, Central America, and Australasia, where they survive in urbanized areas.

habitat

European goldfinches inhabit open woodlands, shrubby areas, orchards, parks and gardens, and well-vegetated cultivated areas.

behavior

The European goldfinch has a distinctive bounding flight. It is a migratory species, breeding in northern parts of its range and

spending the winter in southern reaches. It is a highly social bird, particularly during the non-breeding season when it occurs in flocks, often with other finches. The courtship and territorial displays include aerial maneuvers and singing by the male. The song is a high-pitched twittering, and there are also distinctive call notes. They often position and hold food using their toes.

feeding ecology and diet

The European goldfinch feeds on small seeds and grains, particularly favoring species in the aster family, such as dandelions, thistles, burdock, lettuce, and sunflowers. The young are fed partly with insects.

reproductive biology

The European goldfinch builds a small, neat, cup-shaped nest of woven grass, moss, and lichens. Typically, the nest is positioned at the end of a small branch in an open-grown tree or shrub. They breed twice or sometimes three times each year, with each clutch consisting of four to five eggs. In general, relatively warm, dry summers result in greater reproductive success than those with cool, wet weather.

conservation status

Not threatened. The European goldfinch suffered widespread population declines over parts of its range during the 1800s because of uncontrolled live-trapping for the commercial pet trade. Their population has since recovered, however, and they are now a widespread and abundant species.

significance to humans

European goldfinches are well-known and popular birds. They can be tamed and have been kept as caged songbirds, although this is now uncommon. In the past, they provided amusement for people, who provided the birds with food tied to the end of a hanging thread. The bird would grasp the thread with its beak, pull up a section, hold it with its foot, and continue to do this until it had pulled up the food. European goldfinches are so good at this trick that for centuries they were kept in special cages constructed so that the birds could only survive by pulling up and holding onto threads, one of which provided seed and the other a thimble containing water. In the sixteenth century, this contraption was so popular in parts of Europe that the birds were commonly known as "dippers."


Eurasian siskin

Carduelis spinus

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Carduelis spinus Linnaeus, 1758.

other common names

English: Siskin; French: Tarin des aulnes; German: Erlenzeisig; Spanish: Lúgano.

physical characteristics

Eurasian siskins are about 5.1 in (13 cm) in length. They have a thin, pointed beak. The upperparts of the male are colored gray, with yellow bars on the wings, a yellow belly and face, and black on the crown of the head and just beneath the lower mandible. The female is much duller and more heavily streaked, and has a whitish belly and few yellow markings.

distribution

Eurasian siskins range widely across Eurasia, from the United Kingdom, through virtually all of Europe, across Asia to eastern Russia, northern China, and Japan. They winter irregularly in more southern regions within their range, sometimes in large irruptions.

habitat

Eurasian siskins breed in various kinds of coniferous forest, including boreal and montane types. They often winter in more open kinds of habitats, including gardens.

behavior

Eurasian siskins can be rather tame, and may even perch on people when being fed. They have a bounding flight pattern. Eurasian siskins are migratory, breeding in northern parts of their range and spending the winter in southern reaches. They are highly social bird, particularly during the nonbreeding season when they occur in large flocks, often with other finches. Their courtship and territorial displays include aerial maneuvers and singing by the male. The song is a high-pitched twittering, and there are also distinctive call notes.

feeding ecology and diet

Eurasian siskins feed on grains and tree seeds and buds. They also use bird feeders put out by people during the winter.

reproductive biology

Eurasian siskins build a cup-shaped nest of grasses and other plant fibers. The nest is usually placed in a conifer tree. The clutch consists of four or five spotted eggs. They build their nest and lay eggs earlier than usual in years when there is an abundant supply of conifer seeds, even doing while snow is still on the ground. This can allow them to raise additional broods during that nesting season.

conservation status

Not threatened. They are a widespread and abundant songbird.

significance to humans

None known.


European serin

Serinus serinus

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Serinus serinus Linnaeus, 1766.

other common names

English: Serin; French: Serin cini; German: Girlitz; Spanish: Verdecillo.

physical characteristics

European serins are small finches, with a body length of about 4.3 in (11 cm). They have a short, strong, pointed beak and a slightly forked tail. The male is colored greenish streaked with black on the back, with dark wings and tail, and a yellow rump, head, and chest. The female is darker and duller, and much less yellow.

distribution

The European serin breeds widely in Europe and around the Mediterranean basin, including parts of coastal North Africa. It winters in more southern regions of its range.

habitat

The European serin inhabits wooded and shrubby hillsides, and also utilizes well-vegetated agricultural areas, such as vineyards, orchards, and plantations.

behavior

The European serin is a migratory species. It is gregarious, especially during the non-breeding season when it occurs in flocks, often with other finches. The male defends a breeding territory and attracts a mate by an aerial display and melodic song.

feeding ecology and diet

The European serin feeds on grains and tree seeds.

reproductive biology

The nest is built in a tree or bush, usually 6.6–10 ft (2–3 m) above the ground. Eggs are laid from March onward in North Africa, from April on in southern Europe, and in May in central Europe. There is more than one brood per year.

conservation status

Not threatened. A widespread and abundant species.

significance to humans

This close relative of the canary is sometimes kept as a cage-bird.


Hawfinch

Coccothraustes coccothraustes

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Coccothraustes coccothrauses Linnaeus, 1758. Three subspecies are recognized.

other common names

French: Grosbec; German: Kernbeißer; Spanish: Picogordo.

physical characteristics

Hawfinches are relatively large, heavy-bodied birds with a massive beak; they have a stocky, top-heavy appearance. Their body length is about 7 in (18 cm) and they weigh about 1.9 oz (54 g). The male has a black back, wings, and tail, is chestnut on the head and belly, and has a black chin and blue beak. The female is somewhat duller. The massive beak and skull design allow hawfinches to crack open large, tough seeds, such as those of cherries and olives.

distribution

Hawfinches are found throughout much of the temperate and southern boreal regions of Europe and Asia.

habitat

Hawfinches occur in hardwood and mixedwood forests of various kinds, in addition to well-vegetated parks and gardens.

behavior

Hawfinches are shy birds that are wary of noise and movement. The male has a rather soft, feeble song that is used to defend its breeding territory.

feeding ecology and diet

Hawfinches eat seeds and fruit, including tough nuts and fruit-stones. They sometimes feed on the ground on fallen fruit, but are wary when doing so.

reproductive biology

Hawfinches have an elaborate courtship ritual, involving the drooping of a wing to display iridescent purple and green flight feathers. The male also bows deeply to a prospective mate and tucks his beak under his belly, revealing a gray nape patch. Aerial chases between a male and female are also part of pair formation. Hawfinches often breed in loose colonies. Their small, cup-shaped nest is built of roots, twigs, and lichens. It is lined with plant fibers, hair, and rootlets, and placed low in a tree. Three to seven greenish eggs with blackish brown markings are incubated for 9–14 days, mostly by the female. The young are brooded by the female and tended by both sexes. Fledging occurs in 10–14 days.

conservation status

Not threatened. Hawfinches are a widespread and abundant species, but they are vulnerable to habitat loss due to logging operations.

significance to humans

None known.


Eurasian bullfinch

Pyrrhula pyrrhula

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Pyrrhula pyrrhula Linnaeus, 1758. Five subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Bullfinch; French: Bouvreuil pivoine; German: Gimpel; Spanish: Camachuelo Común.

physical characteristics

The Eurasian bullfinch is a relatively large finch with a body length of about 5.5–6.3 in (14–16 cm) and weighing about 0.8–1.1 oz (22–30 g). They have a short, stout, dark-colored beak. The male is gray on the upper body, with a black headcap, black wings with a prominent white wing-bar, a reddish belly and sides of head, and white rump. The female and the young are duller, being more brownish pink and lacking the red breast. There is considerable variation in size and coloration among the subspecies.

distribution

The bullfinch ranges widely over Eurasia, occurring in almost all of Europe and most of Asia south of the boreal forest, including the Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan.

habitat

The bullfinch inhabits coniferous forest, mountain slopes and ravines, stony edges of deserts, and parks, gardens, and well-vegetated cultivated land.

behavior

Bullfinches are shy and wary birds and seldom forage on the ground. They tend to live in family groups, or in small flocks during the non-breeding season. The territorial song is soft, trisyllabic, and creaky.

feeding ecology and diet

Bullfinches feed on shoot buds, seeds, and other fruits. Buds are eaten mostly in the winter and spring when the main food of seeds is less abundant.

reproductive biology

The female bullfinch constructs a cup-shaped nest of twigs, lichen, and moss in a dense shrub or on a tree limb. The clutch consists of four to six pale-blue eggs marked with reddish brown and is incubated by the female for 12–14 days. The altricial young are brooded by the female and fed by both parents. Fledging occurs in 12–18 days. There are up to two broods per year.

conservation status

Not threatened. Bullfinches are a widespread species and are abundant over most of their range. However, some local populations and subspecies are threatened, including the Azores race, Pyrrhula pyrrhula murina. Populations of bullfinches have declined substantially over much of western Europe since about 1955, likely because of extensive habitat loss through urbanization, deforestation, and the intensification of agricultural practices, including the loss of shrubby hedgerows.

significance to humans

Bullfinches are inconspicuous birds and many people do not realize that they occur nearby. Bullfinches were popular cage-birds in the nineteenth century, but rarely are kept now.


Evening grosbeak

Coccothraustes vespertinus

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Coccothraustes vespertinus Cooper, 1825.

other common names

French: Grosbec errant; German: Abendkernbeißer; Spanish: Picogordo Vespertino.

physical characteristics

The evening grosbeak has a body length of about 7–8.7 in (18–22 cm) and weighs about 2.1 oz (60 g). It has a rather stout body, a short tail, and a stout yellow beak. The male is bright yellow, with black wings with a large white wing-patch, a black tail, and a black crown on the top of the head. Females are a duller gray and brown pattern, with white wing-patches.

distribution

The evening grosbeak inhabits the southern boreal forest and montane forest regions of North America. The range includes Canada, the western United States, and northern Mexico. They may winter in the breeding range or wander extensively, particularly to the east and south of the breeding range. They periodically irrupt from the usual wintering areas and may then be abundant in areas where they are not commonly seen.

habitat

Evening grosbeaks breed in mixed conifer forest, but may winter in more open habitats.

behavior

Evening grosbeaks are highly social birds, especially during the non-breeding season when they may occur in large flocks. The territorial song is a repeated chirp-like call.

feeding ecology and diet

Evening grosbeaks feed mainly on tree seeds, but also frequent winter feeding sites to get sunflower seeds. Their diet also includes insects, buds, sap, fruits, and berries.

reproductive biology

Breeding pairs are monogamous and nest in colonies. The female builds a frail, cup-shaped nest of twigs, grass, moss, roots, and pine needles on a horizontal tree branch far out from the trunk about 20–60 ft (6–18 m) above the ground. She incubates three to five pale blue to bluish eggs spotted with gray, purple, or brown for 11–14 days. The male feeds the incubating female. The altricial young are brooded by the female and fed by both sexes. They fledge in 13–14 days. One to two broods per year.

conservation status

Not threatened. The evening grosbeak is a widespread and abundant species and may be increasing in abundance and range.

significance to humans

Evening grosbeaks flock to areas infested with spruce budworm to breed and raise their young. (If an evening grosbeak were to get all its daily energy from budworm larvae it would eat 1,000 a day.) Because of its appetite for this destructive pest, the evening grosbeak is considered a beneficial bird.


Red crossbill

Loxia curvirostra

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Loxia curvirostra Linnaeus, 1758. Six subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Common crossbill; French: Bec-croisé des sapins; German: Fichtenkreuzschnabel; Spanish: Piquituerto Común.

physical characteristics

The red crossbill has a body length of about 5.5 in (14 cm) and weighs about 1.4 oz (40 g). It has a rather heavy body, a short forked tail, and a stout beak in which the tips of the upper and lower mandibles cross over as an adaptation to extracting seeds from conifer cones. Males are colored overall brick-red, with blackish wings and tail. Females are a dull yellow-brown with darker wings. Juveniles have weakly crossed mandibles, grayolive upperparts and whitish underparts both streaked with dark brown, and a buff-yellow rump.

distribution

The red crossbill is an extremely widespread species that inhabits the boreal and montane forest regions of both North America and Eurasia. It occurs from coast to coast in suitable habitats on both continents. It periodically irrupts from its usual wintering regions and may then be abundant in areas where it is not usually seen.

habitat

Red crossbills breed and winter in pine-containing conifer forests of various kinds.

behavior

Red crossbills are highly social birds, especially during the non-breeding season when they may occur in large flocks. The territorial song is a repeated series of simple chirps, often given in flight. The male displays to the female by flying above her, vibrating his wings, and delivering an in-flight song.

feeding ecology and diet

Red crossbills feed on the seeds of conifers, particularly species of pines. They use their peculiar, crossed bill to force the scales of conifer cones apart and then scoop the seed into their mouths with their tongues. Their diet also includes insects and caterpillars.

reproductive biology

Breeding pairs are monogamous and solitary. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of twigs, bark, grass, and rootlets, lined with finer grasses, feathers, fur, hair, and moss. The nest is located on a tree branch far out from the trunk about 6.6–40 ft (2–12 m) above the ground. A clutch of three to four light green or blue eggs spotted with brown and lilac is incubated by the female for 12–18 days. The altricial young are brooded by the female and fed by both parents. They fledge in 15–20 days. Nestlings have straight mandibles that cross gradually after they have been out of the nest for about three weeks. One to two broods per year.

conservation status

Not threatened. The red crossbill is a widespread and abundant species. Some populations, however, have declined greatly and are considered to be at risk. The subspecies native to the island of Newfoundland, for example, has become extremely rare. Logging operations have destroyed and continue to damage red crossbill habitat.

significance to humans

None known.


Gray-crowned rosy finch

Leucosticte tephrocotis

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Leucosticte tephrocotis Swainson, 1832.

other common names

French: Roselin à tête grise; German: Rosenbauch-Schneegimpel; Spanish: Pinzón Rosado de Corona Gris.

physical characteristics

The gray-crowned rosy finch has a body length of about 6.5 in (16.5 cm). It has a short, slightly forked tail, and a stout, conical, pointed beak. The male is colored overall red, with pinkish red patches on the wings, a dark tail, a gray head, and black patches on the face. The female has a browner, more subdued body coloration, and lacks a black patch on the chin. Juveniles are gray-brown.

distribution

The gray-crowned rosy finch occurs in the Rocky Mountain region and western Arctic tundra of North America, ranging from Alaska, through western Canada, to the southwestern United States. It breeds in higher-altitude habitats and winters in lower altitudes.

habitat

The gray-crowned rosy finch breeds in alpine tundra above the timberline, and also in northern tundra in Alaska and Yukon. It winters in lowlands, including open habitats and conifer forest.

behavior

Gray-crowned rosy finches are rather tame and unafraid of humans. They are social birds, especially during the non-breeding season when they occur in flocks. Males are weakly territorial and the song is a repeated series of simple, high-pitched chirps, often given in flight.

feeding ecology and diet

Gray-crowned rosy finches feed on seeds of various kinds, supplemented by invertebrates. They forage on ripe herbaceous plants and also on the ground and in snowbanks.

reproductive biology

The female chooses the breeding territory and the male follows and defends the female from other males. Breeding pairs are monogamous and loosely colonial. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of grass, rootlets, lichen, and moss, lined with fine grass, plant down, and feathers. The nest is sited in clefts of rock and cliffs, or sometimes in a cave or the eaves of a building. A clutch of four to five whitish eggs occasionally dotted with reddish brown are incubated by the female for 12–14 days. The altricial young are brooded by the female and fed by both sexes. Both males and females develop a gular pouch in the upper throat with an opening in the floor of the mouth so that they can carry larger amounts of seed back to their young. The young fledge in 16–22 days. Birds breeding in the mountains have one brood per year; those living in lower tundra have as many as two.

conservation status

Not threatened. The gray-crowned rosy finch is a widespread and abundant species.

significance to humans

None known.


Pine grosbeak

Pinicola enucleator

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Pinicola enucleator Linnaeus, 1758. Two subspecies are recognized.

other common names

English: Pine rosefinch; French: Durbec des sapins; German: Hakengimpel; Spanish: Camachuelo Picogrueso.

physical characteristics

The pine grosbeak is a large, stout-bodied finch with a body length of about 7.9 in (20 cm) and weighing about 2 oz (57 g). It has a short, slightly forked tail and a short, stout, conical beak. The male is colored overall red, with black wings with white wing-bars, a dark tail, and grayish patches on the belly. The female has a yellowish olive head and rump, and gray underparts

and back. Juveniles resemble adult females, but are duller with washes of dull yellow on the head, back, and rump.

distribution

The pine grosbeak is an extremely widespread species that inhabits the boreal forest and montane forest regions of both North America and Eurasia. It occurs from coast to coast in suitable habitats on both continents. Pine grosbeaks sporadically irrupt from their usual wintering regions and may then be abundant in areas where they are not commonly seen.

habitat

The pine grosbeak breeds in conifer forest in both the northern boreal region and in montane areas in the Rocky Mountains. During the winter they occur more widely in various kinds of forest.

behavior

The pine grosbeak is a rather tame species. It is a social bird that often occurs in flocks during the non-breeding season. The territorial song is a series of warbled notes. There is also a variety of simple, high-pitched chirps, often given in flight. Males feed females as part of the courtship ritual.

feeding ecology and diet

The pine grosbeak feeds on seeds and small fruits of various kinds. They also eat buds and insects, and mostly forage in trees and shrubs.

reproductive biology

Breeding pairs are monogamous and solitary. The female builds a cup-shaped nest of twigs, plant fibers, and rootlets, lined with moss, lichen, fine grass, and rootlets. It is located on the limb of a tree or shrub about 2–25 ft (0.6–7.6 m) above the ground. Two to five blue-green eggs dotted with black, purple, and brown are incubated by the female for 13–15 days. The altricial young are brooded by the female, fed by both parents, and fledge in 13–20 days. Like many finches, both males and females develop gular pouches during the nesting season to carry food to their young. One brood per year.

conservation status

Not threatened. The pine grosbeak is a widespread and abundant species, but it is vulnerable to habitat loss due to logging.

significance to humans

None known.


Island canary

Serinus canaria

subfamily

Carduelinae

taxonomy

Serinus canaria Linnaeus, 1758.

other common names

English: Common canary, canary; French: Serin des Canaries; German: Kanarengirlitz; Spanish: Canario Sylvestre.

physical characteristics

The island canary is a small, slender finch with a body length of about 5 in (12.5 cm). It has a rather long, forked tail, and a short, stout, conical, pointed beak. The male is colored overall

olive-brown, with yellow on the face and belly. The female is somewhat duller in color. Domesticated varieties, however, can vary widely in coloration, with as many as several hundred types being recognized. Red canaries are among the extremes of coloration, and are derived from fertile hybrids of the island canary and the black-capped red siskin (Carduelis atriceps) of South America.

distribution

The canary is a highly local (or endemic) species indigenous only to the Azores, Canaries, and Madeira Islands of the eastern temperate Atlantic Ocean. It has been domesticated for centuries, however, and is kept as a caged songbird in many countries.

habitat

The island canary inhabits forest, open habitats with shrubs, gardens, and orchards.

behavior

The island canary is a non-migratory species. It is a social bird that may occur in small flocks when not breeding. The song is a highly musical series of warbled notes, often given in flight.

feeding ecology and diet

The island canary feeds on seeds and small fruits of various kinds.

reproductive biology

The island canary weaves a cup-shaped nest of plant fibers and usually locates it in a shrub or low tree. They are often polygamous breeders, meaning a male may mate with several females. The clutch size is typically about five, but can vary from one to ten. Hatching occurs about 14 days after the hen begins to incubate. There may be more than one brood per year.

conservation status

The island canary is an endemic species of only a few islands in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, but it is locally abundant there. Domesticated varieties are abundant in captivity.

significance to humans

The island canary has been kept as a caged songbird for more than 500 years. It is a highly prized pet because of the loud, enthusiastic, musical song of the male.


Resources

Books

Bent, A.C. Life Histories of North American Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Buntings, Towhees, Finches, Sparrows, and Allies; Order Passeriformes: Family Fringillidae. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1968.

BirdLife International. Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, 2000.

Clement, P., A. Harris, and J. Davis. Finches and Sparrows: An Identification Guide. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Newton, I. The Finches. Glasgow: William Collins Sons and Co., Ltd., 1972.

Perrins, C.M., and A.L.A. Middleton, eds. "Fringilline finches." In The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, 1985.

Periodicals

Berger, Cynthia. "Superflight." National Wildlife (December– January 1998).

Middleton, A.L.A. "The Annual Cycle of the American Goldfinch." Condor 80 (1978): 401–406.

Organizations

BirdLife International. Wellbrook Court, Girton Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB3 0NA United Kingdom. Phone: +44 1 223 277 318. Fax: +44-1-223-277-200. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://www.birdlife.net>

Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology, Cornell University. E145 Corson Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-2701 USA. Phone: (607) 254-4201. Web site: <www.es.cornell.edu/winkler/botw/fringillidae.html>

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tulane University. 310 Dinwiddie Hall, New Orleans, LA 70118-5698 USA. Phone: (504) 865-5191. Web site: <www.tulane.edu/eeob/Courses/Heins/Evolution/lecture17.html>

IUCN–The World Conservation Union. Rue Mauverney 28, Gland, 1196 Switzerland. Phone: +41-22-999-0001. Fax: +41-22-999-0025. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://www.iucn.org>

Bill Freedman, PhD

Brian Douglas Hoyle, PhD

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