A Finch is a bird that belongs to a family of small or medium-sized birds native to all parts of the world except Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and Madagascar. Finches constitute the largest family of birds. They are classified as order Passeriformes, family Fringillidae, and sub-family Carduelinae. This would include the Cardinals, Buntings, Grosbeaks, Towhees, Canaries, Siskin, Redpolls, Crossbills, Juncos, Sparrows and many others. The more well-known bird species include the House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco, Indigo Bunting, Pine Siskin and the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. This widely diversified family is sometimes classified into three groups according to their bills, those with small-triangular bills, those with thick-rounded bills and those with bills that cross over the tips.
Finches range in length from about 4 to 11 inches. Many of them are drab browns and grays but some are brightly colored and patterned in various combinations of yellow, red, purple, blue and green. Due to the numerous species included in the Finch family, appearances considerably vary. However, most have stout bodies and nearly all have strong cone-shaped bills.
Many Finches are noted for their songs such as the Canaries and the Cardinals. Songs vary from the soft twittering of American Goldfinches to the spirited warble of Purple Finches in flight. Finches are considered by many authorities as the highest and latest development on the avian evolutionary ladder.
Most Finches feed on seed although some eat berries and fruits while others eat insects. Nearly all Finches feed insects to their young. The American Goldfinch delay nesting until the new thistle down is available for building their compact, water-proof nests and until the softer and pulpier new seeds of the year are available for their young. The young are then fed by regurgitation of partially digested seeds.
American Goldfinches are approximately 5 inches in length. The male American Goldfinch sports a black cap and bright yellow breeding plumage during spring and summer. It dulls in color during winter. The American Goldfinch is the only member of the family that has a second molt in the spring while all others have only one in the fall. It is gregarious throughout the year and is found almost exclusively in flocks in winter. It feeds in small groups during the breeding season.
The American Goldfinch usually feeds on the ground and is known to select weed stalks and foliage. It also eats seeds, insects and berries. It prefers thistle and culled sunflower at bird feeders. Open areas with some shrubs and trees attract the American Goldfinch.
The House Finch measures about 5.25 inches in length and has a conical bill and long tail. It was initially sold illegally as Hollywood Finches in New York where it was released in the city by dealers avoiding persecution. Their breeding population extended swiftly along the coast and continues to expand westward.
Backyard bird feeding has been largely beneficial to House Finches thus the dramatic increase in their population. Banding studies show that House Finches may live up to 10 years in the wild. They are considered short distance migrants with some northerly individuals withdrawing to more southern regions during the winter.
Most finches build open, cup-shaped nests in tree branches or holes, bushes, grass or rock crevices. They usually lay two to six white, blue, green or reddish white eggs. Both parents care for the young. It is possible that more than one brood may be raised in a breeding season.