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Chaffinch ♂ (Fringilla coelebs)

Chaffinch ♂ ( Fringilla coelebs )

Subclass : New-jawed birds (Neognathae)
Order : Passerines (Passeriformes)
Subordination : Songbirds (passeri)
without rank: Passerida
Superfamily : Passeroidea
Family : Finches
Scientific name
Vigors , 1825
Mountain Finch ( Fringilla montifringilla )

The finches (Fringillidae) are a species-rich family from the order of the passerine birds (Passeriformes).
Also the finches (Estrildidae) and some species of the bunting (Emberizidae), tanagers (Thraupidae), cardinals (Cardinalidae), sparrows (Passeridae) and weaver birds (Ploceidae) are called "finches".
Some scientists include the starlings (Icteridae), wood warblers ( Parulidae), bunting, tanagers , cardinals, deceptive wood warblers (Peudedramidae) and rose tails (Urocynchramidae) in the Fringillidae.

The finch family contains 40 genera , 6 of which are extinct , and about 200 species , 14 of which are extinct.

They are represented heraldically and speaking on the community coat of arms of Fincken .


Finches are small to medium-sized birds, 9 to 26 cm in length. They have a strong, mostly conical beak , which is very large in the "grosbeak". The beaks of the crossbills ( Loxia ), the tips of which are crossed, are striking . All species have 12 tail feathers and 9 flight feathers. The tail end is usually notched.

The color of the plumage varies greatly within the family. The spectrum ranges from inconspicuously gray, greenish or brownish birds to species with conspicuously yellow, red or blue plumage, such as bullfinches ( Pyrrhula pyrrhula ), iiwi ( Vestiaria coccinea ) or the species of the tropical subfamily of organists (Euphoniinae). In many species the males are more conspicuously colored than the females. For some, the winter plumage is simpler than the breeding plumage, or the beak is lighter in winter, for example in the grosbeak ( Coccothraustes coccothraustes ).


Finches are common almost worldwide with natural occurrences. They are only missing in Antarctica , on numerous small ocean islands as well as in Madagascar , New Guinea , Australia and New Zealand . The greatest diversity occurs in Asia with 18 genera and around 70 species . In Europe , however, there are only 20 species from 8 genera. Africa has about 50 species and 35 types, the development center of Girlitze ( Serinus ). In North and South America together about 60 species from 8 genera are native. The organists (Euphoniinae) occur exclusively here, and the American siskins of the genus Spinus are particularly rich with 19 species. On the Hawaiian Islands, the tribe of honeysuckles (Drepanidini) has diversified very richly with originally 34 species.
Some species of the family were on their original site naturalized addition, such as in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.


The finches colonize a variety of forest types, such as coniferous forests , deciduous forests of temperate latitudes or tropical mountain rainforests , as well as forest edges and clearings. Organist species (Euphoniinae) also occur in lowland rainforests . Many species prefer an open landscape with trees and shrubbery , as found in the cultural landscape , for example in parks and gardens . In the tropics, savannahs as well as grassland and scrubland are also populated. The margins of finches are rocky desert terrain , shrubby tundra, and tropical papyrus swamps . Some species, such as the snow bullfinch ( Leucosticte ), colonize rocky slopes and grasslands above the tree line . In the Andes , the black siskin ( Spinus atratus ) reaches an altitude of 4500 m, in the Himalayas the snow bullfinch ( Leucosticte brandti ) even reaches 5400 m.

Diet and Lifestyle

Crossbill ( Loxia curvirostra ), male

Finches feed primarily on seeds , fruits, and buds . The grosbeak even cracks cherry pits with its large beak . The shape of their beak makes the crossbills specialize in collecting seeds from the cones of conifers . In the breeding season, some species also catch insects , spiders and even earthworms and feed them mainly to the young birds.

Most species are resident birds or they only leave the northernmost parts of their breeding area in winter , only a few species move away from their entire breeding area. Among the finches, the mountain finch is the bird with the most pronounced migratory behavior . It leaves its breeding area, which includes the northern forest zone from Norway to Kamchatka , completely.

Outside the breeding season, many species form large groups. Two years of fattening beeches in the winters of 1946/47 and 1951/52 led to huge flocks of mountain finches gathering in Switzerland . It is estimated that up to 100 million mountain finches were concentrated in Switzerland because of the cheap beech fattening at the time.

The flight is mostly hopping, with some species also wavy. Finches live on average two to three years old; with some species, however, in individual cases, especially in captivity, an age of over 15 years can be reached.


During the breeding season, the males perform their song, which serves to demarcate their territory. They usually sit on trees, and more rarely do a short courtship flight . Among the finches there are very good singers, such as the chaffinch ( Fringilla coelebs ) or the Canary girl ( Serinus canaria ), but also species with monotonous singing, such as the mountain finch ( Fringilla montifringilla ). The name of the bird family is derived from the sound of the chaffinch calling “finch”.


The cup-shaped nests are mainly built by the female, mostly on trees or in bushes . The female usually lays 3 to 5 eggs and incubates them for about two weeks. The young birds are fed by both parents. The goldfinch-like (subfamily Carduelinae) feed the young birds from the crop , mainly with seeds and fruits. In contrast, the noble finches (Fringillinae) carry the food in their beak and feed almost exclusively animal food. The young birds leave the nest after about 11–28 days. There are usually two broods a year, and more in tropical species.


All previously extinct species once lived on only a single small island, 13 of them on each of the Hawaiian Islands, one on the to Japan belonging Bonin Islands . As before, 11 more of the honeysuckle birds (Drepanidini) that have survived on Hawaii are threatened with extinction, almost all of the others are also endangered in the long term.

The monochrome finch ( Crithagra concolor ) from the small island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea is also seriously threatened . The species was only rediscovered in 1991 after long thought to be extinct; the current population is estimated at fewer than 50 individuals. Threatened with extinction are also supported by the on the island of Hispaniola -based Kreuzschnabelart Loxia megaplaga , the Azores Bullfinch ( Pyrrhula murina ), which in the north of Venezuela living Siskin ( Spinus cucullatus ), the Somalihänfling ( Linaria johannis ) and the Ankobergirlitz ( Crithagra ankoberensis ) from Ethiopia . Three other types of goldfinches (Carduelinae) are considered endangered.

The main sources of danger often lie in the small range of the affected species and the resulting small populations, which has the consequence that both the destruction of their habitat - through direct human intervention or indirectly through foreign plant and animal species - and the introduction of animals such as feral domestic cats or rats , which either prey on the birds themselves or plunder their clutch, have a particularly strong impact.
In the case of the Hawaiian honeycreeper (Drepanidini), introduced diseases, namely birdpox and bird malaria , also play an important role. Most species only occur at higher altitudes - above 1250 to 1500 m above sea level - in sufficient population densities, since at these altitudes the mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus , which transmits malaria, is rare. The survival of honeysuckle birds on the islands of Kauai , Oahu , Molokai and Lanai , which do not reach this height or only slightly tower above it, is particularly problematic . Illegal trapping and trading are primarily responsible
for the threat to the Red Siskin ( Spinus cucullatus ). Likewise, when the Mamo ( Drepanis pacifica ) became extinct in Hawaii, hunting by the Polynesian natives had a certain significance. Its yellow feathers from the under tail and rump were used in large numbers for ceremonial clothing such as feather coats. Hence the name “clothes birds” for the tribes.
The finch species found in Central Europe are all at most regionally endangered. On the Red Lists , for example, you can find the colin ( Linaria cannabina ) in Great Britain or the carmini ( Carpodacus erythrinus ) with its westernmost breeding population in Austria and Switzerland .


Evening grosbeak ( Hesperiphona vespertinus ), male

The external and internal systematics of the finch family have undergone some changes as a result of molecular genetic studies since the mid-1990s. Even if this made the relationships within the songbirds much better understood, questions still remain unanswered at the family level.

External system

At this point in time (2018) it seems likely that the family of finches is basal in a clade, which in English is called nine-primaried oscines after the number of hand swing feathers . In addition to the bunting as the closest Eurasian relatives of the finches, it mainly contains a number of New World families. The number of these families currently varies greatly depending on the author or institution.

Outside of this clade, the finch's closest relatives are probably u. a. Stilts and sparrows . A possible cladogram that shows these relationships looks like this:

 Stilts (Motacillidae)


 Sparrows (Passeridae)


 Fine finches (Estrildidae)


 Widow birds (Viduidae)


 Finches (Fringillidae)


 Bunting (Emberizidae)


 Wood Warbler (Parulidae)


 Starlings (Icteridae)


 Northern spur bunting and snow bunting (Calcariidae)

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 Tangaren (Thraupidae)


 Cardinals (Cardinalidae)

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Internal system

Green organist ( Chlorophonia cyanea ), male

The family of finches is traditionally divided into two subfamilies, the noble finches and the goldfinch-like . The noble finches contain only one genus Fringilla with three (some authors four) species. The goldfinch-like are far more species-rich and are usually divided into five tribes with a total of about 40 genera and 150 species. One of the tribes, the honeysuckle , used to be run as a separate family (Drapinidae), but molecular genetic studies have shown that they are part of the clade that the goldfinch-like spread. Furthermore, these studies have confirmed that the organists , a group of neotropical songbirds, which were formerly assigned to the tangars , are a subfamily of the finches. The subfamily of organists consists of the type genus Euphonia and the genus of green organists ( Chlorophonia ) and contains a total of about 32 species.

The relationships within the finch family according to the current status (2018) are shown in the following cladogram. The further breakdown at genus and species level can be found in the linked articles:

 Fine finches (Fringlillinae) - 3 species


 Organists (Euphoniinae) - 32 species


 Goldfinches (Carduelinae) - 150 species

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See also

Web links

Commons : Finches (Fringillidae)  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Fink  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • Mark Beaman, S. Madge: Handbook of Bird Identification for Europe and the Western Palaearctic. Christopher Helm, London 1998, ISBN 0-7136-3960-1 , p. 767.
  • Peter Clement : Finches and Sparrows. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton NJ 1999, ISBN 0-691-03424-9 .
  • David Sibley: The Sibley Guide to Bird life & Behavior. Christopher Helm, London 2001, ISBN 0-7136-6250-6 , p. 552.

Individual evidence

  1. P. Beresford, FK Barker, PG Ryan, TM Crowe: African endemics span the tree of songbirds (Passeri): Molecular systematics of several evolutionary "enigmas". In: Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 272, 2005, pp. 849-858. (PDF)
  2. a b c d e f g K. A. Jønsson, J. Fjeldså: A phylogenetic supertree of oscine passerine birds (Aves: Passeri) . In: Zoologica Scripta . tape 35 , 2006, pp. 149–186 , doi : 10.1111 / j.1463-6409.2006.00221.x ( [PDF; accessed October 20, 2015]).
  3. P. Alström, U. Olsson, F. Lei, HT Wang, W. Gao and P. Sundberg: Phylogeny and classification of the Old World Emberizini (Aves, Passeriformes) . In: Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution . tape 47 , no. 3 , 2008, p. 960-73 , doi : 10.1016 / j.ympev.2007.12.007 , PMID 18411062 .
  4. D. Zuccon, R. Prŷs-Jones, P. Rasmussen and P. Ericson: The phylogenetic relationships and generis Limits of finches (Fringillidae) . In: Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution . tape 62 , no. 2 , February 2012, p. 581-596 , doi : 10.1016 / j.ympev.2011.10.002 ( [PDF]).