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What Is a Finch?

Canaries are a songbird in the finch family.
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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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Songbirds are known to provide a pleasant auditory experience in many areas of the world. The finch is a type of songbird that is largely native to the Southern Hemisphere. Finches are often purposefully attracted to people's yards or kept as pets.

The true finch, also known as the classical finch, is a part of the family Fringillidae. The birds can range from nearly four inches (10 centimeters) to nine inches (23 centimeters) in length. The birds feature stubby, strong beaks, and various colors of plumage. Most finches have brown or green base hues, with highlights of red, black, and yellow.

Like many other bird breeds, females generally exhibit duller coloration. Finches fly in an alternating pattern. The bouncing rhythm includes periods of flapping mixed with gliding with closed wings. Finches prefer well-wooded forest areas for their habitat. Some of the birds may be found in desert or mountain areas as well. They build basket-shaped nests in trees, bushes, and sometimes between rocks.

Three groups of finches are used to classify the bird. One group consists of birds like the canary and sparrow, with small, triangular bills. Another lists birds with thick, rounded bills, such as the grosbeak. The final group of finches includes birds with bills that cross over at the tips.

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Finch food is mostly made up of seeds, though the birds also enjoy eating berries, arthropods, and in some cases, flower nectar. Finches are also considered popular because they help eliminate yard pests, such as weed seeds and some harmful insects. Their beaks are designed especially for such seed-opening.

During mating, female finches seek out food from their potential mates. Males either regurgitate or mock-feed their food to the females. Monogamous animals, male finches defend their mates rather than their nesting territory when threatened.

Domestic birds in this species are commonly kept as pets for their pleasant singing abilities. The canary is the most commonly kept songbird of this bird breed. The house finch, a popular wild bird that enjoys making use of bird feeders and baths, can be commonly seen in most neighborhoods across North America. They enjoy black oil sunflower seed, and are known to attract dozens of other finches to a single yard that provides seed.

Purple finches are another popular variety of the wild bird. A chunkier finch with a longer bill, it features a pink-red shade of color on its head and breast, with an off-white color on its belly. Females are marked with strong lines of color, including white stripes near the eyes and a dark stripe down the side of the neck.

Many other birds are called finches, though they are not scientifically considered true finches. Some of these include waxbills, American sparrows, buntings, and Darwin's finches, which are also known as tanagers. True finches are considered Middle Micone animals, originating during the Tertiary Period. Some subspecies include the rosefinch, gold finch, Cassin's finch, Hawaiian honeycreeper, hawfinch, and hooded siskin.

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