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finch, common name for members of the Fringillidae, the largest family of birds (including over half the known species), found in most parts of the world except Australia. The true finches are characterized by their stout, conical bills, used to crack open the seeds that form the bulk of their diet. They are valued as destroyers of weed seeds; many also eat harmful insects. Since seeds, unlike insects, are not influenced by weather, many finches are year-round residents in colder areas.
The finches, which are considered the most highly developed of the birds, are widely diversified; they are classified into three groups: those with small, triangular bills, such as the canary, sparrow, bunting, towhee, junco, and those birds specifically named finch (e.g., chaffinch, bullfinch, and goldfinch); those with thick, rounded bills, as the grosbeak and cardinal; and the crossbills, rose-colored northern birds whose mandibles, as their name implies, cross over at the tips—an adaptation suited to their diet of conifer seeds.
The sparrows, genus Passer, which are field and hedge birds, are inconspicuously colored in dull grays and browns, but among the other, tree-perching finches, the male is often brightly plumaged (although the female is usually duller and sparrowlike). Most finches (except the meticulous goldfinch) build sloppy cup-shaped nests for their four to six speckled eggs.
Other species commonly called finches, especially many species kept as pets, are also found in other bird families. Estrildidae includes the grass, zebra, and parrot finches, waxbills, and munias, Ploceidae includes the weaverbirds and whydahs, and Thraupidae includes Darwin's finches.
Some Typical Finches
(Fringilla coelebs), a songbird of the family Fringillidae. It is about the size of a sparrow (approximately 17 cm long). The male’s plumage is brightly colored (especially in spring): the head is blue-gray, the back is brownish and green, the crop and breast are brownish red, and the wings have large white spots. The coloration of the female is more subdued. The chaffinches common in Europe, Southwest Asia, and North Africa; it is moving toward the east. The chaffinch is one of the most numerous birds in the USSR. It lives in forests and parks of all types, often right near human dwellings. It builds its nest in trees, camouflaging it with moss and lichens. Sometimes it nests twice in a summer. A clutch contains three to six light-blue speckled eggs. The chaffinch feeds on seeds and the green parts of plants, and in the summer it also eats insects and other invertebrates, which it also feeds to its nestlings. The chaffinch has a resonant song and is often kept as a cage bird.