Finches are one of the most famous bird classifications in the world, thanks to biologist and naturalist, Charles Darwin. Often referred to as the father of evolution, his research into finches of the Galapagos islands paved the way for new thinking regarding adaptation and evolution. The finches on the Galapagos islands slowly evolved with differently shaped beaks, which were better suited to their particular diet. So, what do finches eat? And how can you attract finches to your garden? Let’s find out!
Finches of North America
The term “finch” encompasses dozens of species in North America alone, as well as many more across Eurasia. The most common finch species are:
There are several species of junco across the US, including the dark-eyed junco, slate junco, white winged junco, Oregon junco and red-backed junco. Most have their own breeding ranges in northern states and Canada. However, some junco species are found year-round as far south as Florida and California.
This includes rose-breasted grosbeak, black-headed grosbeak and evening grosbeak. They all breed in Canada and northern United States, migrating south to Mexico and Central America for the winter. The pine grosbeak is a year-round resident, living only in the northern mountain states and into Canada.
Perhaps one of the most well-known species in the US, as they have a tendency to breed in urban areas. The house finch is a permanent resident, although some Eastern finches will migrate south. House finches are widespread and can be found from Mexico all the way north to Southern Canada.
Another well-known species, the American goldfinch is famous for its bright yellow plumage, orange beak and black wingtips. People can spot these finches in open areas, especially around farms and orchards where they are able to eat seeds and berries. In the winter, these brightly coloured birds remain in most US states, as well as northern Canada, including Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia. They migrate south, but remain in the US.
These charming little birds are only common in the north. Sporting cherry red breast plumage and a red head spot, common redpolls can be found in most Canadian states and occasionally in far northern US states. They are a migratory species, but for food rather than following the seasons.
There are just as many finches in Eurasia as there are in North America. The most common species are:
Bullfinches are common European birds, easily spotted by their bright pink breasts and cheeks. While they are a common sight in urban areas, they are listed as AMBER conservation status in the UK due to decreasing numbers.
This species is the most abundant species across the British Isles, with an estimated population of 6 million and many more across other European countries. Bird observers can often spot chaffinches hopping about the ground underneath bird feeders or picnic tables in search of seeds and insects.
These bright beauties are very similar in appearance to American goldfinches. The biggest difference is that goldfinches found across Eurasia have a bright red face and a white chest. Moreover, they feed in seeds throughout the year and also forage for insect during spring and summer.
The UK estimates 1.7 million breeding pairs of greenfinches and they are not listed on any conservation list as vulnerable. As the name suggests, greenfinches are green, with flashes of bright yellow along the wing edges and tail, while they also have grey cheek spots and grey banding on their wings.
These small finches are common garden visitors. Both males and females sport yellow and muted green chest, face and back plumage, with females being slightly paler than males. They have forked tails and slightly curved beaks.
Also Read: What Do Swallows Eat?
What Do Finches Eat?
While each finch species diet will vary depending on where they live, most have a similar diet. This consists mostly of seeds from flowers, fruits and bushes, such as sunflower seeds and hearts, thistle seeds and lots of berries. Finches are often seen eating or carrying cranberries, elderberries and hackberries from bushes and trees. In addition, they will also forage from wild blackberry bushes.
Finches may often be found near orchards as they provide lots of fruit seeds. They are also commonly seen around farms producing grains. Finches will happily eat corn, oats, barley and millet.
During the spring and summer, finches take advantage of the abundance of insects, which coincides with breeding season. Adult finches will often feed their chicks insects, which are high in protein. This is because insects make the perfect diet to support chick development.
Attracting Finches to Your Garden
Now you know what finches eat, you are better prepared to supply your bird feeder with some finch favourites.
A staple for garden finches is sunflower seeds, but you can also offer them nyjer seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Finch experts also recommend a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables, including:
- Sweet potato
- Butternut squash
- Mung beans
Phew! That’s quite the list, but it is useful to know that finches have such a varied diet. You can provide a simple hanging bird feeder with seeds or a platform feeder if you want to offer other food types for the local finches to eat.
Be sure to scatter some on the ground and along the edges of your garden, as some smaller finch species prefer to forage under hedgerows, bushes and in long grasses.
Foods to AVOID for finches include, rhubarb, avocado and white potato, which are all toxic to birds.