Finches are passerine birds, often seed-eating, found chiefly in the northern hemisphere and Africa. One subfamily is endemic to the Neotropics. The family scientific name Fringillidae comes from the Latin word "fringilla", meaning chaffinch, a member of this family that is common in Europe. The taxonomic structure of the true finch family, Fringillidae, is somewhat disputed, with some including the Hawaiian honeycreepers as another subfamily (Drepanidinae) and/or uniting the cardueline and fringilline finches as tribes (Carduelini and Fringillini) in one subfamily; the euphonious finches were thought to be tanagers due to general similarity in appearance and mode of life until their real affinities were realized; the buntings and American sparrows were formerly considered another subfamily (Emberizinae). Przewalski's "Rosefinch" (Urocynchramus pylzowi) is now classified as a distinct, monotypic family with no particularly close relatives (Groth 2000).
"Classic" or true finches are small to moderately large and have strong, stubby beaks, which in some species can be quite large. All have 12 tail feathers and 9 primaries. They have a bouncing flight, alternating bouts of flapping with gliding on closed wings, and most sing well. Their nests are basket-shaped and built in trees. The true finches range in size from the Andean Siskin (Carduelis spinescens), at 9.5 cm (3.8 inches) and 8.4 g., to the Collared Grosbeak (Mycerobas affinis), at nearly 23 cm (9 inches) and 79 g. (2.8 oz).
There are many birds in other families which are often called finches. These include many species in the very similar-looking Estrildids or waxbill family, which occur in the Old World tropics and Australia. Several groups of the Emberizidae family (buntings and American sparrows) are also named as finches, as are Darwin's finches of the Galapagos islands, which provided evidence of natural selection.
The systematics of the cardueline finches are contentious. The layout presented here follows the molecular studies of Marten & Johnson (1986) and Arnaiz-Villena et al.
(1998, 2001, 2007, 2008), and takes into account the traditional splitting of the genus Carduelis
. The exact position of several genera in the cardueline sequence is tentative.
- Subfamily Fringillinae - Fringilline finches; contains only three species, which feed their young on insects rather than straw.
- Genus Fringilla - Brambling and the chaffinches
- Subfamily Carduelinae - Cardueline finches; a much larger group that contains several genera which feed their young on seeds. Studies of mitochondrial DNA suggest this subfamily consists of several well-defined clades.
- Hawfinches and Asian Grosbeaks.
- American Rosefinches.
- "Arid-zone" clade.
- Asian Rosefinches.
**Goldfinch - Canary - Crossbill clade. Carduelis and Serinus are polyphyletic and are probably best regarded as a collection of independent sub-groups or genera.Genera as yet unplaced.
>Subfamily Drepanidinae - Hawaiian honeycreepers. Usually treated as a separate family but biochemical studies (Arnaiz-Villena et al, 2007) place them as a well-defined clade deep within the Carduelines.Subfamily Euphoniinae - Euphonious finches; endemic to the Neotropics; formerly treated in Thraupidae.
- Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Álvarez-Tejado, M.; Ruiz-del-Valle, V.; García-de-la-Torre, C.; Varela, P.; Recio, M. J.; Ferre. S. & Martínez-Laso, J. (1998): Phylogeny and rapid Northern and Southern Hemisphere speciation of goldfinches during the Miocene and Pliocene Epochs. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 54(9): 1031–1041. PDF fulltext Erratum, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 55(1): 148. PDF fulltext
- Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Guillén, J.; Ruiz-del-Valle, V.; Lowy, E.; Zamora, J.; Varela, P.; Stefani, D. & Allende, L. M. (2001): Phylogeography of crossbills, bullfinches, grosbeaks, and rosefinches. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 58: 1159–1166. PDF fulltext
- Arnaiz-Villena, A., Moscoso, J., Ruiz-del-Valle, V., Gonzalez, J., Reguera, R., Ferri, A., Wink, M., Serrano-Vela, J. I. 2008. Mitochondrial DNA Phylogenetic Definition of a Group of ‘Arid-Zone’ Carduelini Finches. The Open Ornithology Journal, Volume 1: pp.1-7. (Free download available at http://www.bentham.org/open/tooenij/openaccess2.htm)
- Arnaiz-Villena, A., Moscoso, J., Ruiz-del-Valle, V., Gonzalez, J., Reguera, R., Wink, M., I. Serrano-Vela, J. 2007. Bayesian phylogeny of Fringillinae birds: status of the singular African oriole finch Linurgus olivaceus and evolution and heterogeneity of the genus Carpodacus. Acta Zoologica Sinica, 53 (5):826 - 834. PDF fulltext
- Clement, Peter; Harris, Alan & Davis, John (1993): Finches and Sparrows: an identification guide. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-8017-2
- Groth, J. G. 1994. A mitochondrial cytochrome b phylogeny of cardueline finches. Journal für Ornithologie, 135: 31.
- Groth, J. G. 1998. Molecular phylogeny of the cardueline finches and Hawaiian honeycreepers. Ostrich, 69: 401.
- Groth, J (2000) "Molecular evidence for the systematic position of Urocynchramus pylzowi." Auk 117(3): 787-792.
- Klicka, J., K.P. Johnson, and S.M. Lanyon. 2000. New World nine-primaried oscine relationships: Constructing a mitochondrial DNA framework. Auk 117:321-336.
- Marten, Jill A. & Johnson, Ned K. (1986): Genetic relationships of North American cardueline finches. Condor 88(4): 409-420. PDF fulltext
- Newton, Ian. (1973). "Finches". New Naturalist series. Taplinger Publishing (ISBN 0-8008-2720-1)
- Ryan, P.G., Wright, D., Oatley, G., Wakeling, J., Cohen, C., Nowell, T.L., Bowie, R.C.K., Ward, V. & Crowe, T.M. 2004. Systematics of Serinus canaries and the status of Cape and Yellow-crowned Canaries inferred from mtDNA and morphology. Ostrich 75:288-294.
- Treplin, S. 2006. Inference of phylogenetic relationships in passerine birds (Aves: Passeriformes) using new molecular markers. (Dissertation - available online) http://opus.kobv.de/ubp/volltexte/2006/1123/pdf/treplin_diss.pdf.
- Yuri, T., and D. P. Mindell. 2002. Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Fringillidae, "New World nine-primaried oscines" (Aves: Passeriformes). Mol. Phylogen. Evol. 23:229-243.