Tanagers, Cardinals and Darwin’s Finches

Tanagers, Cardinals and Darwin's Finches

Featured in the first gallery are Tanagers (Thraupidae), and Cardinals (Cardinalidae) photographed in forest habitat. The second and third galleries display Darwin’s Finches (Dacninae, tribe Coerebini), which is part of Thraupidae family, see Taxonomic Classification note below. Almost all tanagers have a diet of fruit and insects, cardinals’ food is much broader, and Darwin’s finches have a more specialised diet. The final gallery features Tanager Behaviours.

Tanagers and Cardinals

Tanager and Cardinal Notes

All featured species are ‘Red List 2019’ assessed as ‘Least Concern’. The tanager and cardinal families populate much of the New World and are extensive with over 150 genera and 450 species between them. I photographed these species in Trinidad’s forests, lakes, mangrove swamps and nature parks. They are some of the most colourful and striking birds I’ve shot with some species exhibiting extreme plumage dimorphism. A good example is a green honeycreeper, named after the female; the male is blue.

Darwin's Cactus and Ground Finches

Darwin's Cactus and Ground Finch Notes

All featured species are ‘Red List 2019’ assessed as ‘Least Concern’, except for the following two ‘Vulnerable’ species: Genovesa cactus-finch and Espanola cactus-finch. Darwin’s cactus and ground finches can sometimes be challenging to identify, see Identification of Darwin’s Finches below.

Cactus Finches: Santiago and Rabida islands are home to the nominate species of the common cactus finch (12-14cm), while subspecies intermedia inhabits most of the other islands except Genovesa and Espanola. Both these islands have endemic species: Genovesa cactus finch (13-15cm) and the Espanola cactus finch (13-15cm. The latter is sister to the large ground finch (15-16cm); the similarities are self-evident by comparing the two images. These finches rely on a diet that includes flowers, fruits and seeds from the six species of prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) that grow in the Galapagos.

Ground Finches: Males are usually black, females tend to brown with stripped breasts. Ground finches primary food is seeds, which they crush with the bills; they also eat flowers, buds, leaves and occasionally insects. The light buff coloured small gound finch I believe is a young female it was foraging with older females. For comparison the size of ground fiches is: large (15-16cm), medium (11-12cm) and small (10-10.5cm) ground finches.

Darwin's Arboreal Finches

Darwin's Arboreal Finches

All featured species are ‘Red List 2019’ assessed as ‘Least Concern’, except for the following three ‘Vulnerable’ species: large tree-finch, green warbler-finch and woodpecker finch. Darwin’s tree finches can sometimes be challenging to identify, see Identification of Darwin’s Finches below.

Tree Finches: Generally more plumage variation than ground finches. Males usually have blackish hood extending to throat and breast and underparts whitish with buffy tinge. Females are dull greyish-brown some streaking of underparts. Diet is mainly arthropods, insects supplemented by vegetable matter such as fruits, leaves, buds, etc. Less variation in size than ground finches; small fiches are 11cm while medium and large are 13cm.

Vegetarian Finches are large at 16cm; have similar plumage to tree finches but with a pale or yellowish belly. As the name suggests, their diet is vegetable matter. One of Darwin’s more interesting finches is the woodpecker finch. I observed one individual foraging just like true woodpeckers; crawling along tree branches and clinging to tree trunks while searching for insects and larva. The green warbler-finch feeds on small insects and spiders. Its upper wing is brownish with variable underparts, usually white with warm buff on flanks and is the smallest finch at 10cm.

Tanager Behaviour

Tanager Behaviour Notes

Feeding and nest-building behaviours.

Identification of Darwin's Finches

Some of Darwin’s Fiches are readily identifiable, such as the common cactus finch, but others are more difficult because of the similarity between some species, variation between populations and possible hybridisation. Identification has been challenging especially the tree-finches and the Espanola cactus-finch. I photographed the latter on the ground; it looks very similar to the Genovesa ground finch. But since there are only three Darwin finches on Espanola: Large (Espanola) cactus finch, small ground finch and warbler finch, it must be the Espanola cactus-finch. I’ve relied on location and several trusted reference sources to cross-check my images, but I’m still doubtful that I have correctly identified the small tree finch.

Tanager and Cardinal Taxonomy

The featured families contain the Nine-primaried Oscines Thraupid Group, which is part of the Icteroidae epifamily. These families include Thraupidae (Tanagers) and Cardinalidae (Cardinals).

The Tanagers and Cardinals gallery features just the scarlet tanager from the cardinals. Other displayed gallery photos are from the two basal subfamilies Thraupinae and Dacninae. J Boyd’s Taxonomy in Flux Checklist further subdivides these subfamilies into eighteen tribes; featured images include seven of these tribes. Of note is the bananaquit, which belongs to Dacninae, tribe Coerebini (dome-nesting tanagers).

The Passerida Photo Albums webpage gives an overview of applicable Aves High-level Classification.

Taxonomy of Darwin's Finches

Darwin’s finches belong to tribe Coerebini (dome-nesting tanagers) in Dacninae subfamily. Most species are genera Geospiza but with two exceptions; Platyspiza (vegetarian finch) and Certhidea (green warbler finches). Depending on Taxonomy there are between thirteen and eighteen recognised species in the Galapagos, twelve feature in the galleries. All eleven species are Galapagos endemics, and the Common Cactus-finch (Geospiza scandens intermedia) and the Large Tree-finch (Geospiza psittacula psittacula) are subspecies endemics.