Finches are small birds, with short, conical beaks designed for eating seeds. Some are brightly coloured, particularly males, and most are gregarious, with tuneful songs. Four species were successfully introduced to New Zealand.
The natural range of the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) is from Europe and North Africa to Central Asia.
The male chaffinch has a distinctive slate-grey head and nape, and is a rich pinkish-brown underneath. The female is paler pinkish-fawn underneath, with a brown head and nape. Both male and female have a double white wing-bar.
From 1862 chaffinches were liberated by acclimatisation societies at several sites. They are now one of the most widespread species in New Zealand, including on the Chatham and Snares islands. In South Canterbury and other grain-growing areas, a bounty was introduced to control them in the early 1900s, because of the crop damage they caused.
Habitat and diet
Chaffinches are found in urban areas, farmland, orchards, shrublands, and native and introduced forest up to the subalpine zone.
They feed on fallen seed, as well as taking seeds from pine cones and grasses, and pecking at fruit. They catch insects on the wing and search foliage for caterpillars, aphids and spiders.
Chaffinches usually build their nests in mānuka, matagouri, gorse, willows or pines, and lay around four greyish-blue or pink eggs. Chicks are fed mainly invertebrates.
After breeding, they assemble in flocks of up to 600 birds.
The oldest chaffinch recorded in New Zealand was 10 years old.
The natural range of greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) is from Europe and North Africa to western Asia.
Greenfinches are olive-green with yellow outer wing feathers, and they show flashes of yellow as they fly past, often in large flocks.
Greenfinches were introduced to Nelson, Canterbury, Auckland and Otago from the early 1860s. Numbers increased rapidly and they were soon found in most parts of New Zealand.
Soon they were described as the ‘farmer’s greatest enemy when grain is ripening’. 1 Greenfinches damaged fruit trees in flower, ripe fruit, young vegetables and grains. Their numbers declined by the 1920s, as pastoral and dairy farming replaced grain cropping.
Greenfinches usually live in farmland, shelter belts, orchards and gardens. They tend to stay in one region, but have been known to move several hundred kilometres. They avoid higher country and dense bush, and in winter often feed along the coast.
A pair takes up to two weeks to build a bulky, untidy nest, usually in the outer forks of pines, mānuka, matagouri or gorse. The nest is empty for up to three weeks before the female lays four or five bluish-white eggs with brown blotches. She incubates alone, fed by the male. Nestlings are mainly fed regurgitated seeds.
The oldest recorded greenfinch in New Zealand was seven years old.
About 500 goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) were released by acclimatisation societies between 1862 and 1883. They are native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia. Now they are spread over most of New Zealand, other than heavily forested or alpine areas. They have also reached most of the outer island groups.
Goldfinches are New Zealand’s most colourful finches. They are bright red from their bill over their face to their forehead. They have a black crown and collar, black-and-gold wings, and shades of brown, buff and white on their body.
Outside the breeding season the birds feed in large flocks of about a hundred, and fly in an undulating pattern. A record flock of 15,000 goldfinches has been observed.
Goldfinches are the most welcome small introduced bird because they feed mainly on the seed of weeds, such as thistle, rather than on grains. They also feed their chicks invertebrates, including aphids and other pests.
The female builds the nest, usually in fruit trees, grape vines and conifers. She lays four or five bluish-white eggs with reddish spots, which she incubates. The male feeds both the mother and the hatchlings.
The oldest recorded goldfinch was eight years old.
The redpoll (Carduelis flammea), the smallest of the introduced finches, is native to Europe, Asia and North America. It is now common in the South Island and lower North Island from sea level to the subalpine zone, preferring drier and higher country. In winter they gather in flocks.
The redpoll is the smallest of the finches, weighing just 12 grams and measuring about 12 centimetres. They have a streaky brown body with a red forehead, and the male has a bright crimson chest in breeding season.
Redpolls eat weeds, grass seeds and insects. They sometimes harm peach and apricot crops by destroying flower buds.
Redpolls usually nest in low bushes, laying around four bluish-green eggs with brown speckles.