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Finch Facts

While finches are often overlooked in the parrot world, these sweet and tiny birds have contributed much to the world of science. Here's three facts you might not know about finches.

Jessica Pineda


Finches have contributed much to the world of science, from helping us understand why birds behave the way they do, to how language might have evolved, to how the human brain works. Check out three recent contributions to science, courtesy of finches!

1) Finch Pair Bonds
A lone finch is a lonely finch, so keep finches in pairs. A study by Julie Elie of U.C. Berkeley, along with her colleagues Clementine Vignal and Nicolas Mathevon from the University of Saint-Etienne in France, showed that zebra finches have an intrinsic need to pair-bond, and not just to mate.

Elie put together an all-female zebra finch group, as well as an all-male zebra finch group, and watched to see if they paired up despite not being able to reproduce. The zebra finches paired up regardless, and performed the same pair-bond behaviors seen in male-female pair bonds; e.g., preening each other and, for the males, singing to each other.

2) Finch Linguistics
According to the study "Songbirds Possess The Spontaneous ability To Discriminate Syntactic Rules,” published in the journal "Nature,” finches have their own grammatical rules in their songs. To determine this, scientists played new songs to the finches they were studying. Finches react to any new songs they hear until they are used to them, so scientists played the new songs until the birds no longer reacted. Then the scientists mixed the songs up, changing the syllables around before replaying them to the finches. One particular sequence made the finches react, and scientists were able to determine that the finches seemed to have structure to the "words” in their song (i.e., grammar).

To further prove this hypothesis, scientists were able to teach the new language to finches that hadn’t learned songs yet. Once the finches learned the song, the scientists remixed the new language’s syllables around, and the birds reacted to the new song.

3) Finch Smells
Birds are thought to have a poor sense of smell, but scientists have shown otherwise in zebra finches. In the study "Olfactory Kin Recognition In A Songbird,” published in the journal "Biology Letters,” scientists separated newly hatched zebra finches from their parents’ nest and placed them in another nest. When the chicks were around 30 days old, the scientists offered them samples of odors from their parents’ nest and their adoptive parents’ nest. The chicks showed preference for their parents’ scent, and scientists theorize that they use their sense of smell to locate relatives. Since a bird’s sense of smell has often been overlooked, this study opens up new questions on how birds use their five senses.

Pet Finch Facts
While a hands-off pet, finches are full of personality and can brighten anyone’s day with their antics and songs. The most popular finches are zebra finchesGouldian finches and society finches

Finches can live up to 10 years and should live in a cage that is at least 24 inches long by 24 inches deep by 24 inches high, with 1/2-inch or less bar spacing. Finch breeders recommend housing finches in pairs (keep in mind that male-female pairs might have babies), and not to have an uneven number of finches in a cage.

Breeders recommend feeding finches a seed mix, along with greens and eggfood.

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Posted: August 16, 2013, 1:45 p.m. PDT

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