Common cactus-finch (Geospiza scandens)

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Common cactus-finch perched on cactus
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Common cactus-finch fact file

Common cactus-finch description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyEmberizidae
GenusGeospiza (1)

Although the mockingbirds of the Galapagos arguably had a greater influence on Darwin’s theory of natural selection (3), it is a group of fourteen closely related finches that famously bear his eponym (2) (4). One of the most well known of Darwin’s finches, and one that the eminent naturalist initially mistook for a kind of blackbird, is the common cactus-finch (4) (5). Like the other ground finches (Geospiza sp.) the adult male plumage of the common cactus finch is usually completely black, while the female is brown and streaked (2). The long, pointed beak of the common cactus-finch enables it to exploit food sources less accessible to the other finches (2) (4) (6).

Also known as
Cactus finch, cactus ground finch.
Weight
21 g (2)
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Common cactus-finch biology

The highly adaptive beaks of Darwin’s finches enable each species to occupy a different ecological niche based on different food types (2) (4). The foraging behaviour of the common cactus-finch varies with the seasons, but when Opuntia cacti are flowering, the adults use their specialised beaks to feed almost exclusively on the pollen and nectar obtained from the flowers (4) (8). At other times of the year, Opuntia fruits and seeds become important components of its diet, and during the rainy season, this finch will take advantage of various additional sources of food, such as shoots, berries, seeds, caterpillars and budworms (8)

Darwin’s finches generally breed opportunistically with egg-laying being most profuse when rainfall is high and food abundant (2). Pairs are typically monogamous and maintain small territories within which they build a small dome-shaped nest in a bush or cactus. On average each clutch comprises three to four eggs that are incubated for around 12 days before hatching. The nestlings are mostly raised on pollen, nectar and insects, and leave the nest after about two weeks (4) (9).

During the breeding season, competition for resources between different species of finch can be extremely intense. In promoting ever increasing levels of specialisation, competition for resources has been the driving force behind the evolution of Darwin’s finches. This is exemplified by the widely divergent beak sizes of different finch species co-inhabiting one island, compared with much more convergent beak sizes when the same species are isolated from each other on separate islands (4). Long term studies of Darwin’s finches on the island of Daphne Major have provided compelling evidence of evolution in action. Over a period of several decades, the beak morphology of the island’s common cactus-finch population has fluctuated in response to changes in the prevalent food source following climatic events (10) (11) (12).

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Common cactus-finch range

The common cactus finch is endemic to the Galápagos where it occurs on the islands of Pinta, Marchena, Floreana, San Cristóbal, Santa Fe, Daphne Major, Santa Cruz, Pinzón, Rábida, Santiago, Isabela, Baltra and Seymour (2).

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Common cactus-finch habitat

The common cactus finch occurs mainly in the arid lowland zone on each island, particularly where Opuntia cacti are abundant (7) (8).

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Common cactus-finch status

The common cactus finch is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Common cactus-finch threats

Like much of the Galapagos’ endemic fauna and flora, Darwin’s finches are under threat from habitat destruction, introduced diseases, and invasive predatory species such as rats and cats (13). Fortunately, the common cactus-finch is still relatively abundant in parts of its range and currently is not thought to be undergoing a significant decline (14).

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Common cactus-finch conservation

For their unique biological diversity and significance, the Galapagos Islands are designated both a National Park and a World Heritage Site. As a consequence, conservation of the islands’ native fauna and flora is a high priority (15). Furthermore,scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation continue to conduct further research on Darwin’s finches in order to ensure their long-term conservation (13).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To find out more about the conservation of Darwin’s finches visit:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (21/04/09) by Professor Peter R. Grant, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University.
http://www-dept-edit.princeton.edu/eeb/people/display_person.xml?netid=prgrant&display=Emeritus%2520Professors

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Monogamous
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Morphology
The visible or measurable characteristics of an organism.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Grant, P.R. and Grant, B.R. (2007) How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin's Finches. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  3. Darwin's Mockingbirds (March, 2009)
    http://oikos.villanova.edu/Nesomimus
  4. Hau, M. and Wikelski, M. (2001) Darwin’s Finches. In: Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.
  5. Kricher, J.C. (2006) Galapagos: A Natural History. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  6. Abzhanov, A., Kuo, W.P., Hartmann, C., Grant, B.R., Grant, P.R. and Tabin, C.J. (2006) The calmodulin pathway and evolution of elongated beak morphology in Darwin's finches. Nature, 442: 563 - 567.
  7. Lack, D. (1983) Darwin’s Finches. Cambridge University Press, UK.
  8. Millington, S.J. and Grant, P.R. (1983) Feeding ecology and territoriality of the Cactus Finch Geospiza scandens on Isla Daphne Major, Galápagos. Oecologia, 58: 76 - 83.
  9. Grant, P.R. (2009) Pers. comm.
  10. Grant, P.R. and Grant, B.R. (2006) Evolution of character displacement in Darwin’s Finches. Science, 313: 224 - 226.
  11. Hosken, D.J. and Balloux, F. (2002) Thirty years of evolution in Darwin’s finches. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 17: 447 - 448.
  12. Grant, P.R. and Grant, B.R. (2002) Unpredictable evolution in a 30-year study of Darwin's finches. Science, 296: 707 - 711.
  13. Charles Darwin Foundation (March, 2009)
    http://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/galapagos/species/birds/native-endemic
  14. Birdlife International (March, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  15. UNEP-WCMC (March, 2009)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/protected_areas/data/wh/galapago.html
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Image credit

Common cactus-finch perched on cactus  
Common cactus-finch perched on cactus

© Alan Greensmith / www.ardea.com

Ardea wildlife pets environment
59 Tranquil Vale
London
SE3 0BS
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 318 1401
ardea@ardea.co.uk
http://www.ardea.com

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