Sharp-beaked ground-finch (Geospiza difficilis)

loading
Male sharp-beaked ground-finch
loading
Loading more images and videos...

Sharp-beaked ground-finch fact file

Sharp-beaked ground-finch description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyEmberizidae
GenusGeospiza (1)

Unique amongst birds, the sharp-beaked ground finch is famed for the extraordinary feeding habits that have earned it the sinister pseudonym of the ‘vampire finch’ (3) (4). Like the other ground finches (Geospiza sp.), the adult male plumage is completely black, while the female is brown and streaked (2). However, different populations of this species exhibit greater variation in appearance and ecology than any other of Darwin’s celebrated finches. Whereas some populations are similar in appearance to the common cactus-finch (Geospiza scandens) with its long pointed beak, others are slighter in build and bare a closer resemblance to the small ground-finch (Geospiza fuliginosa) (2) (5) (6). Indeed, so great is the morphological variation amongst populations, that questions have been raised about its status as a single species (2) (6).

Also known as
Vampire finch.
Weight
20 g (2)
Top

Sharp-beaked ground-finch biology

Owing to the availability of different food types, the sharp-beaked ground-finch’s diet varies between the high islands and the low islands (2). Although populations on the low, dry islands mainly feed on seeds (7), they are also known to augment their diet from several unusual sources. It is on the small and remote islands of Wolf and Darwin that this species frequently drinks the blood of large seabirds, especially boobies (Sula spp.). Alighting on the backs of the larger birds, it pecks at the feather shafts with its long, pointed beak until blood begins to flow (3) (4) (5) (6) (8). In addition, it likes to feed on the eggs of seabirds, which it cracks open against rocks (5) (8), or alternatively forage for nectar from Opuntia catci (Wolf and Darwin) and the small flowers of Waltheria ovata (Genovesa) (6). In contrast, while populations at high elevations also take seeds, they concentrate most of their foraging efforts in areas of deep ground litter where invertebrate prey is abundant (7).

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 eggs that are incubated for around 12 days before hatching. The nestlings are mostly raised on insects and leave the nest after about two weeks (8).

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 (8).

Top

Sharp-beaked ground-finch range

The large ground-finch is endemic to the Galapagos where it occurs on the small low-lying islands of Wolf, Darwin and Genovesa, and the large, high islands of Santiago, Pinta and Fernandina (2) (6). Populations also formerly occurred at medium to high elevations on Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Floreana and Isabela (it is however possible that a population still exists on the volcanoes of Isabela) (6).

Top

Sharp-beaked ground-finch habitat

The dry, open vegetation of Wolf and Darwin is dominated by Opuntia cactus and the shrub Croton scouleri, while Genovesa is largely covered by a forest of drought-deciduous trees, such as Bursera graveolens and Cordia lutea. On the three larger islands, the sharp-beaked ground finch occurs at high elevations in Zanthoxylum fagara forest interspersed with open patches of low-growing vegetation (6).

Top

Sharp-beaked ground-finch status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

Top

Sharp-beaked ground-finch threats

The destruction of habitat by humans brought about the extinction of the sharp-beaked ground-finch on the islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Floreana and Isabela (6). As with much of the Galapagos’ endemic fauna and flora, the remaining populations are under potential threat from habitat loss, as well as an array of introduced mammals and diseases (4) (6). Fortunately, the sharp-beaked ground-finch population currently appears to be stable (9).

Top

Sharp-beaked ground-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 (10). Furthermore,scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation continue to conduct further research on Darwin’s finches in order to ensure their long-term conservation (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Top

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:

Top

Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk
Top

Glossary

Drought-deciduous
Plants that shed their leaves during periods of drought in order to reduce water losses.
Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Invertebrate
Animals with no backbone.
Top

References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    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. Wilson, E.O. (1992) The diversity of life. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  4. Charles Darwin Foundation (May, 2009)
    http://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/galapagos/species/birds/native-endemic
  5. Schluter, D. and Grant, P.R. (1984) Ecological correlates of morphological evolution in a Darwin’s finch, Geospiza difficilis. Evolution, 38: 856 - 869.
  6. Grant, P.R., Grant, B.R. and Petren, K. (2000) The allopatric phase of speciation: the sharp-beaked ground finch (Geospiza difficilis) on the Galapagos islands. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 69: 287 - 317.
  7. Schluter, D. and Grant, P.R. (1984) Determinants of morphological patterns in communities of Darwin’s finches. American Naturalist, 123: 175 - 196.
  8. Hau, M. and Wikelski, M. (2001) Darwin’s Finches. In: Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.
  9. Birdlife International (May, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  10. UNEP-WCMC (May, 2009)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/protected_areas/data/wh/galapago.html
X
Close

Image credit

Male sharp-beaked ground-finch  
Male sharp-beaked ground-finch

© Bill Coster / www.photoshot.com

NHPA/Photoshot Holdings Ltd
29-31 Saffron Hill
London
EC1N 8SW
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7421 6003
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7421 6006
sales@photoshot.com
http://www.photoshot.com

X
Close

Link to this photo

ARKive species - Sharp-beaked ground-finch (Geospiza difficilis) Embed this ARKive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to ARKive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about

X
Close

MyARKive

MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!

Blog RSS