Finches (family Fringillidae) are small to medium seed- and insect-eating songbirds with relatively pointed wings, often with white wingbars, and with conical bills and notched tails. They perch in the open, and their cup-shaped nests are built in trees or shrubs. Finches give distinctive calls, and their flight is high, strong and undulating. Many species are gregarious and frequent backyard feeders. The plumage is dimorphic, with brightly coloured adult males and relatively drab females. Globally, there are about 150 species of finches, twelve of which have been recorded in Saskatchewan.

The pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator) breeds in the stunted coniferous forests of the subarctic ecoregion and is a winter resident in southern Saskatchewan. The adult male has reddish tipped plumage on head, back, and rump and uppertail coverts. Evening grosbeaks (Cocothraustes vespertinus) breed in mixedwood and coniferous stands in the southern boreal and Cypress Hills ecoregions, and are uncommon winter residents in southern Saskatchewan. Adult male evening grosbeaks have a black crown on brownish head and nape, yellow eyebrow and forehead, are dark brown and yellow overall, and have a prominent white patch on black wings.

The purple finch (Carpodacus purpureus) is most commonly found in the southern boreal ecoregion in mature mixedwood stands, but does breed at Fort Qu'Appelle, Moose Mountain and Lake Athabasca. Adult male purple finches have a distinctive rosy plumage. The introduced house finch (C. mexicanus) has been expanding its range in Saskatchewan after the first confirmed nest in Regina in 1992. Male house finches have orange to red bibs, and brown heads and bodies with white streaking.

The two species of crossbills are conifer specialists. Their beaks have crossed tips, which allows them to remove seeds from cones. Red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) breed in jack pine stands in northern Saskatchewan and lodgepole stands in the Cypress Hills. They are brick-red overall, while the white-winged crossbills (Loxia leucoptera), which breed in coniferous and mixedwood stands in northern Saskatchewan and periodically irrupt southward in winter, are pink with white wingbars.

The two redpolls are arctic birds which winter irregularly in Saskatchewan. The small common redpoll (Carduelis flammea) has an orange or red cap, black chin, and whitish plumage with brown streaking and bright rose pink breast and sides, while the hoary redpoll (C. flammea) is generally paler.

The pine siskin (C. pinus) is a small brown bird with white lower and yellow upper wing bars. It breeds in the boreal forest and Cypress Hills, and occasionally in aspen parkland.

American goldfinches (C. tristis) are commonly found breeding in open and semi-open areas, including cultivated areas in central and southern Saskatchewan. These bright yellow birds with black tail, cap and wings with double white wingbars are often called “wild canaries.” The gray-crowned rosy finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis), with its brown body, black bill, black cap on a gray head and pinkish wings and rump, is an uncommon and irregular winter resident of the Cypress Hills and grasslands.

The orange and black Eurasian brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) is a straggler species in Saskatchewan.

Robert Warnock

Further Reading

Alsop, Fred J., III. 2002. Birds of Canada. New York: Dorling Kindersley.