Graham Martin's picture

Mystery Finch

Observed: 20th February 2011 By: Graham Martin
Mystery finch

This bird has been visiting the garden feeder for about 3 weeks. Photographed it today through the window. It is larger that our usual Goldfinches. Could this be a hybrid or is it a different subspecies of Goldfinch? According to HBW there are about 14 subspecies with one group referred to as "grey-headed" (caniceps) but I cannot find a picture, but these grey headed forms should be in Pakistan/China. So possibly an escaped cage bird? No evidence of a ring but so far I have not had a clear view of both legs.

Species interactions

No interactions present.


creaturesnapper's picture


This is a Goldfinch with a condition called Leucism ,where the pigmentation doesn't develop properly .There are other examples ,like a white starling ,that I posted a while back .

Graham Martin's picture

mystery finch

I have now been provided with three identifications for this bird.
1. A leucistic individual. However my understanding of Leucism is that it is partial loss of pigment affecting all colours present and reducing them in intensity. This does not appear to be the case with this bird. The presence of grey on the head raises other possibilities.
2. A hybrid between goldfich and canary, which apparently is not that rare in the cage bird world but presumably rare as a natural hybrid, very unlikely in the UK. This would be a generic hybrid. The grey on the back of the head would fit with this and the pattern of the red on the face seems to follow the pattern of yellow on the face of a wild type canary.
3. A hybrid between goldfinch and greenfinch. This is also a relatively common cage bird hybrid but apparently has been recorded in the wild. This would be a species hybrid, i.e. within the same genus. However, I cannot really see any greenfinch features in this bird.

So I am left wondering, can anyone clarify or offer further ideas?

RoyW's picture

It is usually impossible to

It is usually impossible to be certain about the parentage of birds like this without either genetic analysis, or knowing the identity of the parent birds (ie. the birds were caged together, with no others in the same cage).

Personally though, I see no reason to consider this to be anything other than a Goldfinch x Canary cross, because there seem to be features that have come from both Golfinch (notably the red face, and white tips on the primaries and tertials), and a domestic Canary (the 'greyish' face, and 'pied' appearance with pale yellow tail).
Admittedly features like the streaked mantle could come from other combinations, and the pied appearance/yellow tail could perhaps be the result of leucism, or other pigment difficiencies (leucism can affect only certain areas, and can result in total loss or partial loss of pigment, and other deficiencies can affect only specific pigments).

To me, it would seem unlikely that a species other than a domestic Canary was involved in the cross, with the resulting offspring just happening to show features that have been bred into some colour forms of domestic Canaries.

Whatever the parentage is, I have absolutely no doubt that this bird is the rest of a captive cross, and the bird has then escaped.

Graham Martin's picture


Many thanks for all the information. The tail is in fact white not yellow but I guess it still remains best to assume that this is a hybrid of goldfinch and canary. Seeing that canaries can be so variable anything is possible as a result of the hybridization. Thanks once again.

bobthebirder's picture


I agree, a captive origin for this bird is by far the most likely explanation. And a canary x goldfinch is a fairly common cross in aviaries

Bob Ford