Finches are renowned as seed-eaters, able to use their beaks to crack even olive and cherry seeds. But can finches survive when seed is in short supply?
That’s the situation faced by the sharp-beaked ground finch on tiny Wolf Island, about 200 km (120 miles) north of the main islands of the Galápagos Archipelago. For most of the year, this wave-pounded island of steep cliffs and tens of thousands of seabirds is tinder dry. Any seeds produced in the brief periods of rain are soon eaten by the finches—leaving them, you might think, facing starvation.
However, film-makers have now documented how the finches turn for sustenance to the island’s nesting seabirds, in order to survive the extended dry periods.1 For example, opportunistically raiding the seabirds’ eggs. But it seems their primary source of food during drought is … blood!
Despite the seabirds (masked boobies) being much larger, the finches are apparently able to extract their grisly nourishment from the booby birds with impunity. First, a finch lands on the tail of a booby. Using its sharp beak, the finch pecks at the base of the booby’s wing feathers until the skin breaks and the blood begins to ooze out. Then, every few seconds, it sips the blood. Meanwhile, other finches wait patiently to partake of this gruesome ‘feeding station’, as the film-makers observed:
When many people think of God’s Creation, they think of ‘All things bright and beautiful … The Lord God made them all.’ But on learning of the existence of the ‘vampire finch’, and seeing these grisly photographs (above and left), some must surely wonder how a God of Love could have possibly made such a bloodthirsty creature.2
The answer, of course, is that God did not make the finches to live in such a manner—originally, all animals/birds were vegetarian (Genesis 1:30). But after Adam sinned, death and bloodshed entered the world. The Galápagos finches give us an insight into how some instances of carnivory may have arisen after the Fall, and also after the Flood.3 The first finches4 to arrive in the Galápagos Archipelago5 (probably from the Americas, as Charles Darwin surmised) were likely to have still been seed-eaters. But on islands where there was a shortage of seeds, some finches learned to use their beaks for other purposes, e.g. probing under bark for grubs.6 And on Wolf Island, the sharp-beaked ground finch discovered its sharp beak was useful for procuring itself a nutritious though gruesome ‘liquid lunch’.