Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola)

Saffron Finch


The saffron finch (Sicalis flaveola) is a tanager from South America that is common in open and semi-open areas in lowlands outside the Amazon Basin. They have a wide distribution in Colombia, northern Venezuela (where it is called "canario de tejado" or "roof canary"), western Ecuador, western Peru, eastern and southern Brazil (where it is called "canário-da-terra" or "native canary"), Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago. It has also been introduced to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. Although commonly regarded as a canary, it is not related to the Atlantic canary. Formerly, it was placed in the Emberizidae but it is close to the seedeaters. The male is bright yellow with an orange crown which distinguishes it from most other yellow finches (the exception being the orange-fronted yellow finch). The females are more difficult to identify and are usually just a slightly duller version of the male, but in the southern subspecies S. f. pelzelni they are olive-brown with heavy dark streaks.

Distribution And Habitat

The Saffron Finch is native to South America and believed to have been introduced to Puerto Rico through the pet trade in the 1960s (Raffaele 1989a, Raffaele and Kepler 1992). This songbird subsequently has become established on the island, and it is found mostly in the northern coast from the San Juan metropolitan area west to Arecibo (J.A. Salguero- Faría, personal observation 2009). However, during the last few decades it has expanded its range southward into the Cordillera Central with the construction of major highways (J.A. Salguero-Faría, personal observation 2009). In Puerto Rico, it occurs in cultivated lawns with scattered trees including parks, golf course edges, and gardens (Oberle 2018, Raffaele 1989b). The species is unknown from Culebra and Vieques islands. The atlas fieldwork yielded a total of 35 records within 24 hexagons or 5 percent of the 479 total hexagons. Of the 24 hexagons where this species was found, breeding met the atlas definition of confirmed in 38 percent (nine) of the hexagons, probable in 33 percent (eight), and possible in 29 percent (seven) (see map). Saffron Finch distribution. The map shows the highest breeding code by hexagon and overlaying the ecological life zones in Puerto Rico. Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding. 279Saffron Finch/Gorrión Azafrán

Saffron Finch Distribution

Breeding Habits

The Saffron Finch builds its nests in cavities on buildings or trees, clumps of palm leaves (Oberle 2018), and even cement powerline posts (J.A. Salguero- Faría, personal observation 2009) from August to October, according to previously published reports (Raffaele and others 1998). Atlas results show breeding evidence year- round, especially in May and June (see chart). Most of the hexagons where this species was found occurred in or near the metropolitan area of San Juan (see map). In addition, most of the hexagons where this species is confirmed to breed are located in the lowlands and within the subtropical moist forest life zone (see table and map).


The population of the Saffron Finch is stable across its distribution range, and it is considered a species of least concern by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2018). Locally, this species is not listed in any of the threatened categories of PRDNER and USFWS. In Puerto Rico, the Saffron Finch has a protected habitat of about 15 percent (87 km2) of the total area covered by the hexagons where this species is known to breed (573 km2).