The large cactus-finch generally feeds on seeds, arthropods and, as its name suggests, various parts of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia helleri) (5) (7). During the dry season when competition for food is most intense, it exercises different skills to obtain four main food items. This includes cracking hard Opuntia seeds, extracting seeds from Opuntia fruit and eating the arils, stripping bark to find arthropods, and opening decomposing Opuntia pads to obtain insect larvae (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 (4).
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 (4).