House Finch

Male House Finch

This past weekend, we counted a dozen House Finches flocking to three of our feeders. Interestingly, all the resources we’ve studied suggest that house finches are attracted to black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and milo. Our feeders were filled with safflower and nyjer seeds. (Obviously, they need to improve their reading skills!)

Diet

House finches are almost exclusively strict vegetarians, even when it comes to feeding their young. In the wild, they forage on the ground looking for seeds (especially weed seeds), as well as buds and parts of flowering plants in spring and early summer; in late summer and fall, their diet is primarily berries and small fruits—cherries, strawberries, and blackberries for example.

When house finches find your feeders, you can expect them to bring their friends. Our dozen birds last weekend pales in comparison to the fifty or more reported by other birders.

Also, don’t be surprised if house finches land on your hummingbird feeders for a sip of your sugar-water.

Appearance

House finches are the size of a skinny House Sparrow—approximately five to five-and-a-half inches long, with about an eight to ten-inch wingspan. They weigh between 0.6 and 0.9 ounces. Their wings are relatively short. With long, flat heads, their beaks appear large for their tiny bodies.  

Especially among males, house finches can look different from one another. This is apparently more due to diet than genetics. While, an adult male generally has a reddish face and upper breast, that coloring can be more orange or even yellowish depending on what he eats. His belly, back and tail are streaked with tan and dark brown. His tail has a shallow notch and, when he’s in flight, you can see his reddish rump.

Adult females are physically similar to males in size and shape, but their plumage is not nearly as colorful: they are a dull greyish brown with indistinct, darker streaks.

Habitat

House finches are native to the western United States, where they inhabit deserts, grassland, chaparral, and open coniferous forests below an elevation of six thousand feet.

In the eastern United States, house finches are not indigenous. They were first introduced on Long Island (New York) in 1940. They were originally brought east with the goal of establishing them as caged songbirds. When that experiment failed, they were released into the wild where they started breeding. Over the next half century, house finches spread across the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Interestingly, all the house finches in the eastern U.S. are descended from the same few Long Island birds released nearly eighty years ago.

House finches in the Hawaiian Islands were originally transported from San Francisco and released in Oahu in the late 1800s. Within thirty years—by 1901—they were abundant throughout the islands.

As their name suggests, along with their traditional breeding locations, they are also frequently found near human-created structures.

Nesting

In nature, house finches nest in deciduous and coniferous trees, as well as on rock ledges and, in desert areas, on cacti.  In areas inhabited by humans, house finches nest in building vents and ledges, atop street lamps, and with ivy and hanging planters. House finches have also been known to occupy other bird species abandoned nests.

Typically, their nest is cup-shaped, formed from fine stems, twigs, and roots. They also often add string, wool, and feathers when available.

The outside diameter of the nest is between three and seven inches, with an interior diameter of one to three inches. The inside depth is rarely more than two inches.

With house finches, apparently looks are everything: females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find. Both parents feed their nestlings by regurgitation. The young leave the nest approximately two weeks after hatching. A nesting pair can produce three broods a year.

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