House FinchHaemorhous mexicanus

adult male
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
juvenile
Hugh P. Smith, Jr. & Susan C. Smith/VIREO
adult female
Brian E. Small/VIREO
adult male
Bob Steele/VIREO
adult male
Brian E. Small/VIREO

Family

Description

Adaptable, colorful, and cheery-voiced, House Finches are common from coast to coast today, familiar visitors to backyard feeders. Native to the Southwest, they are recent arrivals in the East. New York pet shop owners, who had been selling the finches illegally, released their birds in 1940 to escape prosecution; the finches survived, and began to colonize the New York suburbs. By 50 years later they had advanced halfway across the continent, meeting their western kin on the Great Plains.

Habitat

Cities, suburbs, farms, canyons. Original habitat was probably streamside trees and brush in dry country, woodland edges, chaparral, other semi-open areas. Now most commonly associated with humans in cities, towns, and farmland, especially in areas with lawns, weedy areas, trees, buildings. Avoids unbroken forest or grassland.

Feeding Diet

Mostly seeds, buds, berries. Almost all of diet is vegetable matter. Feeds mainly on weed seeds. Other important items include buds and flower parts in spring, berries and small fruits in late summer and fall. Also eats a few insects, mostly small ones such as aphids. Young are fed on regurgitated seeds.

Feeding Behavior

Forages on ground, while perching in weeds, or up in trees and shrubs. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks. Will come to feeders for seeds, especially sunflower seeds, and to hummingbird feeders for sugar-water.

Nesting

Pairs may begin to form within flocks in winter, and some paired birds may remain together all year. In breeding season, male performs flight-song display, singing while fluttering up with slow wingbeats and then gliding down. Male feeds female during courtship and incubation. Males may sing at any time of year, and females also sing during spring. Nest: Wide variety of sites, especially in conifers, palms, ivy on buildings, cactus, holes in manmade structures, averaging about 12-15' above the ground. Sometimes use sites such as cavities, hanging planters, old nests of other birds. Nest (built mostly by female) is open cup of grass, weeds, fine twigs, leaves, rootlets, sometimes with feathers, string, or other debris added. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 2-6. Pale blue, with black and lavender dots mostly at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 12-15 days after hatching. Up to 3 broods per year, perhaps sometimes more.

Eggs

4-5, sometimes 2-6. Pale blue, with black and lavender dots mostly at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 12-15 days after hatching. Up to 3 broods per year, perhaps sometimes more.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 12-15 days after hatching. Up to 3 broods per year, perhaps sometimes more.

Conservation

Now abundant over much of North America. In some parts of East, may be competing with Purple Finches to the detriment of the latter. Local populations in some areas have been hard hit by a bacterial infection called conjunctivitis, which swells their eyes shut and makes it difficult for them to feed themselves.

Range

Mostly permanent resident in West, although some may move to lower elevations for winter. In the East, some are permanent residents but others migrate long distances south in fall. Migrates in flocks, mostly by day.

Listen

seet calls
various calls
song #3
extended courtship song
song #1
wheet calls
song #2

Similar Species

adult male

Common Redpoll

One of the "winter finches," nesting in the Arctic and sometimes invading southern Canada and the northern states. Redpolls are tiny, restless birds, feeding actively on seeds among trees and weeds, fluttering and climbing about acrobatically, their flocks seemingly always on the move. For their small size, they have a remarkable ability to survive cold temperatures; their southward flights are sparked by temporary scarcity of food in the North, not by cold. At bird feeders in winter, redpolls are often remarkably tame.

adult male

Hoary Redpoll

A very close relative of the Common Redpoll, but adapted to even bleaker conditions, the Hoary Redpoll is only a scarce visitor south of the Arctic. In those winters when large numbers of redpolls invade southward, a few Hoarys are usually mixed into the flocks. On the breeding grounds, this species extends farther north, onto high Arctic islands of Canada. Where the two redpolls overlap, the Hoary tends to nest on more barren upland tundra, where the patches of shrubs are fewer and smaller.

adult male

Pine Siskin

Although it is patterned like a sparrow, its shape, actions, and callnotes all reveal that this bird is really a goldfinch in disguise. After nesting in the conifer woods, Pine Siskins move out into semi-open country, where they roam in twittering flocks. They often descend on fields of thistles or wild sunflowers, where they cling to the dried flower heads, eating seeds. In winter they sometimes invade southward in big numbers, with flocks coming to feeders along with American Goldfinches.

adult male

Cassin's Finch

Like a slightly larger, longer-billed version of the Purple Finch, Cassin's Finch is a resident of mountains and conifer forests of the West. It is sometimes found at very high elevations, in the scrubby forest just below treeline, especially in late summer. At other times, little roving flocks wander through the woods, often feeding on buds and seeds high in the trees. The complicated song of the male often includes brief imitations of other birds.

adult male, Eastern

Purple Finch

Not really purple, more of an old-rose color is the male Purple Finch. This species is common in the North and East, and along the Pacific seaboard, but it is very rare in much of the Rocky Mountains region. Purple Finches feed up in trees and on the ground in open woods. They readily come to bird feeders; but they have become less numerous as feeder visitors in the Northeast, where competition with introduced House Sparrows and then House Finches may have driven them back into the woods.

adult male

Black Rosy-Finch

High mountains of the northern Great Basin region, from northeastern Nevada to southwestern Montana, are the stronghold of this uncommon bird. Black Rosy-Finches spend the summer around the snowfields and barren tundra of the rocky crags, where few birders venture. In winter, however, flocks come down into the high valleys. The striking males, their black plumage contrasting with touches of pale rose, make a beautiful spectacle against the snow.

adult male, breeding

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

Rosy-finches in general are birds of the Arctic and alpine zones, but this one inhabits the high peaks of the Rockies from Wyoming south to New Mexico. Even where highways take the observer to areas above treeline, this species can be elusive in summer, seeming to favor the most remote and barren cliffs and isolated snowfields. In winter, when the birds move to lower elevations, they are often much easier to find, even coming to feeders in valley towns.

adult male

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

The most widespread of our three species of rosy-finches, the Gray-crown nests from the islands of western Alaska south to the high mountains of California and northern Montana. Different populations are variable in size and in the amount of gray on the heads of the males.

adult male

Red Crossbill

These stubby little nomads are often first detected by their hard kip-kip callnotes as they fly overhead in evergreen woods. Red Crossbills in North America are quite variable, from small-billed birds that feed on spruce cones to large-billed ones that specialize on pines. Scientists have long puzzled over how to classify these different forms. New research suggests that there may be as many as eight different full species of Red Crossbills on this continent.

adult male

White-winged Crossbill

Nomads of the spruce woods, White-winged Crossbills wander throughout the boreal zones of the northern hemisphere, often in large flocks. Their peculiar crossed bills are perfectly adapted for prying open spruce cones to get the seeds; flocks will travel long distances, perhaps clear across Canada at times, in search of good spruce cone crops. When they find such crops, they may settle briefly to build nests and raise young, regardless of the season, even in mid-winter.

adult male

Pine Grosbeak

A big boreal finch, uncommon but widespread in spruce and fir forests of the North and the high mountains. It is often absurdly tame, allowing very close approach; ironically, this sometimes makes it easy to overlook in dense coniferous forest, since it may sit motionless as a birder walks by. On those occasions when Pine Grosbeaks move south in winter, they may be more conspicuous, often feeding on buds in the bare branches of maples or other trees.

adult male

Vermilion Flycatcher

Most flycatchers are drab, but the male Vermilion Flycatcher is a brilliant exception. It is usually seen perched fairly low in open areas near water, dipping the tail gently like a phoebe. As if the male's bright colors were not advertisement enough, he also displays by puffing up his feathers and fluttering high in the air while singing repeatedly. Fairly common in parts of the southwest, the Vermilion Flycatcher is also widespread in Central and South America.

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