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House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: FRINGILLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

House Finch Photo

The House Finch is a recent introduction from western into eastern North America (and Hawaii), but it has received a warmer reception than other arrivals like the European Starling and House Sparrow. That’s partly due to the cheerful red head and breast of males, and to the bird’s long, twittering song, which can now be heard in most of the neighborhoods of the continent. If you haven’t seen one recently, chances are you can find one at the next bird feeder you come across.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.1–5.5 in
13–14 cm
Wingspan
7.9–9.8 in
20–25 cm
Weight
0.6–1 oz
16–27 g
Relative Size
Same size as a House Sparrow, but more slender overall.
Other Names
  • Roselin familiar (French)
  • Gorrión doméstico, Gorrión común, Gorrión mexicano (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The House Finch was originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico. In 1940 a small number of finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds (“Hollywood finches”). They quickly started breeding and spread across almost all of the eastern United States and southern Canada within the next 50 years.
  • The total House Finch population across North America is staggering. Scientists estimate between 267 million and 1.4 billion individuals.
  • House Finches were introduced to Oahu from San Francisco sometime before 1870. They had become abundant on all the major Hawaiian Islands by 1901.
  • The red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt (birds can’t make bright red or yellow colors directly). So the more pigment in the food, the redder the male. This is why people sometimes see orange or yellowish male House Finches. Females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find, perhaps raising the chances they get a capable mate who can do his part in feeding the nestlings.
  • House Finches feed their nestlings exclusively plant foods, a fairly rare occurrence in the bird world. Many birds that are vegetarians as adults still find animal foods to keep their fast-growing young supplied with protein.
  • The oldest known House Finch was 11 years, 7 months old.

Habitat


Town

House Finches are familiar birds of human-created habitats including buildings, lawns, small conifers, and urban centers. In rurual areas, you can also find House Finches around barns and stables. In their native range in the West, House Finches live in natural habitats including dry desert, desert grassland, chaparral, oak savannah, streamsides, and open coniferous forests at elevations below 6,000 feet.

Food


Seeds

House Finches eat almost exclusively plant materials, including seeds, buds and fruits. Wild foods include wild mustard seeds, knotweed, thistle, mulberry, poison oak, cactus, and many other species. In orchards, House Finches eat cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, blackberries, and figs. At feeders they eat black oil sunflower over the larger, striped sunflower seeds, millet, and milo.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–6 eggs
Number of Broods
1-6 broods
Egg Length
0.6–0.8 in
1.6–2.1 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.6 in
1.3–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
13–14 days
Nestling Period
12–19 days
Egg Description
Pale blue to white, speckled with fine black and pale purple.
Condition at Hatching
Naked except for sparse white down along feather tracts, eyes closed, clumsy.
Nest Description

A House Finch’s nest is a cup made of fine stems, leaves, rootlets, thin twigs, string, wool, and feathers, with similar, but finer materials for the lining. Overall width of the nest is 3-7 inches, with the inside cup 1-3 inches across and up to 2 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Tree

House Finches nest in a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees as well as on cactus and rock ledges. They also nest in or on buildings, using sites like vents, ledges, street lamps, ivy, and hanging planters. Occasionally House Finches use the abandoned nests of other birds.

House Finch Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

House Finch Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Ground Forager

A highly social bird, the House Finch is rarely seen alone outside of the breeding season, and may form flocks as large as several hundred birds. House Finches feed mainly on the ground or at feeders or fruiting trees. At rest, they commonly perch on the highest point available in a tree, and flocks often perch on power lines. During courtship, males sometimes feed females in a display that begins with the female gently pecking at his bill and fluttering her wings. The male simulates regurgitating food to the female several times before actually feeding her.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

House Finches are common and with the exception of some areas in western North America, their populaitons increased between 1966 and 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 45 million with 76 percent in the U.S., 21 percent in Mexico and 3 percent in Canada. They rate a 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Scale and are not on the 2012 Watch List. House Finches generally benefit from human development. However, populations underwent a steep decline beginning in January 1994 owing to a disease called mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. The disease causes respiratory problems and red, swollen eyes, making them susceptible to predators and adverse weather. House Finch conjunctivitis was first observed at feeders in the Washington, D.C., area. It’s not harmful to humans, but it has spread rapidly through the eastern House Finch population and into the West. Learn more here.

Credits

Range Map Help

House Finch Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident or short distance migrant. Some House Finches from the northeastern U.S. and Great Lakes move south for the winter.

Backyard Tips

Fill your backyard feeders with small, black oil sunflower seed. If House Finches discover your feeders, they might bring flocks of 50 or more birds with them.

Find This Bird

You can find House Finches by looking around settled habitats, such as city parks, urban centers, residential backyards, farms, and forest edges. Gregarious and social, House Finches are found in noisy groups that are hard to miss if present. Look for House Finches feeding on the ground or at bird feeders, or perching high in nearby trees.

Get Involved

House Finches are a focal bird species for the Celebrate Urban Birds! project. Conduct a 10-minute count and record whether or not you see finches.

House Finches often nest near homes and buildings, sometimes even on Christmas wreaths left hanging after the holidays, or on nesting platforms built for them. Report nesting activities to NestWatch.

You Might Also Like

Learn the basics about House Finch Eye Disease, and what we’re doing to understand it.

More background in a 1999 Birdscope article, "Population Dynamics of the House Finch"

If You Build It, They Might Come: Tips for enticing House Finches to nest

Tricky Bird IDs: House Finch, Purple Finch, and Cassin's Finch

Epidemic in the Northwest: Ten years after House Finch eye disease was discovered in the east, an epidemic breaks out on the opposite side of the continent

Why Did House Sparrow Numbers Rise, then Fall? Citizen-science data point to competition with House Finches

Where Finches Sleep

Risk Management for Chickadees, Living Bird, Autumn 2013

Scientists Track Supervillain, Living Bird, Winter 2014

All About Birds Blog, How a House Finch Disease Reshaped What We Know About Epidemics, December 2013.

All About Birds blog, Identify the Brown, Streaky, Juvenile Songbirds of Summer With These Tips, July 23, 2014.

All About Birds blog, Research Surprise: Many Birds Exposed to Eye Disease, but Only Finches Get Sick, August 25, 2014.