This common finch is 5 to 6 inches in length. Males have red or pink faces and breasts and females are dull brown. Diet affects the coloration in males, and in some instances the face and neck feathers can even be orange or yellow. Males with red pigmented heads are favored by females as mates over the other variants. Both sexes have brown streaked flanks and brown backs.This species is native to the western states and Mexico and has spread across the entire country, facilitated through introductions in northeastern states in the 1940s. The northeastern population grew over the decades and merged with the western population in the Great Plains states around the turn of the 21st century. The species is adaptable and has displaced native purple finches and even introduced house sparrows in many regions. Preferred habitats are disturbed or brushy areas like forest edges, farmland, stream-side zones, lawns and urban neighborhoods. They avoid mature forests and grasslands.
Finches are typically seed eaters, with the heavy conical beak proving efficient at breaking the outer hulls and getting to the meat inside. House finches also take berries, a variety of fruits, and insects as they forage on the ground and in trees and shrubs. They are frequent visitors to urban seed feeders and even enjoy taking drinks from hummingbird feeders. House finches are gregarious and normally seen in groups. Being year-round residents in New Mexico, we commonly see House finches in neighborhoods in winter visiting bird feeders.
Females build nests in a variety of protected locations, such as tree cavities or in buildings or rocky ledges. The male will assist the female in feeding nestlings, which fledge after about two weeks. Pairs may produce up to three broods per season. Chicks are fed dandelion seeds and other plant matter, but parents do not supplement the fledglings’ diet with animal matter for extra protein, as do many other bird species. Brown-headed cowbirds are known to lay eggs in the nests of house finches, but the cowbird chicks to not thrive on the diet finch adults provide to their chicks and the cowbird chick may not survive, even though it is larger than the finch nestlings.
House finches are quite vocal, with even females singing in the springtime. The song is a varied sweet warbling, usually ending with a buzzy note.
The eastern population suffered a decline in the 1990s due to infection by a bacterial parasite. The condition results in infection and swelling of around the eyes of the birds, causing difficulty in feeding, and making them more vulnerable to attack by predators. The low genetic variability in the eastern population caused by the small number of birds originally released from which the subsequent population arose facilitated the spread. Birds congregating at feeders also helped spread the disease. The infection does not pose a danger to humans. The Audubon Society reports that the House finch population is stable and with the progress of global warming, habitat losses are expected to occur in the southeast and Midwestern states.
Photos were taken in Moriarty and Kansas City by James Taulman with Nikon P900 and P510 cameras.