Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus


This small, slender bodied finch is a gregarious and social bird and can often be seen in large, noisy groups feeding on the ground or at feeders in your garden. Small to large flocks of up to several hundred birds may be seen flying high in the sky, in an undulating, roller coaster flight, swooping down to land on telephone wires or in the tops of trees. They are very common in an urban setting. Frequenting city parks, backyards and urban centres and their long, twittering song can often be heard in and around town.


General: A small bodied finch with a fairly large, conical bill, a relatively shallow notch in its tail and short, pointed wings. The bill is somewhat parrot-like, with a curved culmen. Adults measure approximately 15cm in length and weigh about 20g.

Adult male: Orange-red head, brightest on the forehead and malar. The colour extends down the throat and breast of the bird. Cheeks are pale and greyish and the flanks are streaked brown and white. The back is brownish with indistinct streaks and narrow, whitish wing bars. The rump may also be reddish orange.

Adult female: Much drabber, with a plain head and brown-grey streaks down the throat and breast. The back is brownish grey with indistinct streaks and narrow, whitish wing bars.

Juvenile: Similar to female adult but more streaked and spotted.

Similar species: The purple finch, C. purpureus, has a straight culmen and more triangular bill and the tail is deeply notched. In the male, the red colour extends down the sides and back and there is no dark streaking on the flanks. In the female, the back is greenish and the face has a bolder pattern with a white supercilium and a dark, lateral throat stripe. The streaking on the breast shows more contrast. Cassin’s finch, C. cassinii, has a longer, more pointed bill with a straighter culmen. The male has a bright red crown and distinctly streaked, grey-brown back. The streaking on the flanks is very fine and only at the rear. The female has very crisp streaks overall with more pattern on the face.

Behaviour: House finches are highly social and are usually seen in small to large flocks, flying, roosting and feeding together. They like to perch high in trees, power lines or buildings, but they prefer to feed low to the ground, on the ground or at bird feeders or in fruiting trees. They can be aggressive enough to drive other birds away from a bird feeder. During courtship, the female will peck at the male’s bill while fluttering her wings, until the male feeds her, sometimes regurgitating food for her. Flight is the typical bouncy, roller coaster flight seen with other finches.

Habitat: House finches are found in most urban habitats, and do very well in human created habitats, from city parks to backyards. Away from urban centres they show a preference for more open habitats, including farms and forest edges, open woods and grasslands and patchy and brushy wooded areas. They can also be found in dry deserts and desert grasslands.


House finches were originally resident in Mexico and the south-western United States. They were introduced into North America in the 1940s in Long Island, New York. They quickly spread across the United States and into Canada and are now a common sight across North America.

House finches feed on a mostly vegetarian diet of seeds, grains, buds, berries and fruits, but they may include some incidental small insects, such as aphids, in their diet. At feeders, they show a distinct preference for sunflower seeds, particularly the smaller black oil sunflower seeds. The female finch constructs a cup shaped nest in a variety of trees, in cacti and on rock ledges. They are also very amenable to nesting in or on buildings, street lamps, hanging planters or old, abandoned nests. Clutch size varies from two to six eggs and the hatchlings are raised on a strictly vegetarian diet of seeds buds and fruit. Two or more broods may be raised each year.

The red colouring of the male house finch is due to pigments found in the bird’s diet. This means that the colouration can vary, depending on what the male is eating. Colour can range from yellow, though orange to bright red. It has been shown that females prefer to mate with the reddest male that they can find. Presumably this shows the female that this male is good at finding food and will be a better provider for her young.

Conservation Status: (Least Concern)

House finches have benefitted enormously from human activities and their population across North America is estimated to be between 300 million up to 1.4 billion. However, since 1994, there have been concerns about declining populations in the eastern states due to infection by a bacterial disease, mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. This disease causes red and swollen eyes and respiratory problems which can lead to the death of the bird. If the disease does not directly kill the bird, it will weaken the bird and leave it more vulnerable to predation or starvation. So far, the disease had only been found in the Eastern States, but it seems likely that it is spreading to the West.
Capture Rates

The House Finch is a resident of Colony Farm and the surrounding urban area. An early breeder, it’s capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) occur throughout the banding season but decline during March, April and May when breeding pairs remain close to nesting areas.


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