|Species: House Finch
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.
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.
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.
Similar to female adult but more streaked and spotted.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.