Range and Habitat
Although originally found only in deserts, grasslands, chaparral and open woods of the West, house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) today range throughout North America and southern Canada. In 1940, wild specimens were captured and sold (illegally) as pets in New York. Dubbed “Hollywood” finches, some ended up being released in the wild, where they soon adapted to their new habitat. As their range has expanded, they now make themselves at home in backyards, parks, rural areas and woodland edges. House finches are short distance migrants, with those residing in the Great Lakes and upper Northeast areas heading further south for winter. The species now has an estimated population between 267 million and 1.4 billion. Since 1994, the birds have become susceptible to mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, a disease that can cause vision and respiratory problems. Although it has decreased house finch numbers somewhat, it presents no danger to humans.
Measuring about 5 to 5-1/2 inches long, house finches are similar in size to the house sparrow, except that they are more slender. Males have a streaky brown body with strawberry red on their foreheads, throats and upper breasts; females have a plain face and are streaky brown overall. Both sexes have a thick, grayish bill. The males’ reddish coloring can vary in intensity, depending on diet, since it derives from carotenoid pigments in various seeds, flowers and fruits eaten.
House finches are social birds, gathering together in flocks at feeding stations. They also feed on the ground, in trees and on weed stalks. These birds produce a melodious warble, and sing even when sitting on their nest. Hear their song here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Finch/sounds. Like many other finches, house finches can be recognized by their bouncy flight pattern.
Besides many different types of plant seeds, house finches enjoy tree buds. Because of their gleaning habits and love of sweet fruit juice, they can become agricultural pests on farms and orchards. House finches have a short, convex bill, perfectly shaped for shelling their favorite seeds.
The female constructs the nest, in which she lays four or five bluish-white speckled eggs. Among house finches' favorite nesting sites are blue spruces and other evergreens. They are even known to build nests in hanging baskets or wreaths. Both male and female care for the young, and the parents may produce more than one clutch in a season. Nestlings are nurtured with plant-based foods only, unlike the majority of bird species which supplement the babies’ diets with animal protein.
Attracting to Your Yard
Plant bramble fruit, cotoneasters or fruit trees such as mulberry and cherry to attract house finches, who love sweet berries. Like all finches, these birds enjoy seeds of zinnias and sunflowers. Filling your feeders with small black oil sunflower seeds is a sure way to lure this pretty bird.
For more Information:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - House Finch
Audubon: House Finch