House Finch

House Finches are a very common sight year-round in our area. They occur in every county in Colorado and they breed in all but 3 high mountain counties. Originally, House HOFIFinches resided only in Mexico and southwestern U.S. But they were illegally sold as caged birds in the east in the early 1900s. In the 1940s, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made it illegal to capture or sell most wild birds. With increasing enforcement of this law, some pet shop owners on Long Island, NY, allegedly just released their inventory of House Finches. The House Finches found that they rather enjoyed the Atlantic seaboard. And the rest, as they began to spread westward across the continent, is avian history.

Female and juvenile House Finches are rather drab brown with streaked breasts and bellies. But a male House Finch typically has a red forehead and a red stripe over his eyes, as well as red on the breast and the rump contrasting with rather drab, streaky brown elsewhere. However, you might occasionally see a male that has yellow or orange feathers where most males would show red feathers. This color variation primarily reflects a diet that is low in carotenoid pigments—yellow, orange, or red fruits and vegetables. Females seem to prefer the reddest male available, perhaps reflecting the odds that that fellow will be able to provide lots of appropriate food for her and the kids.

In the winter, you might see both House Finches and their cousins, Cassin’s Finches. Cassin’s Finches are a bit larger and bulkier-looking than House Finches. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, a male Cassin’s has a bright red cap that he often raises in a crest. Both sexes have finer brown streaks on their chests and bellies than House Finches do; and the whiter background under these streaks sets up a more dramatic contrast than does the duller background and wider streaks of the House Finches.

A House Finch’s diet is more than 95% vegetable matter—buds, grain, seeds, and fruit. Their main source of animal matter is probably whatever insects they eat while they’re gobbling up plant parts. Parents initially feed their young through regurgitation of whatever is in their crops (an enlarged portion of their throats where they store seeds). As a result, even their babies receive a vegetarian diet—a rare occurrence among songbirds, since most seed- and fruit-eating adults feed protein-rich insects to their fast-growing youngsters. The female lays a clutch of 2 – 6 eggs, which hatch in 13 – 14 days. Nestlings typically leave the nest 13 – 16 days after hatching and follow their parents, begging noisily, for another 2 weeks. Early in the breeding season, the male will continue to feed the fledglings while the female starts a 2nd brood; late in the season, both parents feed the noisy little beggars.

The House Finch’s common name refers to its frequent occurrence around houses and other human-built structures; as with last month’s Cassin’s Finch, the term “finch” derives from the Anglo-Saxon finc, which was their word for these birds. Based on recent DNA analyses, the scientific name of the House Finch has now been changed to Haemorhous mexicanus. The genus name (Haemorhous) refers to the red rump patch in Greek—“haem” for “blood” and “orrhos” for “rump.” The species name, mexicanus, reflects the bird’s original range. House Finches used to be classified in the genus Carpodacus, which I always liked. Carpodacus means “fruit biter,” from the Greek words “karpos” (fruit) and “dakos” (biter). Despite the genus name change, that characteristic still fits. Fruit is definitely a staple, especially during breeding season for feeding the growing “fruit biters.”

You can learn more about the House Finch here.


2 Responses to House Finch

  1. Kelsi Bruce says:

    I found three babies this morning left them until it was dark cuz the parents were trying to get them back into the tree, after six hours they decided to move thier babies two feet from the creek right were the raccoon go, so i watched them for a few more hours and the parent came to them less and less, and with it being dark and the parent not returning to them for more then a hour i moved them into a box with warm towl shaped like nest and calling game warden in the morning.i have nurtured and released blue jays before theyre eyes were open, and these giys want food now, but dont know what to feed them sense theyre little finches i heard they get fed pretty much through regurgitation not the usual worms i wouldve gotten. Should i just leave them i am not waking them to eat, but if they wanted it terrible is there something i could give to tie them over till i get them to a rehab

    • Tina says:

      Hi, Kelsi–

      The only thing I can advise you to do is to get them to a wildlife rehabber ASAP. (It is against federal law from anyone to possess most wild birds without the proper training and permits, although you can have them in your possession if you are transporting them to a professional.) I volunteer at a rehab center, raising baby birds, and the worst thing someone who isn’t trained can do is to feed a baby bird. Especially birds as small as finches. They have very small mouths and it is very easy to aspirate them (have them inhale whatever you’re trying to feed them). If that happens, they can very quickly die. The other thing you can do is keep them warm. Put crumpled-up tissue in a small container (e.g., a berry basket) and place the container in a larger box with a top you can close (e.g., a shoe box or shipping box). Put that larger box (and the basket “nest”) halfway on a heating pad (if you have one); that way, if the nestlings get too warm, they can move to an area that isn’t on the heating pad. If you don’t have a heating pad, you can put some uncooked rice in a sock, microwave it for ~10 seconds and put that “rice sock” in the larger box away from the berry nest. Bird temperature is 105, so they more often will die of hypothermia than they will of anything else. If you try to feed a baby bird that is cold, it will be unable to digest anything. So keep them warm and get them to a professional.


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