House Finch

Carpodacus mexicanus

House Finch
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren/Flickr/CC by 2.0

The most widely distributed songbird in North America, the house finch is one of the most common backyard birds, though it was once found only in the western United States. After being introduced to Long Island, New York, in the 1940s, the house finch population quickly became established in the east as well. Today the total North American population of these members of the Fringillidae family is estimated to be as high as one billion birds. This fact sheet can help you learn more about these popular finches.

Fast Facts

  • Scientific Name: Carpodacus mexicanus
  • Common Name: House Finch, Hollywood Finch, Linnet (not to be confused with the Common Linnet in Europe)
  • Lifespan: 8-9 years
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Weight: .7-.8 ounces
  • Wingspan: 10 inches
  • Conservation Status: Least concern

House Finch Identification

House finches can be challenging to identify because the colorful males closely resemble the purple finch, while the plainer females can look like several different types of sparrows or finches. Recognizing the key field marks for these birds can help birders feel confident identifying house finches.

The conical, gray-brown bill with its very slight bulbous curves is the first clue to look for, and the bill is the same on both genders. When investigating other markings, males have a brown crown that contrasts with the strawberry-red forehead and thick, blurry eyebrow. The cheeks are brownish. The throat, upper chest, and rump are strongly red, while the back is gray brown with darker streaks. Brown wings show two narrow white or buff wing bars, and the flanks, abdomen, and undertail coverts are buff or white with heavy brown, blurry streaks. Variant males show the same markings but in yellow or orange instead of red.

Females have the same markings as males but lack any red and have a plain, unmarked face, and juveniles look similar to adult females but are generally scruffier.

House finches are vocal birds that regularly call and sing at any time of year. Their song is a high, throaty warble with a rising buzz at the end, while the most typical call is a sharp, raspy “cheeeep” that can be made while perched or in flight.

House Finch vs. Purple Finch

House finches are frequently confused with the very similar purple finch, but there are key differences that can help birders tell these two finches apart. While house finches have a strawberry-red coloration, purple finches are somewhat darker with a raspberry or wine-red hue. House finches tend to be slimmer the purple finches and have less distinct markings, as well as proportionally longer tails. House finches are also more widespread, whereas purple finches are more northern birds with a limited range.

House Finch Habitat and Distribution

House finches are very adaptable and can be found in a wide range of habitats, from arid deserts to open woodlands and shrubby fields. They are common in both urban and suburban areas as well, extending from the southern edge of Canada through central and southern Mexico. Populations are less dense in the central Great Plains states and the southeastern United States.

Migration Pattern

These birds generally do not migrate, but they can become nomadic in search of food, particularly in winter when abundant food sources may dwindle.

Behavior

During the breeding season house finches are solitary or stay in their mated pairs, but small family groups form as nestlings start to mature and leave the nest. During the winter, house finches will form medium to large flocks, often mixing with other small birds including American goldfinches, pine siskins, and house sparrows. They forage on the ground and will perch at all heights in available trees and shrubs. In the yard, they are perky, curious birds but can startle easily, and they may show mild feeder aggression, especially in flocks.

Diet and Feeding

House finches are granivorous birds that eat primarily seeds, including sunflower seeds, weed seeds, and grains. Fruit, sap, and plant buds also make up part of their diet depending on the season and local food abundance, and they may even visit hummingbird feeders for a sip of nectar. They pick seeds carefully from plants and nibble away the hulls to reach the nutritious kernels, and they also forage on the ground for fallen seeds.

Nesting

House finches are monogamous and create a cup-shaped nest using thin twigs, grasses, string, feathers, and weeds, with finer materials used to line the nest. Despite their name, these birds do not nest only in birdhouses, but may also position their nests in trees, on ledges, or may even use the abandoned nests of other birds.

Eggs and Young

The female house finch will incubate a brood of 3-6 pale, speckled eggs for 12-14 days, and both parents feed the young chicks for 12-19 days. A pair may raise 1-3 broods per year, with multiple broods more common in southern populations where the breeding season is longer and food is more abundant.

House Finch Conservation

House finches are not threatened or endangered, but like all backyard birds, they are at risk from window collisions, outdoor cats, and similar threats. Different diseases, especially mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (also called house finch eye disease), can also decimate house finch populations. It is essential to keep feeders and bird baths clean to prevent spreading illness to an entire flock.

Tips for Backyard Birders

House finches come easily to feeders for sunflower seeds and Nyjer. They will also visit bird baths and may nest in birdhouses, garden pots, and other convenient locations. Birders can attract house finches by providing tube, hopper, and platform feeders and ensuring there are perches available nearby with medium-sized trees or a brush pile. Bird-friendly landscaping that includes seed-bearing flowers, grasses, and berry bushes as well as small fruit trees such as cherries and crabapples is ideal for attracting house finches.

How to Find This Bird

Because they are so common, house finches are not difficult to find. Watch for small, brown-gray birds with a splash of red on the head and rump, typically at low or mid-story levels in trees and bushes. At feeders they will also feed on the ground, cleaning up spilled seed, and they will quickly flit into shrubbery or brush piles when startled.

Explore More Species in This Family

The Fringillidae bird family includes more than 225 species, and is a highly varied family of finches, siskins, grosbeaks, euphonias, and crossbills. Birders interested in learning about other birds related to the house finch should get more familiar with these species:

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