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 is estimated to be as high as one billion birds.
Common Name: House Finch, Hollywood Finch, Linnet (not to be confused with the Common Linnet in Europe)
Scientific Name: Carpodacus mexicanus
Scientific Family: Fringillidae
Appearance and 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.
- Bill: Conical shape with very slight curves, gray-brown
- Size: 6 inches long with 10-inch wingspan, long tail
- Colors: Red, brown, buff, white, gray
- Markings: Males have a brown crown that contrasts with the strawberry-red forehead and thick, blurry eyebrow. The cheeks are brownish. 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 flanks, abdomen and undertail coverts are buff or white with heavy brown streaks. Variant males show the same markings but in yellow or orange instead of red. Females have the same markings but lack any red and have a plain, unmarked face, and juveniles look similar to adult females but are generally scruffier.
Foods, Diet and Foraging
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.
Habitat and Migration
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. These birds generally do not migrate, but they can become nomadic in search of food.
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.
During the breeding season house finches are solitary or stay in their mated pairs, but small family groups form as nestlings fledge. 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 backyard, they are perky, curious birds but can startle easily, and they may show mild feeder aggression, especially in flocks.
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 bird houses, but may also position their nests in trees, on ledges or may even use the abandoned nests of other birds. 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.
Attracting House Finches
House finches come easily to backyard feeders for sunflower seeds and Nyjer. They will also visit bird baths and may nest in bird houses, 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 house finches.
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 can also decimate house finch populations, and it is essential to keep feeders and bird baths clean to prevent spreading illness to an entire flock.