House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus

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Photograph of a male House Finch
Upperparts of male house finches are gray-brown, with varying amounts of red on the head and back and a red eyebrow.
Family

Fringillidae (finches) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Upperparts of male house finches are gray-brown, with varying amounts of red on the head and back, a red eyebrow, and a square or only slightly notched tail. Yellow and orange morphs are occasionally seen. Underparts are whitish, with a red throat and upper breast. The sides and belly are streaked with brown. Upperparts of female are light brown; underparts are brownish white with brown streaks, lacking the bold white eyebrow and distinct dark cheek of the purple finch. Song is an energetic, musical, twittering warble, similar to that of the purple finch, but with a harsh down-slurred “cheer” at the end. Call is a rising, two-note “tooit” or “queet.”

Similar species: The purple finch is a winter resident, so in Missouri you will probably not see it from May through September. Male purple finches are usually more raspberry colored or purplish, and both sexes have a light eyebrow line and a noticeably notched tail. The call is a dry, one-syllable “tick” or “pick.”

Size

Length: 6 inches.

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Photograph of a female House Finch
House Finch (Female)
House finches are sometimes confused with purple finches. No matter what the sex, house finches lack the light eyebrow line and strongly notched tail that the purple finch has.

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Photograph of a male House Finch with conjunctivitis
House Finch with Conjunctivitis
Localized outbreaks of a communicable respiratory infection have become fairly common among house finches. Symptoms include watery or crusty eyes that can be swollen shut.

House Finch

House Finch
House Finch
A house finch is the first visitor at our new bird feeder

House Finch

House Finch
House Finch
House Finch in Fenton
Habitat and conservation

Common in cities and towns, around farms, and in suburban areas, foraging on the ground or in trees. It frequently attends bird feeders in large flocks. Native to the western United States, it was introduced to Long Island, New York, in 1940. It slowly expanded its introduced range. By 1971 it was into New England and south into North Carolina. It has since expanded westward into eastern Kansas and met the eastern border of the native population’s original, western range.

Foods

Forages on the ground or in trees for insects, seeds, berries, buds, and flowers. It often visits bird feeders in flocks. The conical bill typical of finches is adapted for cracking the seeds of sunflowers, grasses, and more. Animals that eat fruits, including seeds, are called “frugivores.”

image of House Finch distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common permanent resident. Localized outbreaks of a communicable respiratory infection have become fairly common among house finches in the eastern United States. Common symptoms include red, swollen, watery, or crusty eyes that can be swollen shut. Affected finches often die as a result of the hardships of blindness. The disease originally afflicted domestic poultry and doesn’t affect humans. Regular cleaning of feeders helps prevent the disease’s spread.

Life cycle

House finches build their cup-shaped nests in cavities in a variety of locations, from trees to rock ledges to building vents to streetlights. Usually 2–6 eggs are laid, and incubation takes about 2 weeks. The young fledge about 2 weeks later.

Human connections

The native range of house finches lies west of the Great Plains, whose treeless expanses historically kept house finches from moving eastward. But people caused them to leap-frog the barrier in 1940, when house finches were sold as cage birds in New York and some were allowed to escape.

Ecosystem connections

When brown-headed cowbirds stealthily lay their eggs in house finch nests, their strategy for having other species rear their young fails to work, since house finches are one of the few birds that feed their young almost entirely with seeds, which don’t offer enough protein for the cowbird young.