10 fun facts about the house finch


House Finches are currently among the most widespread and common birds in the United States, but as we’ll see, this hasn’t always been the case. Nowadays, they can be found lighting backyards and eating seed feeders from the arid southwest to the humid towns of the northeast. As familiar as they are, these cosmopolitan birds don’t lack attention and appreciation.

1.) Once restricted to the western United States and Mexico, House Finches are now found coast to coast and as far north as southern Canada. In 1939, some of the birds originally captured in Santa Barbara, California were released on Long Island in New York City by the owner of a pet store. In the early 1940s, wild nests began to appear on Long Island, and from there the spread continued. They were also introduced and spread to Hawaii. In some places, House Finches are considered an invasive species. They act as a disease vector and compete for food and territory against native birds like purple finches, a species they are sometimes confused with because males share reddish plumage.

2.) In their natural range, House Finches live in open desert, grassy, ​​shrub and woodland environments, as well as near human settlements and towns. This pre-existing fondness for urban areas likely helped them thrive when they were introduced to new areas. The largest flocks of Eastern House Finches are found in cities, and Eastern birds are much more common to find in human-developed habitats than anywhere else.

3.) Domestic finches can look very different depending on where they live. Birds belong to 11 officially recognized subspecies. Size, shape, wing length, tail length, and body and beak coloring can all vary from region to region. For example, on Guadalupe Island off Baja California, Mexico, finches have heavier bills than those found on the mainland. And eastern finches have longer, sharper wings than their western counterparts. This distinct wing shape is best suited to long flights, scientists say, a useful trait for populations of House Finches further north in the east, some of which migrate south, while finches in the west have tend to stay put all year round.

4.) There are even local accents of House Finch. In California, the standard male’s song lasts two seconds and contains between 4 and 26 syllables. In Wisconsin and Colorado, studies have shown that songs last longer and contain more syllables. In New York State, distinct dialects abound, with male chants differing markedly within a square mile radius.

5.) Although house finches are well adapted to dry climates, they still need a lot of water. On particularly hot days, they may consume more than their own body weight in fluids. Fortunately, succulents abound in their original arid habitat, providing a hydrating food source. Eating the fruits and flowers of cacti, such as saguaros and ocotillos, allows finches to get enough fluids without drinking directly. Still, they love water as much as any other species, and a birdbath is likely to attract a lot of it to your garden.

6.) A familiar western house finch is likely to build its nest within 60 feet of where it was the previous breeding season, while its eastern counterparts are known to choose sites to over half a mile from previous nests. Within this home turf, they can choose any variety of settings including evergreens, cacti, planters, street lights, and window sills. However, almost all House Finch nesting sites have a few things in common: a solid base and a roof-like overhang for shelter from the sun and rain.

7.) The reddish orange (and sometimes yellow) plumage that mature males of House Finch display on their crowns, throats and breasts comes from compounds in their food. These pigments, called carotenoids, are the same as those found in carrots and tomatoes. Female finches prefer males with larger, more vivid red spots – this is a sign of a well-fed mate!

8.) Domestic finches are among the strictest avian vegetarians: seeds, buds, fruits and foliage make up 97 percent of their diet year round. Most seed-eating birds replace it in the spring and summer when insects become abundant, but finches rarely do. The biggest exception is that the parent finches will feed their chicks with soft, spongy fly larvae as a protein boost early in life.

9.) The species has faced its own pandemic for decades. House finch eye disease, a form of conjunctivitis, was first detected in Washington DC in the winter of 1994. Since then, the bacterial disease has spread across the continent and caused a sharp decline in the number of house finches. Infected birds often have swollen or reddened eyes and may appear inactive or confused. Over time, this leads the birds to become blind, disoriented, and vulnerable to predators. Other finch species, such as the American goldfinch, are also affected. The disease is spread through social contact, so it’s important to keep your feeders and birdbaths clean.

10.) Their plant-based diets may suggest peaceful passivity, but domestic finches can be very aggressive, especially against feeders. In fact, they are so territorial around foraging and nesting sites that they are one of the only birds known to combat non-native house sparrows. Where populations of house finches increase, the number of house sparrows decreases.


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