Today I got to see our first pair of House Finches at the feeder. I always celebrate each new birds’ arrival with a few extra sunflower seeds, a couple of raisins, and a mealworm or two, just in case the new birds don’t get their favorite from the tall feeder right away. According to AllAboutBirds.com (from Cornell Labs) the House Finch is a relatively new bird here in the East. I had gotten used to seeing them back home in Arizona, and so was surprised to read that!
As you can see from these photos, the male has a pretty reddish or purplish head and breast. Both birds sing, and it’s a long, “twittering” song, but mostly what I notice is the noise from the groups that will perch in our trees and “bomb” the feeder in bursts, sometimes scaring off the smaller Chickadees, Nuthatches and Titmice.
Purple Finches appear to prefer the black oil sunflower seed the best, and I can see them tossing out the safflower and smaller millet seeds as they work their way through the offerings I have out for them.
Apparently, some enterprising business person tried to sell House Finches as a cage bird (“Hollywood finches”), but when that experiment failed, they were turned loose on Long Island to fend for themselves. They successfully made the transition from a Western bird to the East, and have colonized across the eastern US and Canada since that release in the 1940’s.
The male House Finches’ color is dependent on its diet! Whatever he eats while he’s molting has a direct effect on how red he is, and females prefer to mate with the brightest red males they can find. This makes sense in that the better fed the male, the better chance he’ll be healthy and able to help feed babies.
Another way that House Finches are different is that instead of defending a territory, the male bird defends his mate. Like many birds, he helps by bringing nesting material to the female, but she’s the one who does the actual building. House Finches have been seen nesting in hanging plants and old woodpecker holes, and when she’s got it just right, she’ll lay two to six eggs that are bluish with a bit of small speckling. She’ll incubate the eggs for 12 to 14 days, and baby birds fledge anywhere between 11 and 19 days later.
Baby House Finches are exclusive vegetarians! Parents don’t feed their young any insects at all, which is pretty rare. The parents must have to work extra hard to find enough protein to keep those babies growing. The male bird will continue to feed the young for a while after they’ve left the nest, but the hen will often find a new mate and start another family while the rooster takes care of the first clutch.
Purple Finches have a lot more red on the males, and the females’ belly stripes are more clearly defined. They’re a common winter bird here in Kentucky, but are often confused with the House Finch.. I know I’ve seen a few that I wasn’t sure which species it was!
Purple finches are the losers in the colonization game. They appear to be losing territory to the introduced House Finch here in the East, and seem to be less assertive at the feeder and in other “birdy” interactions.
An interesting fact about Purple Finches is that they add sounds of other birds to their warblings. Some of the birds they’ve been recorded as imitating are American Goldfinches, Barn Swallows, and Eastern Towhees.
Purple Finches like to forage in open forests or scrubby cover, sometimes on the ground. Their favorites are sunflower seed, millet and thistle seeds. They’ll nest in a tree fork or on a horizontal branch, or possibly on a small ledge under your porch roof!
Male Purple Finches have a lovely little courtship “dance”, where he raises his tail, puffs out his chest, and droops his wings. Then he will vibrate his wings so that he lifts into the air just a bit! He may sing a song to the hen as he dances, and he may also hold nest material in his bill during his performance.
Purple Finches migrate during the day, unlike many songbirds. They will travel in a flock, and they tend to move sporadically during spring and fall.
These finches like to eat tree buds, berries and small fruits in the spring and fall, and in the summer they’ll take beetles and caterpillars. Seeds are the mainstay of their diets through the winter months, and if you want to attract them, plant a few Ash or Elm trees, along with a big block of Sunflower and Safflower. You’ll be rewarded with crowds of these and other small birds through the summer, fall and winter!
Happy Birding, and as always, feel free to drop me a line at FlamingPurpleJellyfish@gmail.com if you have questions, corrections, or comments! I LOVE to hear from you 😉