Jail break! The House Finch is a songbird with a unique, all-American tale. Native to western North America, they were captured and sold as caged birds in the 1930’s. As the story goes, in 1940 somewhere on Long Island, nervous pet store owners released their captive finches to avoid government penalties for marketing them. The population grew quickly and expanded across the continent. Today the House Finch is a common visitor at feeders throughout the United States.
Humans seem to have been forgiven for their past indiscretions because House Finches are comfortable making their homes among us. They are common in eastern urban or suburban settings. Nests have been located on garages, porches, flower pots, and many other “people habitats.” And House Finches are equally at home taking meals offered by backyard bird-feeding enthusiasts. Look for House Finches in remote locations distant from human activity and you will be hard pressed to find any. They seem to like us!
House Finches are small, brown-streaked birds. The males have bright red on the head, face, and shoulders. Note that the streaks on the sides and belly remain brown and most of the color is found shoulders and up (distinct from the similar Purple Finch male). The female shows only the faintest of red on the crown and breast. The redness of both sexes is from carotenoid pigments, that vary as the birds diet varies. And diet is strictly vegetarian: seeds, fruits, and buds.
Foraging is often done in flocks and close to the ground. A tube or platform feeder with a mix rich in black oil sunflower (we recommend Aspen Song® Choice Blend) or a mix with millet, canaryseed, nyjer (we recommend Aspen Song® Finch Mix) is sure to attract House Finches.
When a group has arrived in your yard to feed, listen for the male’s song. It is characterized as a hoarse warble that ends with down-slurred notes. These friendly finches offer plenty of viewing opportunities in many American backyards.
Reference: Hill, Geoffrey E. 1993. House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.