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History of the House Finch

Dec 01, 2014

Extra! Extra! There’s a new bird on the block.

Batten down the hatches and fill the bird feeder–here come the house finches!

Unknown to the Midwest a few decades ago, these small reddish finches are populating our cities, suburbs and farms. No birds have made such a complete invasion since the starling did many years earlier.

The spread of the house finch has been due to people. In the early 1940s, house finches were imported from California and sold in New York City as caged birds called “Hollywood” finches. Somehow, some became free. From Long Island they began expanding westward. They arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, Chicago in the 1970s and in St. Louis in 1981. By 1990, they had spread across Missouri, Iowa and eastern Kansas.

Most people welcome house finches. They’re pretty and have a beautiful warbling song. They nest around buildings and have a special fondness for hanging flower pots.

The western mountains and plains were barriers for house finch expansion into the eastern states. But once people transported them across this barrier, the birds found the country to their liking.

House finches apparently don’t compete with our native birds. They seem to have found their own niche, and it’s obvious they’re here to stay.

House Finch Hoopla

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The 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 observed.
  • A male’s underparts are whitish, with a red throat and upper breast. The sides and belly are streaked with brown.
  • The upperparts of female house finches are light brown; underparts are brownish white with brown streaks.
  • Their 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.”

Get more information about the house finch in the MDC Field Guide.

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