Monday, April 6, 2009

In the backyard... House Finch

House FinchHouse Finch, Sawyer Park Bend, Oregon on 13 June 2008 by Greg Gillson.


The House Finch enlivens any backyard with the bright red plumage and cheerful rollicking song of the male, and the high-energy antics of the flock at the bird feeder.

Today this species is found in towns across extreme southern Canada and southward across the United States to southern Mexico (Oaxaca). Most birders, however, would be surprised to learn that 70 years ago this finch was restricted to the dry lands of the West. Prior to the 1940's the range of this bird was the arid lands of southeastern Washington, eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and Wyoming, south through California and New Mexico, and through Mexico.

Wherever towns sprouted up in the West, the House Finch followed. In addition, the House Finch was introduced in the East in the 1940's, and it spread there, as well. Today they can be found in all 48 contiguous states in the US.

While the historical range of House Finch included the Pacific NW, they were not common west of the Cascades until the 1960's, where they are now abundant. They are found in most open habitats, only missing from the deep forests, higher mountains, and extensive grasslands.

Male House Finches are grayish brown above and pale below with strong brown flank streaking, and weak buffy wingbars. Males have red foreheads that wrap around on the eyebrow, red rumps, and red on the throat that often extends to the center of the chest. The amount of red varies between males, as does the exact color, ranging from yellowish to bright red, but usually appears more orangish-red than the look-a-like male Purple and Cassin's Finches, which lack the strong flank streaking. The whole head and shoulders are more pinkish-red on these latter species.

Females are similar to males but lack any red; their faces are rather evenly streaked, without strong eyebrow, ear covert, or moustache stripes that the very similar female Purple and Cassin's Finches show.

House Finches are attracted to seed feeders and may be the primary feeder species throughout the summer in most areas of the Pacific Northwest. Likewise, they form flocks of up to 50 birds in winter, and are a major component of backyard birds in the region.