Bird facts: House finch

AbbyMac By AbbyMac, 11th Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Pets>Birds

The cheerful House Finch is found at most backyard feeders in America. Originally from the western United States, north to British Columbia and south to Mexico, the House Finch now covers most of the U.S. In the 1940s pet stores in Long Island are credited with releasing contraband birds illegally imported from the west, at that time referred to as Hollywood Finches. These newly released House Finches thrived and spread explosively.

Appearance

The male House Finch is easily identified with his rosy red cheeks, throat and upper abdomen. The rest of his body is brown with streaks. The female is typically drab grayish-brown lacking the red coloring. She has indistinct striping and no specific markings on her face. Both have a thick, gray bill. Proportionately the House Finch has short wings and a long tail. The end of the tail is marked with a shallow notch.

At times the males may look markedly different from one another. However this is not a genetic difference or regional variation, but more likely a difference in diet.

The House Finch is most frequently confused with the Purple Finch with whom they companionably share the feeder. The male Purple Finch is larger and lacks the characteristic red patches, instead sporting an overall diffuse red including on the top of the head and nape of the neck. The female Purple Finch has a larger bill than the House Finch and a distinctive face pattern, typically a mustache or cheek patches.

Habitat

The original population of House Finch out west is found in deserts, open coniferous woods and grasslands. In the east the Finch quickly adapted to living around people in backyard trees, farms, city parks and the forest edge.

The Finch will happily nest in available objects like door wreaths, light fixtures or hanging plants as long as they are covered overhead. They will also nest nearby the house in deciduous and coniferous trees. They are unperturbed by human foot traffic nearby. They will gladly accept nest boxes set out for them, a simple platform with sides put under a roof or eave being sufficient.

The House Finch is gregarious, forming large flocks at times. It is a community bird at the feeder. Black oil sunflower seed is its food of preference.

Health

The House Finch in the east is facing a tremendous health threat called House Finch Eye Disease, also known as mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. The disease was first noticed in the population in 1993. The incidence grew rapidly to an epidemic with a noticeable decrease in numbers of birds but has since leveled off. Currently, five to ten percent of the eastern House Finch population has this disease at any given time.

Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis is not fatal on its own but leaves the bird open to starvation, exposure, predation and blindness. Birds can survive it though it gives them no immunity to future outbreaks.

It is thought that the eastern House Finch is especially susceptible due to its habit of flocking in large groups, accelerating the spread of the condition. Additionally, this branch of the House Finch comes from the limited population released from the pet stores 60 years ago, so they are more inbred and less capable of handling a condition like House Finch Eye Disease.

Programs exist to track the progress of this disease throughout the populations, and bird enthusiasts can help by periodically cleaning their feeding stations.

Tags

Backyard Birds, Feeders, House Finch

Meet the author

author avatar AbbyMac
I am a mother of two teenage girls, living on a farm where we raise award-winning Corriedale Sheep. I have homeschooled for 11 years and currently own a homeschool curriculum store. I enjoy writing about homeschooling, animals and mysteries of the ...(more)

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