April 12, 2023 | Myrna Pearman, Chin Ridge Seeds (en-CA)
This article is part of our "Ask Myrna" Backyard Bird Feeding Series.
The story of the House Finch is a fascinating one. Native to Mexico and the Western U.S., a few individuals were released in New York in 1940 after failed attempts to sell them as caged birds. The birds quickly spread westward, where the two breeding populations have now converged.
Female House Finches are a uniform grayish brown, while the males range in colour from yellowish orange to bright red, with the exact coloration being dependent on food pigments.
Unlike the introductions of other birds (e.g., House Sparrows), the massive population increase and explosive range expansion of this species seem to have had no detrimental impact. They are not aggressive, and their delightful song (both sexes sing) endear them to their human neighbours.
House Finches are easily attracted to both urban and rural backyards. They prefer yards where shrubbery and trees provide both food and shelter. Their diet consists almost entirely of seeds, buds, flowers, leaves and fruits, and they seem to equally comfortable alone or with others of their own kind in various-sized flocks.
House Finches are readily attracted to backyard bird feeders that offer sunflower seeds (they prefer shelled to unshelled), safflower, millet, milo and nyger seeds. They will also consume salt (mostly road salt) during the winter, and will visit bird baths to both drink and bathe all year-round.
House Finches are not fussy when it comes to nesting sites: they have been reported nesting in the thick foliage of trees (e.g., spruce, cedar and junipers) as well as in/on vents, ledges, ivy growing on buildings, street lamps, hanging planters, windowsills and occasionally in abandoned bird nests.
House Finches are susceptible to conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection which blinds the infected eyes. If birds with crusty eyes show up at your feeders, all feeders should be washed in a weak bleach solution before being set back out. As an added precaution, cease feeding for a week or so to reduce the risk of transmission.