For the Birds Radio Program: House Finch

Original Air Date: May 1, 1995

Today Laura Erickson talks about the newest kid on the block in the Northland, the House Finch. 3:37

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Last week I was watching the new arrivals at my bird feeder–Fox Sparrows, Purple Finches, and some baby Pine Siskins, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a pair of House Finches.

House Finches are a new arrival to the Midwest. The first wild one ever recorded in Minnesota was a lone male found at a feeder in Minnetonka on November 21 and December 15, 1980, and no more were recorded in the state throughout 1981 or 1982. The following few years there were isolated records, but birds were obviously becoming more numerous by 1986, and now are a common sight throughout the southern two-thirds of Minnesota, and becoming ever more common in the Northland as well.

In Wisconsin, the first documented bird was recorded in 1983 near Lake Michigan, though a handful of sight records in the 70’s were probably accurate. A dear friend of mine, Frank Freese, found the first known Wisconsin nest in Madison in 1986.

House Finches were originally a far western species–one of the most commonly seen birds of all in California and Nevada. They’re rather unpopular where fruit is grown because they eat quite a bit, but seven-eighths of their diet is seeds from mostly noxious weeds, and they’re so trusting and tame hear people that it offsets their proclivity for fruit.

They’ re also known as linnets and “Hollywood Finches,” and were once very popular as cage birds. That became illegal with passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but some were still being illegally sold in New York in 1941 when a pet store was raided. The shopkeeper let the illegal birds out the window , and that was how the species was introduced to the eastern United States, where it spread quickly. In the past couple of decades, the natural western population has also been expanding, and right now it’s debatable whether the birds reaching our neck of the woods are from the introduced eastern population or the natural western one.

House Finches usually nest on man-made structures–eaves, porch and street lights, and bird houses. They seem even better adapted to human habitations than House Sparrows, and sparrow populations seem to decline wherever linnets appear. Males look quite a bit like Purple Finches, but are less wine-colored and a bit more orange. Females have pale streaking on the face and a rather anemic appearance in contrast with the thick eye line and robustly healthy appearance of female Purple Finches.

Within an hour of my first ever sighting of House Finches in my yard, there were two males both vying for the attention of a lone female, and all manner of wing fluttering and singing was employed to win her heart. Sneakers, my licensed education Blue Jay, had great fun watching all the fuss and fun out the window–! don’t know if she keeps a yard list or just finds romance entertaining, but she certainly seemed to understand that something out of the order was happening and worth squawking about. She’s something of a busybody, and now alerts me whenever they appear. Between the two of us we’ll be keeping track of these new kids on the block, the welcome and colorful little additions to Peabody Street.