Bird of the Week: House Finch

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AGFC) -- Bird of the Week for March 27 is the House Finch.

About 10,000 different bird species populate the world, so it's not surprising that several species look remarkably similar. Two of these species that look nearly identical are the House Finch and Purple Finch

Body Shape

The two species are roughly the same size, but they have slightly different body shapes. House Finches tend to have more slender bodies with proportionate heads. Purple Finches are stockier with larger heads. Depending on the posture of the bird, its body can take different shapes, so you want to make sure to observe the bird in various stances to determine the true shape of the body.


At first glance, both of these birds seem to have similar bills, but there are slight differences. A House Finch's bill is shorter and the top is more drastically curved downward. The Purple Finch has a conical bill that doesn't curve downward as much.

Plumage Color

For males, you'll often notice that both finches have reddish coloration, but there are differences if you pay close attention. First, the colors are markedly different when compared side-by-side. The House Finch's color is a more vivid red and orange. The Purple Finch's color is a deeper red and (you guessed it) purple. Both feature the color most prominently on their forehead and chest, but the House Finch has a "headband" of color with a brown crown. This means the top of their head is brown, as opposed to Purple Finches, which have color on the top of the head. Purple Finches also have a faint white brow.


Fill your backyard feeders with small, black oil sunflower seed. If House Finches discover your feeders, they might bring flocks of 50 or more birds with them.

Life History

The House Finch was originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico. Back in the 1940's, these birds were sold in New York City as "Hollywood Finches". Some say they didn't sell well and were released. Others say that is was already illegal to sell or possess migratory birds by then and a lot of Hollywood Finches were freed by vendors when they thought they were about to be caught.

Either way, this is how House Finches came to exist in the eastern United States. For a long time, the birds had trouble surviving in their new environment, but eventually, they grew in large numbers and began competing with the more abundant House Sparrow and the native Purple Finch.

The total House Finch population across North America is staggering. Scientists estimate between 267 million and 1.4 billion individuals.

The red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt (birds can't make bright red or yellow colors directly). So the more pigment in the food, the redder the male. This is why people sometimes see orange or yellowish male House Finches. Females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find, perhaps raising the chances they get a capable mate who can do his part in feeding the nestlings.

House Finches feed their nestlings exclusively plant foods, a fairly rare occurrence in the bird world. Many birds that are vegetarians as adults still find animal foods to keep their fast-growing young supplied with protein.

Their nests look like cups and are made of grass and are stuffed into bushes, thickets, natural cavities or in holes in buildings.

Female House Finches lay 4 or 5 pale blue eggs that are lightly spotted black.


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