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house finch

Carpodacus mexicanus

What do they look like?

House finches are small songbirds. Average adults are 14 cm long and weigh 19 to 22 g. Their wings are about 8.4 cm long and tails are about 6.6 cm long. Females are approximately 1.3 cm shorter than males. Males have rosy-pink throats and rumps. They have a red line over their eyes, their backs are lightly streaked in red, their abdomens are whitish and streaked with brown, and they have brown-streaked wings, sides, and tails. Females are brownish overall but may also have some pale red coloration. Young house finches look similar to adult females.

House Finches may be confused with Purple Finches. Purple Finches have a more reddish color on their upper parts and are not streaked on their abdomens.

House finches may be confused with purple finches. Purple finches have more reddish color on their upper parts and are not streaked on the abdomen (Farrand, Jr. 1988). (Farrand Jr., 1988; Palmer and Fowler, 1975)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    19 to 22 g
    0.67 to 0.78 oz
  • Average length
    14 cm
    5.51 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.3108 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

The native range of house finches extends from Oregon, Idaho and northern Wyoming to California, New Mexico and Mexico, eastward to the western portions of Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. In the 1940's a shipment of house finches was introduced into Long Island, New York. After struggling to survive for several years the population eventually became established and has spread throughout the eastern portion of the United States coast. They now occur from southern Canada south to the Gulf of Mexico, throughout the eastern seaboard and as far west as the Mississippi river. These newly established eastern populations have since become migratory, and now spend winters in the southern parts of the United States. House finches have also been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands. (Farrand Jr., 1988; Hill, 1993; Palmer and Fowler, 1975)

What kind of habitat do they need?

House finches are found in open desert, desert grassland, chaparral, oak savannah, riparian areas, and open coniferous forests in the western United States. In their new range in the eastern United States, house finches are rarely found far from urban and suburban areas. (Farrand Jr., 1988; Hill, 1993)

How do they reproduce?

House finches are monogamous (one male mates with one female). Males and females begin to look for mates in winter, and have formed breeding pairs by the time the breeding season begins. Males try to attract a female mate by performing courtship displays, such as the "butterfly flight". In the "butterfly flight", the male flies 20 to 30 m into the air and then slowly glides to a perch while singing a loud continuous song. Males also feed their mate (called courtship feeding) and guard their mate from other males.

Females seem to prefer males that have bright red feathers. The red color comes from the foods the male eats. A very red-colored male signals that he is healthy and a good forager, and that he would therefore be a good mate. (Hill, 1990; Hill, 1993)

House finches breed between March and August. A breeding pair may lay as many as 6 clutches of eggs in one summer, but they usually can only successfully raise up to 3 clutches. The female builds the nests, which are shallow and cup-shaped. They are made of grasses, hair, or other available fibers, and are built in shrubs, cactuses, tree cavities, buildings, on tree branches, or in bird boxes. The female lays 3 to 6 bluish or greenish-white eggs that have black spots near the large end. Each egg weighs approximately 2.4 g and takes about 13 or 14 days to hatch. The female does all of the incubation and broods the naked chicks for a few days after they hatch.

Both parents feed the nestlings and keep the nest clean by eating the fecal sacs made by the chicks. The nestlings leave the nest when they are 12 to 19 days old. The male keeps feeding the fledglings for about two weeks. The female builds a new nest and begins raising the next brood.

After they become independent, young house finches form large flocks. These young finches will be able to breed the next spring. (Palmer and Fowler, 1975)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    A breeding pair may lay as many as 6 clutches of eggs in one summer.
  • Breeding season
    House finches breed between March and August.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
    4
    AnAge
  • Range time to hatching
    12 to 17 days
  • Average time to hatching
    13.5 days
  • Range fledging age
    12 to 19 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 1 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 1 years

The female incubates the eggs and broods the chicks after they hatch. The male brings food to the female but doesn't begin to help care for the chicks until a few days after they hatch. Both parents feed the chicks while they are in the nest. After the chicks leave the nest, the male usually continues to feed the chicks and the female begins building the nest for the next brood.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male

How long do they live?

The oldest known house finch lived up to 11 years and 7 months in the wild. Most house finches probably live much shorter lives.

How do they behave?

House Finches are active during the day. They are not territorial. In fact, they commonly occur in small groups or flocks and often nest close together. In groups, females are usually dominant over males.

In most areas, house finches stay in the same area year-round. However, some populations in the eastern United States migrate to warmer areas in winter.

Home Range

We have no information on home range of this species at this time.

How do they communicate with each other?

House finches use vocalizations and body signals to communicate. House finch calls are made up of "kweat" or "weet" sounds, and are used often as a way to remain in contact with a mate. The song of house finches is described as an ecstatic warble, but is not as rich as the song of purple finches. Most singing by males occurs during the first few hours after sunrise and the last few hours before sunset. Males sing to guard the female as she builds the nest. They also sing during courtship feeding and while the eggs are being incubated and the young are in the nest. Females sing during courtship feeding or mating. House Finches also communicate using visual cues, such as plumage coloration and stance of the body. (Farrand Jr., 1988; Hill, 1990; Palmer and Fowler, 1975)

What do they eat?

These birds almost exclusively eat grains, seeds, buds and fruits. Common seeds eaten include thistle, dandelion, sunflower, and mistletoe. In the late summer, fruits, such as cherries and mulberries, are some of their favorites. House finches will also eat flower parts and do sometimes eat insects such as beetle larvae and plant lice, but these may be eaten incidentally with seeds.

Unlike other finches of the genus Carpodacus, house finches do forage on the ground. When feeding in open areas, house finches prefer to have high perches nearby and/or to feed in large flocks.

House finches drink by scooping water into their bill and tilting their head back. Finches typically need to drink at least once per day. (Hill, 1993; Palmer and Fowler, 1975)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • flowers

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predators of adult house finches include domestic cats, Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. Blue jays, common grackles, common crows, eastern chipmunks, fox squirrels, rats, skunks , snakes, raccoons, and household cats are all predators of eggs and nestlings.

House finches avoid predators mostly by watching for them. They prefer to forage in groups because every member of the group helps to watch for predators. (Hill, 1993)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

House finches are important seed predators and dispersers. Also, house finches provide a source of food for birds of prey, snakes, and other predators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

House finches can cause damage to orchards, including crops of peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and nectarines.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

House finches are a welcome visitor to backyard bird feeders. They provide much pleasure to those who welcome their song and presence as an announcement of the arrival of spring.

Are they endangered?

House finches are common throughout their range. There are about 21,000,000 house finches in the world. Finches and many other species of birds are protected by the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This means that they may not be captured or kept without a permit.

Some more information...

House Finches have had population fluctuations as a result of conjunctivitis and pox infections rather than predation. A finch that has this disease can be recognized by its swollen, runny, or crusty eyes. Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis often results in death. This disease can be reduced by making sure to keep bird feeders clean. (Palmer and Fowler, 1975)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Kari Kirschbaum (author, editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Janice Pappas (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland
savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland
urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Farrand Jr., J. 1988. Eastern Birds; An Audubon Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc..

Hill, G. 1990. Female house finches prefer colourful males: sexual selection for a condition-dependent trait. Animal Behaviour, 40: 563-572.

Hill, G. 1993. House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). Pp. 1-24 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, No. 46. Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences, Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.

Palmer, E., H. Fowler. 1975. Fieldbook of Natural History, 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Pappas, J. 2002. "Carpodacus mexicanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 21, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Carpodacus_mexicanus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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