"Horned" House Finches?
In Central Oregon, summer is the time to look for "horned" House Finches at your seed feeders. These birds are not a unique species, but are young House Finches that have recently left the nest. For a short period of time, House Finch fledglings tend to retain patches of long, downy juvenile feathers that give them the appearance of having horns.
Another feature that is noticeable in many species of songbirds including House Finches, is the gape. This is the reminants of the large, wide mouth that was so useful in the nest to provide a large target in which the parents could put food. Even after leaving the nest, young birds often have a wider bill that is lighter in color in the corners. Like the House Finch "horns", the gape disappears as the bird gets older.
In addition to differences in plumage, recently fledged birds can often also be identified by their begging behavior. The young will chirp, flutter their wings, tilt their head back and open their mouth as they request food from their parent. House finch fledglings will even do this right on the birdfeeder. As the saying goes "You can lead a House Finch to the feeder, but your can't make him eat". For many species of songbirds like House Finches, there is a period of parental care the extends even after the young have left the nest.
House Finch Fun Facts
- Male House Finches display a wide variety of plumage coloration ranging from gray to bright crimson. The coloration comes from carotenoid pigments found in some wild foods. The more pigment present in the foods eaten when they are molting new feathers … the redder the male.
- Female house finches prefer to mate with the reddest males they can find.
- House Finches roost at night in close proximity to each other, sometimes huddling together for warmth. Favorite roosting spots are used repeatedly.
- House Finches are fond of nectar and can become a nuisance at hummingbird feeders, if they do, offer them a dish of nectar for their own use.
- A water source can be a strong attractant for House Finches. They can drink up to 40% of their body weight on a hot summer day.
- House Finches are almost strictly vegetarian feeders and approximately 97% of their diet is made up of vegetable matter including buds, seeds, and fruits. They are strongly attracted to feeders, where they prefer small sunflower seeds.
- House Finches’ diets are the most vegetarian of any North American bird. Unlike most other seed eating birds, finches do not switch to an insect diet during the summer nesting season. They continue to eat mostly seeds, although they will prey on some insects when they are abundant.
- House Finches are highly attracted to sodium salt and will seek out sources of it to eat.
- Banding studies show House Finches may live to be over 11 years old in the wild.
- Both male and female House Finch display a strong tendency to return to the same area to breed, often occupying the same nest site as the previous year.
- Male House Finches do not defend a defined territory very far away from their nest; instead they concentrate on defending the area immediately surrounding their mate. They will chase and fight another male when it gets too close to their female partner.
- Ironically, House Finches rarely use bird houses to build their nest in; instead they seem to prefer locations such as: coniferous trees, cactus plants, ledges, street lamps, ivy on building and hanging planters.
- House Finch typically produce at least two broods each nesting season. Research has shown that some individuals may attempt to nest up to six times per year, but only half of the attempts were successful in fledging young.
- A few female House Finches have been observed laying their second clutch of eggs several days before fledging their young from a previous brood. This is possible due to the male predominant role in raising the young from the earlier nest.
- The House Finch has not always been found in the eastern United States. In 1940, they were illegally captured in California and imported to New York by pet dealers. Fearing prosecution, the dealers released their “Hollywood Finches” on Long Island in 1940. Since then the finches have spread to all corners of the east and have even rejoined their relatives in the west.
- The eastern population of House Finches has developed a consistent annual and often long-range migration pattern, while the native western population is primarily residential, occasionally migrating only short distances. Many House Finches from the Northeast U.S. and Great Lakes regions migrate to the southern U.S. to spend the winter.
- In the East, female House Fiches migrate farther south than do the males. Southern states often find a majority of brown females at their feeders, while northerners enjoy more of the colorful red males.
- House Finch populations found in the east are rarely found far from urban or suburban areas, but in its native western range they may also be found in a wide variety of open or semi-open habitats including undisturbed deserts.