House Finches are the ‘new kids on the block’ in Alberta, and a favorite of many back yard bird watchers.
These colourful little birds were originally found only in the southwestern United States and Mexico. In the 1940’s a small number were imported to New York, in an attempt to sell them as caged birds called “Hollywood Finches.” The business venture failed, and the birds were released on Long Island. They quickly started breeding, and now the two populations have spread across almost all of the United States and southern Canada.
The first Alberta birds were reported from the mountains in the 1960s. Sightings expanded to Calgary in the early 1970s, but significant populations did not develop until the late 1990s. Now these melodic singers are found throughout the city.
House Finches have received a much warmer welcome than the introduced House Sparrows or European Starlings. People love the cheerful red head and breast of males, and their long, twittering song brightens up any rainy day. These birds have also managed to survive Canadian winters, and are common feeder birds throughout our cold months, bringing a welcome splash of colour to the yard.
Most of the males are red, but House Finches can also come in orange…
House Finches have two or more broods each year, and each clutch has 4 or 5 eggs. This not only explains why they have colonized the continent so quickly, it also accounts for the appearance of the tufted juvenile finches in my yard throughout the year. Most birds feed their young insects for the protein content, but House Finches feed their chicks vegetable matter and seeds. Backyard bird feeders with their regularly available seeds have also helped them conquer the continent.
It’s no wonder bird watchers like House Finches – they’re an ongoing challenge to identify. The female looks like a member of the sparrow family, the males come in a variety of bright colours depending on their diet, and the tufted juveniles look like a separate species altogether.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates the current House Finch population to be somewhere between 267 million and 1.4 billion individuals. It seems safe to say we will have these colourful singers in Calgary for the foreseeable future!
Posted by Pat Bumstead
Yellow House Finch Picture by Bob Lefebvre