Our House Finch Chicks
Credit: Rose Webster / All rights reserved

How I Tried to Protect Three Baby House Finches

Trifecta! Left to right: American Goldfinch, House Sparrow and a House FinchPatrick Ashley on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 GenericMy daughter loves to feed every type of wild animal that visits our yard and birds are no exception. Our bird feeder attracts quite a few types of North American songbirds along with the occasional squirrel. 

Lately, a pair of House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) have been busy building a nest above our porch light. I just let them do their thing since I'm the one occupying their natural habitat. I didn't want to disturb them, so I've been using my side door to leave the house.

Well, a few weeks ago, something unexpected happened. As I was leaving for work, I glanced over at the porch and saw a broken bird egg (the yolk had spilled out too). I heard a kerfuffle and wings flapping nearby. Oh no, that's too bad, I thought, as I worked quickly to clean it up before my daughter saw it.

I Had Better Protect Those Remaining Eggs

It was then that I decided I'd better rig something up to the porch light to protect any remaining eggs.

My neighbors wondered what I was doing when they saw me cutting a large foil roasting pan and securing it to the porch light. So I assured them I wasn't going to be roasting any poultry that day. (And that I hadn't taken this solar power thing too far).

Here's What I Made

The white fluff is just the filler from an old pillow

Foil Roasting Pan Around Porch Light
Credit: Rose Webster / All rights reserved

Some Fascinating Facts About House Finches

My daughter is always asking me what kinds of foods wild animals and various birds like to eat. Sometimes I tell her they eat leafy green vegetables (re: the bunny that visits us) to try and entice her to eat more of those too. (Nah, it didn't work).

And I'm gonna just say it: I like how these House Finches approach family life. 

Case In Point

Purple Finch or House Finch?Jackie Finn-Irwin on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericIn groups, female House Finches are usually dominant over the males.

Male House Finches are more colourful and can have yellow, orange, and red on their heads, chests, rumps and back. This is due to how rich in carotenoids their diet is - which is 97% vegetarian.

According to Geoffrey E. Hill, University of Michigan's Animal Behavior (p. 563 - 572), Female House Finches prefer the reddish-colored males the most. The theory here is that he can find the richest food sources (those highest in carotenoids) to feed their family.

So to Some Chicks, Conan is Hot

Conan Legally Prohibited San Diego
Credit: Ryan | Uploaded by Muboshgu (WikiMedia Commons) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

More to Love About House Finches

  • They are monogamous and even kiss - they actually touch bills.
  • During their courtship, male House Finches will feed their beloved female.
  • Males sing all year long. And during mating season, both males and females will sing. (Guess she's happy or perhaps she's trying to drown out his voice, not sure).
  • Males are great husbands and fathers. They feed nesting mothers and they feed their offspring.
  • Male House Finches will protect their mate from other males.

Whoa, Check Out That Maneuver

The House Finch on the right has him in a beak-hold

Shaddup You Face
Credit: rycheme on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

House Finches Make Excellent Nests

I was amazed that the female built the nest above our porch light in such little time (over the course of a weekend). The nest is extremely well-constructed. I couldn't get a photo of the nest at my house without the birds around, the eggs in it, or the baby chicks (and I didn't want to disturb them) so I found the following photo on Wikimedia Commons.

Carpodacus mexicanus eggs
Credit: Kelly Teague (WikiMedia Commons) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

What a Great Labour Coach (only 1:17 secs)

Male House Finch Sings to Nesting Female by Valerie Miller

The Money Shot

Look for the edge of the yellow bills, there are three chicks

Three House Finch Chicks in Our Porch Light Nest
Credit: Rose Webster / All rights reserved

They Really Are Comical Looking

IMG_8521-B Baby Finches 07-04-2012
Credit: mnchilemom on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

They Resemble Keith Richards

but House Finches can sing (just kidding Keith)

Chuck Berry/ Leonard Cohen-JFK Library Boston, Mass.-Feb. 26, 2012
Credit: Protest Photos1 on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Carpodacus mexicanus

was (and sometimes still is) considered their scientific name

Carpodacus means fruit biter which is derived from the Greek "karpos" (meaning fruit) and "dakos" (meaning biter).

Mexicanus (Mexico) refers to their range of origin.

However, in July 2012 the 53rd Supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-List of North American Birds (p. 575) Carpodacus mexicanus is no longer used.

What do House Finches eat?

House Finches will consume insects, on occasion. They are known to feed them and/or their larvae to their young. In 1907, F. E. L. Beal, examined the contents of 1206 stomachs of House Finches (not a job I'd want) and recorded the following: Juvenile finch, meet an Orangelostinfog / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

82.6 % was seed (from weeds)

10.5 % was fruit

2.4 % was animal matter

0.9 % was miscellaneous

After I researched what House Finches like to eat, I discovered the following:

Grasses - such as white proso millet and grass seeds

Grains - such as milo and commercially grown grains

Seeds - black sunflower seeds and nyjer are favorites, thistle seeds, nettle seeds, dandelion seeds, mistletoe and canary seeds. They regurgitate seeds (often dandelion seeds) to feed to their young

Blossom Buds - flower parts, lilac bushes, apple trees and more 

Fruits and Berries - cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, blackberries, figs, and even citrus fruit (re: photo above right is of a juvenile House Finch eating an orange by lostinfog on flickr)

Fat - They will consume fat (suet) and table scraps (including bread crumbs and even cheese)

Sap - they like Maple tree sap (most noticeable when branches are trimmed)

Water - it's important they have a source a fresh water around and they should drink at least once a day

References and Resources

BioKIDS - Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species The University of Michigan has done a fabulous job of explaining every species in an easy-to-understand way with photos, sounds, and detailed facts. I especially like the grey boxes which highlight the main points.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology | All About Birds: House Finch I love how this website is set-up. A short history followed by folders which include these topics: identification, life history, sound, and video. The "at a glance" section with pictures provides a quick snap shot of their habitat, food, nesting, behavior, and conservation status.

Seattle Audubon Society | Bird Web Right away you can hear an audio recording of the House Finch, followed by folders: description, life history, status, where to find in WA, and maps. Family members of these birds (shown in thumbnail photos) are extremely helpful - the Purple Finch looks quite similar to the House Finch.

Bird Houses 101 | House Finch feeding preferences If you are planning to feed birds, this online page is extremely helpful. It also contains information about behavior and common plants and trees that birds enjoy. Good information for those who wish to attract birds to their yard.

Backyard Bird Identification | Sparrows and Finches In a few paragraphs with good sized photos, this website provides you with an overview of each bird. Includes little known facts obtained only by those observing these birds and how they interact with each other.

Animal Diversity Web: Carpodacus mexicanus information Every fact has references cited and I like the inclusion of communication & perception, known predators, eco-system roles, and diseases. For example, mycoplasmal conjunctivitis can be deadly to House Finches. Keeping bird feeders clean is an important preventative measure.

House Finch - Wikipedia Wikipedia provides a good one page overview. I especially like it for the scientific classification and the maps which show the change in range of the House Finch populations dating back to 1958.

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