Skagit Audubon
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Watching birds, protecting habitat, connecting with nature

Putting the “House” in House Finch

 DSC 3595      finch 

    Photo by Joe Halton                         Photo by Ron Pera

The scientific name for House Finch is Carpodacus mexicanus. Carpodacus is the Greek word for fruit-eater. This is an important point to remember when considering the wide and rapid expansion in their range. The House Finch (HOFI) is native to North America. They are thought to have originated from the chaparral and desert areas of Southern California and Northern Mexico. However, this bird is an example of how man-made influences affected its range today.

 The first reported House Finch in Washington State was in Eastern Washington in 1885. By 1920 they were thought to be throughout most of Eastern Washington in low dry habitats. A natural expansion of this bird in similar native habitats. In comparison, the first record of a HOFI in Western Washington was in 1952 during a Christmas Bird Count. They are now abundant throughout all lower elevations of Washington and are frequent visitors to bird feeders. Eastern North America HOFIs are descendants from caged birds released in 1940. These “Hollywood Finches” were brought illegally to Long Island, New York. It's believed when the captors were threatened with prosecution, the finches were released. Oops! This release happened to correspond with the growing suburbs of the mid-1940s and 50's when every third home had a seed bird feeder. This trend is also thought to have assisted the spread of the native Western Population. Interestingly, the Hawaiian House Finches were introduced to the islands as early as 1870. With the year-round abundance of fruit and seeds, these birds quickly spread to all islands by the early 1900s. Hawaii is a true fruit eating bird paradise, where this bird is known as the Papayabird.

Male House Finches get their color from plant carotids. The belief that females choose the reddest male for a mate is being questioned. New studies appear to suggest females are choosing mates who are most genetically different. How they know the male is not a “close cousin” eludes scientists. HOFIs are monogamous during breeding season. They will raise one to three broods per year. Each clutch size is 2 to 6 pale blue to white eggs with fine black specks. The nest is a cup made from twigs, grass, leaves and rootlets. The cup is usually lined with a soft material such as feathers, fur, hair or wool. They are known to reuse their nests and build upon or scavenge the abandoned nests of other birds. They're not particular on nest placement. Their nests can be found in shrubs, trees, ledges, street lamps and hanging baskets to name just a few locations. HOFIs are one of the few song birds to feed their young a vegetative diet. Most passerines will feed insects to their young. Scientists believe this is for the added protein. The vegetarian minded HOFI recalls feeding sites and will return to areas where there are dependable bird feeders.

HOFIs exhibit interesting courtship behaviors. The female may imitate the posture of a chick, fluttering her wings and accepting food from the male. This behavior may continue into the breeding and incubation period. Males can be seen with sticks and nesting material in their beaks during courtship, but do not actually build the nest. Nest construct is done by the female only. Male House Finches will aggressively defend their nesting territory. In addition to feeding the female, the male will fight off other birds, even House Sparrows. Population studies indicate that in areas where House Finch populations are increasing, House Sparrow populations decrease. This territorial fight for suitable habit is taking place in an urban and residential area near you.

Life span is 9 to 10 years. The oldest known HOFI was a female who was at least 11 years and 7 months old. She was banded in 1973 and recaptured and released in New York in 1985. A group of House Finches is known as a “development.” The development of suburbia has helped this bird flourish  across North America.

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Skagit Audubon Society holds monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month except for the months of July and August. We meet at 7:00 pm at Padilla Bay Interpretive Center(Google map), 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd. Mount Vernon. Meetings are open to all.

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