Carpodacus mexicanushouse finch

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Geographic Range

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)

Habitat

In the eastern United States, house finches are highly adaptable to urban and suburban environments. In fact, they are found almost exclusively in areas where buildings and lawns are present. They are also found in the open desert and desert grassland, chaparral, oak savannah, riparian areas, and open coniferous forests of the western United States, their native range. (Farrand Jr., 1988; Hill, 1993)

Physical Description

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

Reproduction

House finches are socially monogamous. Breeding pairs begin to form in winter, culminating in pairbonds established just before the breeding season begins. Males will engage in a courtship display known as the "butterfly flight" whereby they ascend to 20 to 30 m, then slowly glide to a perch singing a loud continuous song. They also engage in courtship feeding and mate guarding. Females appear to prefer males that have brightly colored plumage. The red plumage color is directly related to intake of carotenoid-rich foods. Bright red coloration may therefor indicate good competitive and foraging capabilities in a male, making them a desirable mate. (Hill, 1990; Hill, 1993)

House finches breed between March and August. A pair may lay as many as 6 clutches during one breeding season, though typically no more than three of these clutches will result in fledglings. The female builds the nests, which are shallow cups constructed of grasses, hair, or other available fibers. Nests are constructed in sagebrush, saltbrush, mountain mahogany, cactuses, tree cavities, buildings, on tree branches, or in bird boxes. The female lays 3 to 6 bluish or greenish-white eggs that are spotted with black near the large end. Each egg weighs approximately 2.4 g and takes 12 to 17 (usually 13 or 14) days to hatch. The female does all of the incubation and broods the altricial chicks constantly for the first few days after hatching. Both parents feed the nestlings and remove fecal sacs from the nest by eating them. The nestlings leave the nest 12 to 19 days after hatching. The male continues to feed the fledglings for an undetermined amount of time (probably no longer than the incubation period) while the female builds a new nest and lays the next brood of eggs.

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

  • Breeding interval
    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 young are incubated and brooded in the nest by females only. Males bring food to the female but do not participate in direct care of the young until a few days after hatching, when both parents begin an intensive period of feeding the nestlings. After the chicks leave the nest, the male typically continues to feed the chicks while 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

Lifespan/Longevity

House finches are known to live up to 11 years and 7 months in the wild, though most probably live much shorter lives.

Behavior

House Finches are active during the day. They are not territorial. In fact, they often nest in close association, and commonly occur in small groups or flocks. In groups, males and females usually establish dominance hierarchies, in which females are typically dominant over males. Throughout most of their range, house finches do not migrate. 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.

Communication and Perception

House finches use vocalizations and visual cues to communicate. 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 as the nest is being built to guard the female. They also sing during courtship feeding and during the incubation and nestling periods. 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)

Food Habits

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

Predation

Adult house finches are most commonly preyed upon by domestic cats, Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. Nest predators include blue jays, common grackles, common crows, eastern chipmunks, fox squirrels, rats, skunks , snakes, raccoons, and household cats.

House finches avoid predators primarily through vigilance. Groups feeding together benefit by having many individuals actively watching for predators. (Hill, 1993)

Ecosystem Roles

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

House finches are common throughout their range. There are an estimated 21,000,000 house finches worldwide. This species is not currently protected, except by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prohibits capturing or keeping these birds without a permit.

Other Comments

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. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

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 use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

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

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

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

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

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.