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BIRDS » TENNESSEE'S BIRDS

House Finch
Haemorhous mexicanus

The first record of a House Finch in Tennessee was in 1972, and the first nesting records were in 1980. It is now a locally abundant year round resident in many parts of the state. This species is native to the western United States, and the Tennessee birds are part of the population that originated from a small number of birds liberated on Long Island in 1940. House Finches are attracted to bird feeders, are rarely found far from urban or suburban areas and now range across most of North America. Eastern populations have recently declined because of an infectious eye disease that started impacting this species in the late 1990s.

Description: The male is orange-red on the forehead, throat, chest, and rump; the back, wings, and tail are brown, sometimes lightly washed with red, and the belly is whitish with streaking on the sides. The female is grayish-brown overall, with blurry streaks on the chest and sides. The tail is only slightly notched in both male and female.
Length: 6"
Wingspan: 9.5"
Weight: 0.74 oz

Voice: The song is a mixture of sweet and harsh notes, ending in a very harsh wheer note. The call is a series of four or five quickly repeated notes, commonly heard at bird feeders.

Similar Species:

  • The Purple Finch is stockier and has an obviously notched tail. The male is raspberry-red, not orange-red, and has more red on the head, back and sides of the body than the House Finch. The female has a bold face pattern with an obvious white stripe over the eye, and more boldly streaked underparts.

Habitat: In the east, House Finches are found almost exclusively in urban and suburban habitats, especially in areas with buildings, lawns, and small conifers. In the west, they are found in desert grassland, oak savannah, riparian forests, and open coniferous forests at lower elevations, as well as urban and suburban habitats

Diet: Buds, seeds, and fruits. Frequently visit bird feeders.

Nesting and reproduction: Nest building begins in early March, and House Finches will frequently raise two or more broods in a season.

Clutch Size: Usually 4 to 5 eggs, with a range of 3 to 6 eggs.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 14 days, and is often fed by her mate while she incubates.

Fledging: Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest in 14 to 16 days.

Nest: The female builds the open cup-nest of fine grass stems, leaves, rootlets, and it almost always contains something white such as string or cigarette butts. It is placed in a variety of sites around buildings or in shrubs. In Tennessee, the most frequently reported nest site is in dense ornamental conifers such as arborvitae. They will also nest in hanging potted plants on porches.

Status in Tennessee: House Finch numbers in Tennessee are still increasing after their initial appearance as a state breeder in 1980. Most, or all, House Finches appear to be year round residents and have become locally abundant in many parts of the state. They prefer suburban-like settings.

Dynamic map of House Finch eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The first documented nesting of the House Finches in Tennessee occurred in 1980 in both Sullivan and Knox Counties. By 1986 they had spread across the state to Shelby County. House Finches are now locally abundant in suburban areas in many parts of the state.
  • The entire eastern North American population of House Finches is descended from a small number of birds liberated on Long Island, New York in 1940. At that time, House Finches were being sold illegally as caged birds, known as Hollywood Finches. Pet traders presumably released the birds to avoid prosecution under the auspices of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Those few released birds thrived and spread across the entire eastern United States and southern Canada within the next 50 years.
  • An eye disease epidemic (mycoplasmal conjunctivitis) has stopped the rapid increase of House Finch in the East, and in many areas, finch numbers are now decreasing. This disease is a bacterial infection that was first documented near Washington, D.C. in the winter of 1993 and seems to be restricted mostly to House Finches. It results in red, swollen, crusty eyelids and the birds often die from starvation, predation, or exposure. The disease continues to be prevalent in the eastern House Finch population. (To learn more, see "Links" below)
  • The orange-red color of a male House Finch comes from pigments (carotenoids) that it gets from the food it consumes while molting. The amount of red is quite variable. The more carotenoids in the food, the redder the male. Studies have shown that females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find, perhaps assuring that they get a capable male who can find enough food to feed the nestlings.

Obsolete English Names: burrion, rose-breasted finch, crimson-fronted finch

Best places to see in Tennessee: House Finches have become established in many urban and suburban areas across the state. They frequently visit bird feeders.

For more information:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds

For details on distinguishing House Finch from Purple Finch

Cornell Lab information on House Finch eye disease (conjunctivitis)

Additional information on conjunctivitis

Sources:

Hill, G. E. 1993. House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), The Birds of North America, No. 46 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.