Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the house finch.
Often seen in large flocks of a few tens of birds to perhaps a hundred birds or more, house finches (haemorhous mexicanus) are frequent visitors to bird feeders in our area. Although they thrive in urban and suburban environments, they may also be seen in many forest and grassland habitats below 6,000 feet across the southwest.
House finches are sparrow-sized birds with large beaks that they use to crack open hardened seeds or that serve them well for feasting on fleshy fruits of various kinds.
The males are distinctively rosy red around their face and upper body, with dark streaking in the tails and along their undersides. Females lack the reddish coloration of males and are grayish-brown with dark streaks.
Their cup-shaped nests made of small stems, leaves, string, wool, and other fibrous materials can be found almost anywhere — in trees, shrubs, rock ledges or on buildings, and even in hanging planters. Each brood of two to six chicks may mature in a little less than three weeks, allowing them to lay up to six broods per year in warmer climates, but three or four in cooler areas.
House finches typically do not migrate from their home ranges and are common across North America, but that has not always been the case. Originally native in the American west and southwest, in the 1940s, they were illegally sold as pets in the New York City area. These birds were released by vendors and owners, and Audubon Christmas Bird Counts document the rapid spread of the species from the east and midwest. In the mid-1990s, a rapidly spreading eye disease caused a steep decline in their numbers, primarily in the east. While the disease is still a concern, house finch populations have recovered and they continue to thrive as human developments expand across the continent.
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