House Finches, with their vibrant red plumage and sweet melodies, are some of the most beloved backyard birds in North America. But what fuels these tiny songbirds? What do they feed on to maintain their colorful feathers and joyful songs? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the dietary habits of House Finches and discover the variety of foods that sustain these charming creatures in their natural habitats. From seeds to insects, we’ll explore the secrets of the House Finch’s menu and the unique adaptations that make them such successful foragers.
So grab a pair of binoculars and come along on this journey to uncover the culinary delights of the House Finch’s diet!
The diet of House Finches
Endemic to the western parts of North America, the House Finches are a common sight throughout the continent, be it as a native or an introduced species. They belong to the American Rosefinch genus, with the males possessing their characteristic reddish wash on their heads, necks, and shoulders.
House Finches are partially migratory; the eastern and northern populations migrate, while others are permanent residents. Their diet consists mainly of seeds and grains but is supplemented with other foods in Winter when there’s low availability of these.
Now, we’ll take a closer look at what they eat and how their diet transitions with changing seasons:
Their summer diet
Seeds make up the major part of a House Finch’s diet during the summer months. They primarily feed on thistle seeds, canary seeds, sunflower hearts, black oil sunflower seeds, hemlock seeds, aster seeds, coneflower seeds, and wild mustard seeds. Weed seeds like dandelion and nettle are also quite popular among them.
Besides seeds, these songbirds are most fond of grains. They’ll eagerly eat both white and red millet, along with oats, corn, cracked corn, barley, buckwheat, rice, and quinoa.
In the wild, you might also spot House Finches eating the buds of flowering plants like thistle, mulberry, poison oak, and knotweed.
Fruits are a part of House Finch’s secondary diet. These songbirds don’t actively seek fruits, especially not in summer.
However, when they’re offered fruits, you’ll notice how they’re open to eating a wide variety, including grapes, pumpkins, pears, nectarines, apples, bananas, and beetroots.
Hackberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and serviceberries are popular among them as well.
Their winter diet
Due to the freezing temperatures of House Finch’s habitat during winter months, the availability of seeds and grains in the wild decreases significantly. Therefore, these songbirds are even more dependent on backyard feeders during this time, for they can only find seeds there.
The diet of the finches that don’t have access to any backyard feeder consists mainly of wild fruits and berries (mentioned above).
It is also believed that they prey on insects occasionally to prevent starvation. While little proof of it has been gathered from the wild, on bird feeders, they’re often spotted eating mealworms during winter. In any case, House Finches are much less carnivorous than other finch species like Waxbill and Owl Finches.
How much food do House Finches eat in a day?
Like most wild songbirds, the House Finches need to eat food about half their body mass every day. Because their average weight ranges between 18-22 grams, they’d need roughly 9-11 grams of food on a daily basis.
As far as their frequency of eating is considered, they eat pretty much all day. You must know that the creatures in the wild don’t follow the breakfast-lunch-dinner format as we do. Their food resources aren’t as plentiful or consistent as ours.
They don’t know when they might find food, which is why almost all of their waking hours are spent hunting or foraging. If they frequent your feeders, you might spot them eating 3-4 times a day.
Most often, these birdies form small flocks and inhabit trees nearby yards with feeders to have constant access to food all day.
What do baby House Finches eat?
House Finches breed between the months of March and August and raise about 4-5 broods in a single year! Each brood has 2-6 eggs, which are laid post their courtship and mating rituals.
These eggs are then incubated by mama finch for 12-14 days, after which they hatch. In the first week of the hatchlings, the father brings home food, and the mother feeds it to them. This food, which consists primarily of seeds, is mashed by the mother before being fed to them.
After the first week, both parents fly out to hunt, continuing to feed them for another week and a half until they fledge. The juvenile finches leave their nest shortly after this period.
What can you feed a baby House Finch?
If you happen to find an abandoned House Finch fledgling in or around your yard, you must put them in a warm and protected place. Now for feeding them, your choices are limited to moist cat kibble or dog food, hard-boiled eggs, and raw liver.
Feeding them worms, bread, or other kitchen scraps would be a bad idea at this point; the same is true for milk and water.
Attracting House Finches to your yard: tips and tricks
The first step towards attracting House Finches to your yard is knowing which feeders work for them. Tube, sock, and finch station feeders are all designed to allow them to perch comfortably, so you could opt for any one of them.
Sock feeders filled with thistle seeds are also a tried-and-tested feeder alternative that has worked for many birders. House Finches can easily hang on these feeders and use their conical bills to extract seeds from between the fibers.
Wondering which seeds to fill their feeders with? Let us tell you a secret: House Finches are always looking for seeds with high oil content. So, the fresh black seeds of black oil sunflower and Nyjer are more attractive to them than brown, dried seeds.
These two are great choices for attracting the finches, especially between November and March, when they struggle to find seeds in the wild. Once they start visiting regularly, millet and cracked corn can be offered as well.
Because Finches are more common at backyard feeders in winter, there’s another way you can help them during this time: by installing a heater birdbath. These songbirds face a severe shortage of unfrozen water sources to drink from and will be drawn to your yard in the presence of a birdbath.
The predators of House Finches in the wild
Although House Finches play the essential role of seed predation in the ecosystem, they themselves are preyed upon by other larger predators.
The hawks are the major avian predators of the adult finches, with House Finches being particularly hunted by Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. Domestic cats are another leading predator of these songbirds, both the adults as well as nestlings.
The threat to House Finch eggs and nestlings isn’t limited merely to cats. They’re also vulnerable to other predators like Blue Jays, American Crows, Common Grackles, chipmunks, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, snakes, and even rats.