Fun Facts About Finches with a Focus on American Goldfinch and House Finch

Today we continue our Who's In the Backyard? Series with a look at finches. We commonly have American Goldfinches and house finches at our feeder so I am going to share general finch fun facts as well as fun facts about each of these types. 

Fun Facts About Finches

Chaffinch by CC BY-SA 3.0, Link 
  1. Finches are very social birds and often can be seen socializing with other species of birds.
  2. Although the finch family is one of the larger in the bird world, finches are one of the smaller birds. They are the smallest commonly kept birds. The finch family is divided into four subfamilies that contain more than 40 genera.
  3. Finches usually feed on seeds, fruits and nuts and are thus mostly vegetarians.
  4. Finches are songbirds and communicate with their flocks with their voice. Bullfinches can be trained to mimic songs.
  5. Bullfinch side-on
    Bullfinch by © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / CC BY-SA

  6. Chaffinches have been found to have regional accents with different songs in different parts. (See photo above)
  7. There is a debate as to whether finches are softbills or not.
  8. Finches are kept as pet, but do not do well with human handling. It causes them a lot of stress. They also need finch companionship so you should always keep more than one. They also like to fly and may require a bigger cage than a parrot.
  9. Because of their size, finch voices are quieter than other birds.
  10. The life expectancy of a finch is four to seven years. The maximum life expectancy is twenty years, but it is rarely reached.
  11. Finches can reach 3 to 6 inches and weigh 0.35 to 1.2 ounces. They can be found all over the world except in Australia.
  12. Finch nests are basket shaped and are built in trees, bushes and rock crevices.
  13. Females lay 2 to 6 pale blue eggs that incubate 13 to 14 days. Chicks are naked and helpless at birth. They stay in the nest for 2 to 3 weeks.

American Goldfinch Fun Facts

  1. The American Goldfinch are also known as the wild canary or Eastern Goldfinch.
  2. A flock of goldfinches is known as a charm.
  3. Goldfinches move rapidly and frequently. While it may seem to be the same goldfinches at a feeder it is most likely 100 different ones.

  4. American Goldfinches are the only finches that molt their feathers twice a year. The males get brighter feathers after molting in the late winter and then get their winter feathers after molting in late summer. The females are mostly brown with light color underbellies and a little yellow on their bib. In the winter the male and female are almost identical. Young American Goldfinch are wood brown-colored with buffy wing markings and light black shoulders during their first autumn and winter.
  5. They breed later than most birds. They wait until June or July to build their nests. The female is responsible for building the nest. They use fibrous stalks to build their nest like those of milkweed or thistle. They also feed their young the seeds from these fibrous plants. They tightly weave their nests in order to waterproof them.
  6. The female may leave the nest after it is built but will come back to lay her eggs and incubate them. Goldfinches may raise two broods per season. The female will build a second nest while the male feeds and raises the first brood.

  7. During non-breeding season they will flock together.
  8. The American Goldfinch is not closely related to the European Goldfinch.
  9. Carduelis carduelis close up
    European Goldfinch by © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / CC BY-SA

  10. The goldfinch is the state bird of Washington, Iowa, and New Jersey.
  11. Goldfinches go into a feeding frenzy when they sense the weather is about to get bad. If you know a storm is coming fill your birdfeeders for them.
  12. Goldfinches move south for the winter. They prefer areas that stay above 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  13. The record age of a goldfinch is 11 years. They usually live 3 to 6 years.
  14. Usually several males will compete for a female. They will compete for up to 20 minutes or more before one wins.
  15. The American Goldfinch is usually about 4.5 inches long.
  16. Unlike most finches the American Goldfinch uses it feet most of the time when it is eating.

Fun Facts About House Finch 
  1. The house finch was only a western bird (Western United States and Mexico) until 1940. In 1940 they were illegally shipped to New York City to be sold as pets. Some of the traders later released the birds and they spread throughout the East and Midwest and have become one of the more common backyard birds.
  2. The house finch is also known as the linnet or papaya bird. It was introduced to Hawaii in 1870 from California.
  3. House finches are nonmigratory or partial migratory birds. They usually stay near their breeding grounds in the winter. Some will head a short distance more south in the winter. It is believed in Eastern U.S. that the females migrate further south than the males.
  4. Male house finches have red-colored heads and breasts. The male’s back, wings, and square-tipped tail are brown. They get their red feathers from eating food with carotenoids in them. The females prefer the males with red feathers because they will be able to provide appropriate food for their young. Although new studies say that the female may pick the one that is most genetically different from her to prevent inbreeding. They are not sure how she would know which male is most genetically different from her though. The female house finch is greyish brown all over with blurry streaks on its sides and breast.

  5. There are yellow-colored house finches but this is a sign of malnutrition. There are even orange ones. The yellow and orange usually are in Hawaii. Science believes the colors are due to physiological stress and improper diet.
  6. The house finch measures about 5.25 inches in length and has a conical bill and long tail.
  7. House finches may live up to 10 years in the wild according to banding studies.
  8. The female will build a shallow cup shaped nest of grasses, twigs, leaves and line it with feathers and other fibers. She will lay 3 to 6 bluish or greenish white eggs with black spots near the large end. The eggs are incubated 13 to 14 days and then both parents feed the nestlings and eat the fecal sacs.
  9. The nestlings leave the nest in 12 to 15 days. The male will continue to feed them for two more weeks while the female builds a new nest and lays the next brood of eggs. They may raise three or more broods each season.
  10. House finches can remember where they found food. If they come to your feeder they will come back. They are the most vegetarian of any North American bird. They are also highly attracted to sodium salt.
  11. House finches drink up to 40% of their body weight of water on a hot summer day.
  12. House finches differ from purple finches. They are often confused with them. Male purple finches have purple side streaks where as male house finches have brown ones. Female purple finches have an eye stripe whereas female house finches do not.
  13. Purple Finch (704032056)
    Purple Finch by Sharon Mollerus / CC BY

  14. The eastern population of the house finch has decreased by about 50% in the last 10 years due to avian conjunctivitis, an eye disease.
  15. House finches are early nesters. They usually build their nest in March throughout most of the United States.
  16. Male house finches protect close to its mate and not a wide territory. It will fight off another male that comes too close to its mate.


Now to go with our study of finches I made a needle felted goldfinch. I got some inspiration here.

I also started cross stitching a house finch. I found a pattern in Cross Stitch Quick & Easy Magazine from June/July 1991. On pages 16-19 they share a beautiful cross stitch bird house with four birds in the corner. One of the birds is a house finch. I plan to make it into a tree ornament instead of doing the whole picture. Here is a picture from the magazine since you can't tell what mine is yet.

You can also make felt goldfinch and house finch with free patterns from Downeast Thunder Farm. I may do that as well. I may make ornaments of all my favorite birds so I can have them year round inside my house. Red Ted Art also shared this post from her blog for Paper Mache birds that include a finch. 
I also have a Pinterest Bird Board with a Finch Section to find even more finch related crafts and fun facts! And you can check out these books (I haven't seen them in person yet) to teach your kids all about finches.
What animals are in your backyard?