How well do you know this extended family of songbirds? Finches come in a spectrum of colors including purples, reds, and yellows, live in many regions throughout the United States and are among the most colorful and reliable bird feeder visitors.
Probably the most common and easily recognizable of the finch family is the canary yellow American Goldfinch, which can be found clinging to tube feeders about anywhere in the continental U.S. Its cousin, the striking black and gold Lesser Goldfinch makes its home in the desert southwest. Purply-red House Finches flock to just about anywhere the people are. If you’re hiking in pine forests in the mountain west, you may spy a red Pine Grosbeak sitting placidly in the boughs.
Despite the wide range of habitats and hues, finches share key characteristics used by scientists to classify them into one big family, under the Latin term Fringillidae. The following is a look at some of the core traits of finches.
Finches have conical beaks designed for seed crushing
What makes a finch a finch? It’s all in the beak. Their stout, triangular, conical beaks are wide at the base with a sharp point at the end. This structure is well-suited for crushing the hulls of seeds they glean from plants, pine cones, and grasses. Also, in the upper mandible is a groove where they can wedge the seed to hold it in place as the seed crushes. Then they use their tongues to peel away the hull so they eat the “meat.” Though they are mostly granivores — eating a seed-based diet — they also enjoy insects and will offer this protein-rich food source to their nestlings.
Finches are hardy little birds
The seed-based diet is what lets finches survive and thrive in cold climates. That means you’ll see finches year-round, either at the feeder or out in chattering flocks known as a charm of finches that forage in woodlands, grasslands and urban areas alike. The best example you can find of the hardy finch is the Common Redpoll, which lives year-round near the Arctic Circle. In the winter, these tiny birds make tunnels in the snow where they roost to keep warm on subzero nights.
Finches are ready to travel as irruptive migrants
Though finches have great winter survival skills, they will migrate when they must, to access more robust food supplies. That means predicting if and when they’ll leave and where they’ll end up is difficult. This style of migration is called an irruption. So when there’s an irruption of Common Redpolls, Pine Grosbeaks or Red Crossbills in your area, it’s kind of a big deal in birding circles. When it happens, be sure and fill the feeder and keep an eye out for these rare visitors.
Finches have a longer breeding timeframe than other birds
If you’ve seen a finch nesting in July, don’t worry, it’s not out of place! While spring is generally the time that most birds make their nests and lay eggs, finches can breed anytime between March and early August. While they are able to lay up to 6 clutches of eggs in that timeframe, usually only 3 are successful.
American Goldfinches are possibly the latest nesters of the family, commonly waiting until June or July when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their seeds, using them for both nesting material as well as food.
What to feed Finches
If you’d like to attract members of the finch family to your feeder, opt for Lyric Finch Mix, and watch these colorful birds of all seasons pay you a visit. With small-sized seeds like canola, small golden millet, sunflower kernels and their favorite, Nyjer seed, it’s the perfect mix to keep them well-fed and happy to visit.