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What Finches Did I Have at my Window Feeder?

Updated on May 26, 2016

Summary continued

...window feeder and I was able to watch them closer than before. Even when I ate!

Read first

For the meanings of bird parts which you do not understand in this Hub, see my bird glossary.

If what you want is not in there, please let me know so that I can add it into the glossary.

Window feeder w/finches

House Finches at a hanging Feeder
House Finches at a hanging Feeder | Source

Black-capped Cickadee and Tufted Titmouse at window feeder

My first finches were the popular House Finch and the Purple Finch.

I had begun bird watching and feeding years ago. I had a tray window feeder which would have been similar to the one in the photo on the right only I could not find any previous photos of it. So I have another photo of finches at a bird feeder.

The window feeder was one of the first bird feeding accessories that I had made available. The first bird that arrived at the feeder, I believe, was the Black-capped Chickadee, and its friend the Tufted Titmouse. They are forward birds and eat from your hand almost right away. They are black and white and I began to see different colors on the feeder. Red and purple colored birds showed up soon but I also noticed an overall brown. There were four new birds in all. The brown birds which I thought were all the same type were different. The book showed me that the female H. Finch was brown. I soon learned how I was viewing the female P. Finch and the female H. Finch, but I was not yet able to tell them apart .

It was the spring and I came across a photo of a female P. Finch and it looked the same as the H. Finch. This seemed to be harder than I thought - I had to do some more reading and studying.

House Finch

A male House Finch for description  (See capsule 'A few differences I noticed...')
A male House Finch for description (See capsule 'A few differences I noticed...') | Source

Purple Finch

A male Purple Finch for description(See capsule 'A few differences I noticed...')
A male Purple Finch for description(See capsule 'A few differences I noticed...') | Source

A few differences I noticed back then between the House Finch and the Purple Finch.

After I had bought a couple of books, I searched the computer and studied the birds - when they came to the feeder, that is - I remembered what I could without seeing them. I was able to differentiate a few things about them, being new to birding.*

* I go into further detail about them in their own hubs.

I looked at the two males and I compared them and the red on the Purple Finch. The Purple Finch had color only on its head and upper breast. While the color on the House Finch went farther down onto its belly. This was my first quick clue that would help a beginning birder. I was thrilled. I had found a way to tell the two different male species apart!

I wondered whether I would find a similar clue with the females since they were both brown, and did not seem to have any color as the males did. Hm-mm. I started reading and searching again but it took a little longer this time. Finally I discovered that even though they both had basically the same eyebrow and face/chin lines, the lines on the H. Finch were dark brown while the lines on the P. Finch were greyish or greenish. Plus the P. Finch had what you might call a slightly longer neck - barely noticeable. I would learn more as I went along, but it was not easy to go on at first. I was sure that there were other differences that I could notice about each of them.

Female Purple Finch

 Female Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) - Virginia (See capsule 'Observations I made...')
Female Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) - Virginia (See capsule 'Observations I made...') | Source

Female House Finch

Carpodacus mexicanus (female House Finch). Ventura County, California, USA. (See capsule 'Observations I made...')
Carpodacus mexicanus (female House Finch). Ventura County, California, USA. (See capsule 'Observations I made...') | Source

I made personal observations that may help some of you.

I first noticed when I looked at photos between the two that the male House Finch had more of an orange tint, light red in its color. While the male Purple Finch was purple tinted, darker red.

The female P. Finch had a brownish tint to its feathers and streaks while the female H. Finch had an overall grayish tint.

That made it easier for me to tell them apart. I learned more as I read and observed more.

Such as: if I observed them closely when they ate their seeds, I would notice that each species ate them differently. Sure, each bird would not eat seeds the same way; but a closer and more careful observation and you could tell that bird 'A' ate seeds differently than bird 'B' ate the seeds. Even the males ate differently than the females ate.

House Finch singing

Purple Finch singing

Music to my ears

I still tried to tell these two finches apart from each other. I did not yet have experience in this area. I became interested in the songs that I kept hearing from them soon enough. Again, the music sounded basically the same to me even though I had read how the songs were different from each other. I guess this would take some time, but it was a challenge. I liked challenges.

The House Finch had a song which sounded like a canary melody with a bit of a buzz to it, and it usually had an ascending "zeeee" at its end.

The Purple Finch, on the other hand, sang a rich, high-spirited whimsy of fast notes on assorted waves - some notes in pairs.

It was not easy to tell them apart at first. It took some time and listening.

Finches at feeder

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Juvenile male northern cardinal at feeder with female house finchA House Finch at one of my bird feeders.
Juvenile male northern cardinal at feeder with female house finch
Juvenile male northern cardinal at feeder with female house finch | Source
A House Finch at one of my bird feeders.
A House Finch at one of my bird feeders. | Source

Food for thought

If I remember correctly, it was early to mid-summer and the finches were regulars at the window feeder. So I figured that I might be able to get an idea from the seeds that they ate. It seemed they were all attracted to the sunflower seeds, but they would frequently disappear with a seed and return without it. After their appearances at the feeder slowed down, I found out something when it was already nearing the end of summer. Earlier they had been raising and feeding their young and now they were all foraging for natural food. I was not having luck so far.

To attract the House Finch, I found out that I could use a variety of seeds but they were especially attracted to sunflower and thistle seeds.

For the Purple Finch feeding, I could use sunflower, thistle and millet seed and I could either scatter them on the ground or use feeders.

Sometimes I watched them extract nuts and seeds from shells

When the House Finch, and Purple Finch, came to my window feeder, I began to observe the birds while they ate. There are beaks, bodies and routines (as other birds have for theirs) which are adapted for feeding on these highly beneficial, energy-rich diets that often come enclosed in difficult packaging (shells).

After they had picked up a seed, they began to crack it with their bill. Next, I would see their tongue rotate the seed and their beak would clamp down upon the seed again to crack it more. This process would continue until it - the shell - was completely cracked, with their tongue usually catching the seed when they were done, or they would pick up the shell again to eat the seed.

Occasionally you will see them pick up a shell, drop it, and pick up another one. They may do this once, or go through it several times. It may be for the reason that they have come across shells which are too large for their beaks and they continue searching until they have found a shell which is the correct size. Another logical reason is that the shell was too hard to crack, even though their beaks are made for this purpose.

American Goldfinch

Male American Goldfinch on feeder eating thistle seeds. (See capsule 'Family Fringillidae...
Male American Goldfinch on feeder eating thistle seeds. (See capsule 'Family Fringillidae... | Source

Family Fringillidae (Finches)

The total finches worldwide is an approximate count of 218 species. I do not know if the total is a count of all of them. This includes pet finches, exotic finches and extinct Hawaiian honeycreepers and the extinct Bonin grosbeak many other types.

There are sixteen species living in North America. I believe these are called the 'true' finches. I am only familiar with this family. These are small to medium-sized birds with conical bills and often brightly colored feathers. Some species wear various shades of red, while others are yellow. (Such as the Goldfinch.) Outside of the nesting season they are sociable and often travel in groups. Many nest in northern areas, entering the United States in large amounts only when their regular food reservoir runs out. Several breed and live in Canada.

Tell me about your preferred finch.

Do you like wild finches or pet finches?

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Favorite finch.

Which is your favorite type of finch?

See results

Which one is it?

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Author: Kevin - ©2013

© 2013 The Examiner-1


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    • The Examiner-1 profile imageAUTHOR

      The Examiner-1 

      4 years ago

      It sounds like you need to have a small book about birds Eiddwen. You can keep it handy at your kitchen table/window so it can help distinguish the birds which you feed.

      Believe me, this one Hub has not covered the entire finch family. This was only about 3 of them, there are others in more Hubs.

      Thank you for your comments and I wish you a good weekend also. So far the weather has improved here.


    • Eiddwen profile image


      4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub on the finch family kevin. Brilliant !!!As far as I know the only Finch which feeds on our table is The Bukkfinch.

      By the time I have read many more of your hubs Kevin I am going to be very knowledgeable on these birds. Got a few more to enjoy and please keep them coming.

      voted up for sure.

      I wish you a great weekend and love from Wales.


    • The Examiner-1 profile imageAUTHOR

      The Examiner-1 

      4 years ago

      Birds do like natural food, mainly during breeding season. But goldfinches only feed their nestlings a diet of basically seeds.

      I do not know whether they have them in the winter but I believe that you can buy grubs at bird supply stores. If not there, you may want to try calling pet stores or fishing stores before you go.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      4 years ago

      Yes, thistle seeds. That's what I was trying to remember the name of. We put that in our finch feeders. It's about $6 for a bag here, and we go through about 4 bags a summer.

      I did notice finches love sunflower seeds. One year we had a bunch of sunflowers sprouting up all over the yard from birds dropping seeds.

      This past year, I let the poke weed grow in certain areas. It cut down on the amount of seed I had to buy. Another favorite of some birds are grubs. When I dig up the flower gardens in the spring, I put the grubs in an open tray feeder. The birds go crazy over them.

      But this reminds me, I didn't put out much sunflower seed this past season. I did have the thistle feeders out. But not much sunflower seed. Maybe that explains why I didn't have nearly the amount of birds we usually see.

    • The Examiner-1 profile imageAUTHOR

      The Examiner-1 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for your reply, I am glad that you liked it so much.

      I never had a squirrel at my window feeder. My other feeders were easy since I had them all on one pole and they were a good distance from trees. I simply bought a baffle that the squirrel could not pass. :-)

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      5 years ago from Texas

      This is wonderful. I love all the birds. We have feeders and the squirrels use to gen into them, but my hubby cured that and chased Chip and Dale away.

      voted-up, awesome and beautiful post on fb and will pin to my wildlife board


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