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The Finches – House, Purple, and Gold

House Finch  (All photos courtesy of Tom Grey)
House Finch (All photos courtesy of Tom Grey)

Finches are colorful little birds that brighten up our yards and feeders, thanks to their enthusiastic appetite for sunflower, thistle, and other seeds. We see three varieties regularly in Oakmont.

If you have a seed feeder or suet out now, you are assured of seeing House Finches, which travel in packs. Inevitably, when someone asks what that “small red bird” is at their feeder, it’s a male House Finch. Most males sport a cheerful rosy red face and upper breast, and they flash a red rump when they fly. They have streaky brown backs and underparts, and a notched tail. Because they acquire their coloring from their diet, you may also see orange and almost yellow House Finches. As with many birds, the females miss out on the color – they’re a drab gray-brown with thick streaking. House Finches have a long, pleasant warbling song – if you’re out in the morning and hear sustained singing, it’s likely one of them.

Purple Finches are seen less frequently at feeders, preferring to forage in trees for buds and bugs or on low, seed-laden weeds. The same size and shape as the House Finches, these birds are classically described as “finches dipped in cranberry juice.” That’s the males, of course. They are cranberry red on their face and heads, with the color running down their backs, mixing with brown, and down their breasts, mixing with white. The females again are plain, with thick brown streaking on their breasts, mottled brown-gray backs, and a whitish eyebrow.

Lesser Goldfinch

There are few things more beautiful than a flock of bright Goldfinches on a just-blooming cherry or other fruit tree. Most common in Oakmont is the Lesser Goldfinch – lesser in size, that is, than the American Goldfinch, its cousin. This tiny bird, only about 4 inches long, has a stubby little beak (busily cracking seeds at your feeder), long pointed wings, and a short, notched tail with white corners. The males have breasts ranging from brilliant to subdued yellow. A black cap covers the top of their heads, their backs are dark gray to olive, and their wings are black with white bars and patches. Females and young birds have olive backs, dark wings, and dull yellow breasts. Lesser Goldfinches keep in touch with each other with a short descending call in a minor key, but their mating songs are much longer and happier.

Like birds and bird watching? Join the Oakmont Birders mailing list by contacting bkendrick@jps.net. Share what you’re seeing. Questions about birds? Want a “Birds Seen in Oakmont” checklist? Send an e-mail.

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