Sunday, April 5, 2020

Where do House Finches like to nest?

House Finches are common birds at our bird feeders throughout the United States. The males, with their red heads and brilliant songs are familiar to most backyard bird feeding enthusiasts.

House Finches are primarily resident throughout their range. So birds should stay all year to nest in your yard. You may wonder if you can provide a bird box for them to nest in. But you probably don't have to!

House Finches, as their name implies, often build their nests on ledges and in crannies on outbuildings and porches. They will also build their nests in low dense conifers or bushes, and other surprising places.

This page is a supplement to my overview page on attracting House Finches. The overview page leads to other in-depth pages on diet and foods to feed them at your feeder, their range and habitat preferences, and their identification. This page discusses courtship and nesting, eggs, nestlings, and fledglings. At the end of the article I'll leave another link back to the overview page for you.

Photo of a female House Finch peeking over her nest on a light fixture
Female House Finch at nest
Photo by Greg Gillson

Nesting habits and reproduction of House Finches


House Finches are monogamous, one male to one female. The nesting period of House Finches is quite protracted, March to August. This is because they lay more than one brood of eggs. As soon as the first nest has successfully raised young to fledging, the female starts a new nest. While laying 6 broods are possible, usually a pair of birds only has time to raise 3 broods successfully.

Courtship and mating


Pair formation begins in spring, even within the larger winter flock. Males sing from an exposed perch, perhaps in the top of a small tree. Males also perform a "butterfly flight." They fly up high and glide down slowly with fluttering flight, singing continuously.

Males sing all year. Females also sing in spring.

During courtship males may offer the female food. It's a good sign for the male if the female begs and flutters her wings as a hungry baby bird would do!

Females seem to choose males that are brighter colored. The red color of the male is created by carotenoids in the diet. A brighter color could indicate a more physically fit bird, better able to find the best food, and thus giving a better chance at nesting success.

House Finches are not strongly territorial. Pairs may nest near each other. Though males are slightly larger, the females may be dominant over the males.

Some birds may remain paired all year.

Nest building


The female builds a shallow cup-like nest. Nests are made of grasses, rootlets, plant stems, leaves, hair, cotton.

Nests may be placed in natural or artificial cavities, ledges, tree branches, bushes, cacti, corners of buildings, nest boxes, in conifers, palms, and ivy. They may even build their nest inside the old nests of other birds. They frequently nest in hanging flower baskets. The photo above shows a nest on a light fixture in a picnic shelter of a park. The video below shows a nest on a wreath on the wall near the front door of a home.

The nests are usually 5-9 feet above the ground, but can be much higher or sometimes even on the ground.

Nests may be used more than once in a season or even in multiple seasons.

Nest boxes


House Finches will use nest boxes. They need a larger entry hole size of 2 inches. At this size they may be out-competed by House Sparrows or Starlings, though.

The floor should be about 6x6 inches or 5x5 inches at the smallest. The floor to ceiling height can also be 6 inches. They entry hole should be 4-1/2 up from the floor.

Mount the box 5-10 feet high.

Most nest boxes you can buy are made with smaller entry holes for chickadees, wrens, and bluebirds. If I was to build a nest box for House Finches, it would not be totally enclosed. I would build the entrance as a half-wall maybe 3-4 inches high, with an opening at least 2 inches tall across the top.

Here is one from Amazon with a very large entry hole that I think House Finches would use. You could mount it on the side of your garage, or in a carport, or under your eaves on your porch.



Eggs


As mentioned, House Finches can lay 6 batches or clutches of eggs in a single season. Usually, though, they only lay that many if the eggs or nestlings are taken by a predator before they fledge. There is only time enough during a breeding season to successfully lay about 3 broods.

The female lays 2-6 eggs (usually 4-5). House Finch eggs are about 0.6 to 0.8 inches long. They are bluish-white or pale greenish-white in color. They have some black speckling on the larger end.

Eggs are usually laid in the morning, one egg per day. Incubation begins when the clutch is complete so they all hatch about the same time. The female does all the incubation of the eggs. They hatch in about 13-14 days. The female usually removes the egg shells from the nest after they hatch. During this incubation time the male may feed the female on the nest.

Because the breeding season is long, with multiple clutches, nests with eggs may be found February through August in the U.S.


This video documents the nestling period. It starts the day after the eggs hatch and continues 12 days until the new House Finches fly away!



Young--nestlings and fledglings


The young hatch naked and blind. Both parents feed the nestlings. The young are fed regurgitated dandelion seeds and similar small weed seeds. The parents keep the nest clean by carrying away or eating the fecal sacs of the baby birds. Yuck!

The young fledge from the nest when 12-19 days old. Once out of the nest the dad keeps feeding the fledglings for another 2 weeks. They learn how to fly and find their own food while chasing dad around and begging him to feed them!

Mom, on the other hand, abandons the family and lays another set of eggs. She either fixes up the old nest or builds a new one. When the male returns it is almost hatching time for the new brood and feeding the babies starts all over again!

Once independent, young birds start to form large flocks that they will stay in until spring.

Photo of a juvenile House Finch (downy feathers on head) perched on a blackberry bramble
Juvenile House Finch
(see downy feather on head?)
Photo by Greg Gillson

Back to the overview page on attracting House Finches.

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