A Shoutout To The Lowly House Finch
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Years ago, when I resumed nature photography after a decades-long hiatus, House Finches were my first subjects. We had just moved to Tucson from Atlanta, and like a lot of newcomers, we hung a couple of bird feeders in our yard. The finches flocked to the feeders by the dozens, sometimes overrunning our yard. The finches were available, I badly needed to practice, and so, I took tons of (frequently terrible) photos of these birds. The hordes of finches — and doves as well — became pests after a while, covering our patio with their droppings, and we eventually removed the feeders.
I ignored these little birds after that initial experience. They were common, they appeared to be unlovely, and I could photograph them any time that I wanted to. Over the years I’ve bypassed about a million opportunities to photograph House Finches.
But, something happened the other day. I was busily stalking a Vermilion Flycatcher in a local park when I heard a bird singing. It was an extraordinarily beautiful song and I paused to listen. I turned in the song’s direction, determined to photograph the singer, and saw a House Finch. I was startled to discover that these birds have among the most beautiful of songs. Instantly, my respect for them rose.
I did a little research about House Finches. They originally were a western species but have spread throughout nearly all of the continental United States. Like a few other species they have benefitted from human intrusion. These birds urbanize well, they don’t mind subdivisions and office parks in the least, and they are opportunistic feeders that take advantage of bird feeders, breadcrumbs, and discarded food whenever they can. You’ve almost certainly seen these birds even if you didn’t recognize them. Males are easily identified by the splashes of red on their faces and breasts.
On some individuals the facial and breast plumage can appear to be more orange than red and there are even males with nearly yellow facial and breast plumage.
Females are a drab brown in color.
They’re often confused with sparrows. However, they’re a bit larger than most sparrow species and their large, wedge-shaped beaks identify them.
There is another species of finch east of the Mississippi called the Purple Finch (it also shows up on the West Coast). These birds closely resemble House Finches but are much shyer, tending to confine themselves to woodlands. If you see a finch in your subdivision chances are very likely that it’s a House Finch.
House Finches are susceptible to a bacterial infection that causes them to go blind. Periodically, populations of these birds are decimated by the disease and there are big die offs. But, they are an extremely resilient species and they always seem to come back in greater numbers than ever.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8. The first image, 1/500, the second, 1/1250.