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Sat, Dec. 07

Finches come in yellow and red

One of the most common backyard wild birds in western North America is the house finch. The male has extensive red on the head, face, throat and breast, and also has a red "rump." The female, on the other hand, has absolutely no red and is a rather plain brown bird with extensive brown streaking on the breast and belly.

They are called house finches for an obvious reason ­ they love to be around houses. They frequently build their nests on door wreaths, in hanging flower baskets, on outdoor light fixtures, pillars, and in patios and entryways.

Many folks mistakenly call house finches "house wrens," but these are actually two different species, and are not in the same family. I guess some of the confusion between the two species is because they both have the word "house" in their name.

House finches are primarily seedeaters, preferring black-oil sunflower and thistle (nyjer) seed, and can be found year-round in every habitat and every neighborhood in the Prescott area. House wrens are primarily insect eaters, so you won't see them at seed feeders. They are typically found in sparsely populated areas, and can be seen up in the Bradshaw Mountains during the summer.

There are two different finch families. On a simplistic note, you might call them red finches and yellow finches. Within the red finch family there are three different species: purple finch, Cassin's finch, and house finch. All of them have extensive red. Within the yellow finch family there are also three different species: American goldfinch, lesser goldfinch and Lawrence's goldfinch. When someone mentions they want to buy a "feeder or finch" seed, he is usually referring to lesser goldfinches, and not to house finches. A finch feeder is a seed feeder specifically designed to dispense thistle seed. The name thistle and nyjer are synonymous.

Finch feeders are different than traditional seed feeders in that the port where the seed is dispensed is much, much smaller than a "normal" seed feeder. A typical finch feeder has no perches, and is made out of a mesh material such as a nylon thistle sock or a metal screen material. Finches cling to the feeder, and pull the tiny thistle seed right through the mesh material.

A frequent question we field here at the bird store is when finch feeders should be put back out. I never take mine down. In those years where lesser goldfinches leave my neighborhood, there is still the possibility of attracting American goldfinches and pine siskins during the winter months, so I feel it is worth leaving the feeder up.

Many folks have lesser goldfinches all year ­ even in winter ­ while other folks might not have any goldfinches in the wintertime. Lesser goldfinches are considered a year-round resident, but they are also considered a "partial migratory," meaning a portion of the total population migrates, and a portion stays.

This year I've had lesser goldfinches all winter long in my yard in pretty good numbers. I have not seen any American goldfinches this winter, but they are around. On a rare occasion, some folks will have a Lawrence's goldfinch at their thistle feeder in wintertime.

If you took down your finch feeder for the winter, I would strongly recommend getting it back out now, as Lesser Goldfinches are already here in abundance.

Happy Birding! If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds which you would like discussed in future articles, you can submit them to Jay's Bird Barn, 1046 Willow Creek Road, Suite 105, Prescott, Ariz., 86301 or log onto and click on Ask Eric, which will link you with my e-mail address

Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, a backyard wild bird store located in the Safeway/Kmart shopping center on Willow Creek Road. He has been an avid birder for over 40 years.

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