Cochise County Birds: The House Finch, Carpodacus Mexicanus

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Our resident house finch pair, Carpodacus mexicanus, definitely deserves a bit of Cochise County publicity. After all, these birds hang out on our property every month of the year, brighten the place considerably, and generally help make this a place worth living. Oddly, though, I couldn’t find a post on these cheerful feathered folk.

An oversight? Possibly. Stranger things have happened.

At any rate, Mr. & Mrs. Finch popped up in the mesquite tree just outside my bedroom window today, begging to have their pictures taken. Compiling the earlier snapshots took a while, but hey, we’re good to go.

Note: Just FYI, some of the online sources differ when it comes to the house finch’s taxonomy. One authority considers the bird a member of the Haemorhus genus while others (who seem to be in the majority) prefer Carpodacus.

This species can be found pretty much all over the United States and down into Mexico plus a bit up into Canada. However, I have to say that only here, in southeastern Arizona, have we seen them “up close and personal” on a regular basis. Of course, they really haven’t been that widespread all that long. According to all-birds.com,

House finches were originally a resident of the southwestern U.S. In the 1940s, called Hollywood finches, they were being sold illegally as pets. To avoid prosecution, vendors and owners released them into the wild, and the birds quickly spread across the country.

House finches will apparently chow down on insects from time to time but are primarily seed eaters, which explains their attraction to our off grid acreage. Even without the bird feeder we used for just five months this year, there are seeds in abundance in this area.

All of the males we’ve seen to date have noticeably red plumage on the heads, upper breasts, and on top of the rump. This is a good thing; girl house finches seem to prefer mating with the reddest available male. Some sites state that this is because the females see ultra-red males as good providers. Since the color of the males is determined by diet, that makes sense. (Some are not red at all but simply a pale yellow where the red would normally be.) Personally, I suspect it’s simply because redheads rock.

My wife is a redhead; I’d better say that.

Our local finches appreciate their humans, too. At least, they’re so far the only species we’ve seen nesting in either of the two birdhouses I built a few years back.

The females are relatively drab in color (no redheads), a bit smaller than the males, and–from what we’ve seen, anyway–extremely loyal to their mates. Except when nest duties keep her at home, lady finch follows her mister wherever he goes.

Today's snapshot of the female house finch, just hanging out on the back side of the mesquite tree while the male does his thing.

Today’s snapshot of the female house finch, just hanging out on the back side of the mesquite tree while the male does his thing.

The male house finch, in song.

The male house finch, in song.

This is not the reddest male house finch we've seen, but he's definitely the fattest.

This is not the reddest male house finch we’ve seen, but he’s definitely the fattest.

Here’s a brief video of one male. This fellow looks a lot redder than the one we’ve seen around here most recently. It could be a different bird altogether…or could it be possible that the same bird might be more brightly colored when food is super-abundant (as it was last spring when this video was taken) and duller in appearance when the food supply is a bit depleted? After all, there’s supposedly a clear link between diet and coloration, so why not?

Perhaps the best photo of a house finch I’ve taken to date is the following view of a “red hot” male, perched high on a mesquite tree branch with a backdrop of brilliant blue sky. This one is quite slender, not starving but most likely working hard to keep his family fed. (The photo date was July 9, 2012.)

A year later, we had a bird feeder up and running for five months or so…with disastrous results. All of the finches got fat, but worse than that, so did the harvester ants. In the end, we had to have the ants exterminated. The feeder is now filled with glass gems rather than seeds, but the finches seem to be hanging on to their portly proportions for the time being.

When next summer rolls around and they’re once again scrambling to keep nestlings fed, they’ll most likely trim back down. Mother Nature’s one efficient Weight Watcher.

July 9, 2012, photo of a male house finch in Cochise County, Arizona.  Note the slender body, at least during the summer.

July 9, 2012, photo of a male house finch in Cochise County, Arizona. Note the slender body, at least during the summer.

I’m pretty sure I had a page published on the house finch, Carpodacus mexicana, when I was writing over at HubPages. It might have been deleted during the migration process to Ghost32writer. But if it was, it’s no harm, no foul. The previously published photos were still readily available in my computer, and I wanted an excuse to post a few pics from today’s photo op, anyway.

The very first house finch photos were taken on May 8, 2012. That time, shooting through the kitchen window screen produced an effect not unlike an oil painting.

At the time, I had no idea what the species might be, so the file was simply titled, “Red Songbird”.

Shooting this photo of a house finch pair through the kitchen window screen produced a bit of  an "oil painting" effect.

Shooting this photo of a house finch pair through the kitchen window screen produced a bit of an “oil painting” effect.

4 thoughts on “Cochise County Birds: The House Finch, Carpodacus Mexicanus

  1. I have had a house finch pair and they mate for life. The female that I had, became egg bound and I could not save her. The male died two weeks later. He mourned himself to death. I love finches and they are such cheerful little birds.
    The local Mexican restaurant has a patio that we like to sit on in warm weather. The finches come in there and I throw chips to them. They will not get too close, about 2 tables off, but they really seem to like the chips.

  2. I’m not surprised that they mate for life. The bond between them (our local pair) is beyond obvious. I didn’t know about birds becoming egg bound, though; that sounds nasty.

    The combination of attraction to people and a healthy dose of caution sounds exactly like those we see here. The only time they get really close is when there’s a house wall between us, yet at the same time they nest within 100 feet of the Border Fort and are frequently nearby. It’s like they feel, “You two leggeds are big and scary, but we like you, anyway…no, don’t get too close!”

  3. I did not know about egg bound when I got them, but a friend that I grew up with told me about it. Her aunt bred them and sold them. She had a huge aviary in her house. That is where I got mine. Her aunt came over when I noticed a problem with the female to see what the problem was. She tried the different methods that she knew, but it didn’t work. It is when they have an egg and it will not come out. Seems to just be with the really small birds.

  4. Yes, I immediately understood what “egg bound” meant when you mentioned it. Not much different (in its way) from a mammalian mother with a baby that won’t come out. When I was somewhere between 11 and 13, we lost a cow and calf that way. My sisters and I were riding up Garden Gulch one sunshiny summer day, & Milky Way (the cow–we had names for every adult) turned up with her dead and half rotted calf hanging halfway out. The head had made it, but the hips didn’t. She was a first calf heifer. Normally, a problem like that would have been handled in the main corrals near the house, but her calf had come way late, long after the last of the others. I’m not sure we even realized she was pregnant when we turned the cattle out to roam the hills after calving season.

    I sent my sisters back down the gulch to ask the neighbor (who lived right where the gulch opened out into the Clark Fork River valley) to drive the 2 miles to the vet’s place. Dr. Metcalf (Fred Metcalf, no less, and quite an appropriate last name for a veterinarian) got there in a hurry, by which time I had Milky Way roped and tied to a tree.

    Doc got the remains of the calf out. We released to cow to go on about her business–but never saw her again. I did find some remains that fall when out hunting in the high country above Garden Gulch. Couldn’t tell if they were hers or not, though; they were too far gone. If they were, she probably died from infection or something; a predator wouldn’t likely have left as much as I found, at least in any one place.

    Interestingly enough, I just Googled Dr. Metcalf, and he’s still kicking, living in Drummond (my old home town), age 95.

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