The attractive house finch is one of the more common and recognizable species throughout the United States. Originally a “western” species of semiarid environments, it was introduced in the east in the 1940s; it has now expanded its range and spread to virtually every state, as well as a multitude of habitats. It has become very common in suburban areas and is easily attracted in large numbers to seed feeders. Polytypic. Length 6".
The house is a relatively small Carpodacus finch with a longish, slightly notched tail, short wings, and a distinctly small bill with a curved culmen. Male: the breast, rump, and front of the head are typically red, but the color can vary to orange or occasionally yellow. The red breast is clearly demarcated from a whitish belly with dark streaks. The top of crown and auriculars are brown. Back is brown and noticeably streaked. The wings have 2 pale indistinct wing bars each. Female: she is much drabber, lacking the all-red coloration of the male. The brown body has distinct, blurry streaking above and below. She lacks the distinct pale eyebrow found on the male.
Of the at least 13 described subspecies, 4 occur in North America north of Mexico. Clinal variation where populations come together, as well as individual variation and effects of diet on plumage coloration complicate the separation of different subspecies. Subspecies frontalis, the most widespread throughout the United States, sports a generally more orange-red to yellow breast and has less distinct streaking on the belly. Both the clementis from the Channel Islands in California and the potosinus from central Texas are brighter red, with bolder streaking on a whiter belly.
Identifying the male and female house from other Carpodacus finches requires care. The male house differs from the male purple finch not only by having a smaller, more curved bill, but also by lacking a distinct eyebrow, having a brown cap and auricular patch, and being heavily streaked on belly. Told from male Cassin’s finch by brown cap and eyebrow and curved bill. Other tell-tale differences between the species include the Cassin’s pink cheek and pinkish tone on its back, and on female and immature Cassin’s, the much finer and crisp streaks on its belly. The male common rosefinch is more rose-pink overall and lacks distinct streaking on its belly. The female finches are more problematic. The female house has a very plain face, unlike the purple and Cassin’s, which both show distinct eyebrows. The female house tends to have browner underparts than the 2 as well, with blurry streaks below. Also note the house’s smaller, more curved bill. The female common rosefinch looks similar, but she is drabber, with less distinct streaking below.
Call: most commonly a whistled wheat. Song: lively and high-pitched, consisting of varied 3-note phrases that usually end in a nasal wheeer.
Status and Distribution
Very common, often abundant resident throughout much of the U.S., extending north into much of extreme southern Canada and south into Mexico. Both western and introduced eastern populations appear to be spreading. Migration: some northern populations appear to be migratory, moving south in winter.
The human modification of natural habitats, particularly the increase of seed feeders throughout the east, greatly benefits the house finch populations. Only natural island populations appear to be threatened.
—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006