We’ve covered many of the tricky sparrows we’re likely to run into, so perhaps we should move on to the finches that can be a little confusing at first.

The most common finch at feeders in our area is the House Finch.  This was originally a western bird, but early in the last century, some were released in New York City, and from there spread all over the eastern and midwest US.  House Finches are easy to find at feeders in the country and the city, and although they’re pretty variable, they are easy to watch and learn.  Males may come in a range of colors from orange to bright red, and with varying amounts of color on the face and body, but the key is the bright, bold red eyebrow and forehead, red throat and often breast, and red rump.  Females are sleek-looking birds with muted streaks and no strong patterns on the face and body.

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During the winter and early spring, we may also get the traditional eastern finch in our area, the Purple Finch.  This is a somewhat ‘scruffier’-looking bird, with bold facial patterns and a more ‘raspberry’ color that’s a lot more evenly distributed on the body of the bird.  Instead of a mainly head-and-tail color pattern, male Purple Finches have a wash of purply red down the back and all over the face and breast.  the females also look scruffier, as a rule, and have a very bold, obvious face pattern of dark with contrasting light stripes.

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Take a close look at the female Purple Finch, because there is another bird that is very similar, but just as with the Fox Sparrow and Song Sparrow, this Cardinal-sized bird is a whole lot bigger when you see them together.  The male is easy to tell, but the female may need a second look:

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Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are more commonly found around the area, in my experience, in the spring – from late March into early May, although they may turn up any time from the fall through the winter, especially at feeders.  Young males look like females with an orange or pinkish tinge, but by spring, they show the familiar black-and-white-and-red-all-under color pattern of the adult males.