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How Long Do House Finches Live?

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House Finch on the rim of a bird bath

The chipper House Finch likes to make its home near human dwellings. Though they were briefly sold as caged pets in the 1940s, House Finches won’t live as long indoors despite their name (and it’s illegal to keep American migratory birds as pets¹).  They prefer to fly free and drop in for a backyard visit from time to time. Let’s learn more about the House Finch’s lifespan in this article.

hummingbird dividerWhat’s the Average Lifespan of a House Finch?

The oldest House Finch on record was 11 years old. However, it was released again after the band was read, so we don’t know how long it lived after that. 10-11 years seems to be the average; however, many birds don’t live that long in the wild.

house finch bird perching on a tree trunk

Image Credit: bryanhanson1956, Pixabay

Why Do Some House Finches Live Longer Than Others?

Several factors can contribute to the lifespan of a House Finch in the wild. Competing for resources as well as how well they can adapt and survive various conditions can affect how long they live. Here are five factors that affect the lifespan of a House Finch.

1. Nutrition

House Finches are almost strictly vegetarian by nature. Most birds are omnivorous, with a few carnivorous creatures in the mix. House Finches are about 97% vegetarian, preferring seeds and nuts but willing to compromise with insects if their vegan options are in short supply. The inability to access proper food sources, for whatever reason, can shorten their lifespan.

2. Environment and Conditions

Your trash becomes their building supplies. House Finches are resourceful and reuse common human objects like string, twine, and newspaper to craft their nests. Sometimes the nests themselves are human-owned, such as streetlights, planters, and gutters. If they can’t find a pre-constructed home, they’ll make their nest in a tree. If they can’t find a suitable place to build a nest in which they’re protected from predators and weather, it can shorten their lifespan.

house finches eating on a birdfeeder

Image Credit: Chiyacat, Shutterstock

3. Habitat

Originating in Mexico and the Western United States, the House Finch was introduced to the Eastern United States when their captors set them free on Long Island in the 1940s. They had been transported from California to New York to be sold as pets. These birds were going to be renamed “Hollywood Finches” as an American advertising appeal, but thankfully these trappers got cold feet and let them go.

The House Finch has nested near human communities across America ever since. Some of them even returned to the west coast and were reunited with their old tribe in the grasslands. Today, they’re actually one of the most widespread bird species in the United States¹. But deforestation and other environmental problems can make them more vulnerable.

4. Size

Similarly sized to a sparrow, the House Finch has a petite body with a small 7–10-inch wingspan. There isn’t a noticeable size difference between the sexes. Although size doesn’t directly affect their lifespan, smaller birds are more easily captured by predators or injured, which can shorten their lifespan.

male house finch perching

Image Credit: rck_953, Shutterstock

5. Sex

Males and females have the same dimensions, but different colors. Males have a red head and rump, with motley red and white feathers on their chest. The remainder of their body is covered in brown and white feathers. Like most other birds, females have more muted plumage. Their feathers are white, brown, and gray, but no less beautiful than their mate’s. On a sunny day, their color combination has an almost golden hue. 

The sex of a House Finch doesn’t directly affect their lifespan, but males are more likely to be killed or injured over territory disputes, while females are more vulnerable due to their sex. Having muted plumage helps to better protect them.

6. Breeding History & Genetics

Following captivity, the House Finch population blossomed nationally for about twenty years, but has been decreasing since the 1960s. Limited breeding on the East coast gave the modern House Finches limited genetic material, which could explain why they are so susceptible to avian conjunctivitis—an eye disease which has been held responsible for their decline.

Even so, the House Finch isn’t considered an endangered species and the disease seems to be more prevalent in the Eastern United States than their native territory out West. But, health and genetic conditions passed down from other birds can shorten a bird’s lifespan.

hummingbird dividerThe 3 Life Stages of a House Finch

pair of house finch bird perching

Image Credit: Chris Chaney, Shutterstock

Incubation Period: 13-14 days
Nestlings: 12-19 days
Reproductive Maturity: 1 year

How To Tell Your House Finch’s Age

If you find a nest, you can tell how old the birds are by taking a peek. Please don’t touch the nest! This is important because the mother may not come back if she senses an unfamiliar scent.

If the birds’ eyes aren’t open yet, the baby House Finches are less than four days old. If they have open eyes and some down feathers, they’re between 4 and 14 days old. A bird with mostly adult feathers with a few lingering down feathers is getting ready to leave the nest soon and is probably a couple weeks old.

You might have a young adult bird if they have all of their feathers but are smaller than a typical House Finch. Otherwise, they’re fully grown and should fly away upon your approach.

hummingbird divider

Conclusion

Even though some of them were tragically removed from their original habitat, the cheerful House Finch resiliently made its home all across the United States following its release. If you want them to keep you company in your backyard, put up a bird feeder supplied with sunflower seeds–their favorite snack—and watch for these happy birds to fly your way. 


Featured Image Credit: Tony Quinn, Shutterstock

About the Author Brooke Bundy

Brooke Bundy is a freelance writer who lives with three cats and a dog. She attended the University of North Georgia where she acquired a B.S. in Media Studies. Booke loves storytelling and spending time with her pets at their house in New Orleans, Louisiana. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and brewing coffee.

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