Finches have long been favorites at backyard wild bird feeders. Identified by their cone shaped beaks and undulating (wave shaped) flight, they are colorful, acrobatic and most have pleasant songs. The most popular of these birds at American feeders include the American Goldfinch (often called the wild canary), Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll, House Finch, Cassin's Finch, and Purple Finch. In some parts of the Rocky Mountains the three species of Rosy Finches are also attracted to feeders in winter. One or more species of finches are found in every state of the United States, especially in the winter.
To attract these beautiful birds three things should be provided by the homeowner. They are:
- nesting area and cover
Most species of finches have a special way of eating in nature. They are known as "cling and peck" feeders because they prefer to cling to the end of a flower or grass stock and pick the seeds from the heads. Thistle seed, sometimes called nyger or Nyjer is a favorite of these birds at feeders. This food should be provided to the finches in a way that they might use this cling and peck feeding technique. The most efficient thistle bird feeders do not have perches, but allow the birds to cling to the side of the feeder and peck the seed from the feeder, much as they would in nature. Many finch species also appreciate the small black oil sunflower seeds. These may also be provided in perchless sunflower feeders which are made to accommodate the specialized feeding style of the finches. If you have a thistle or sunflower feeder which has perches, that may still be alright. The finches may use the perches when they fly into the feeder, but usually use their cling and peck strategy for actual feeding.
For maximum enjoyment of your feeders and the finches they attract, the feeders should be placed five to six feet from a source of cover such as a tree, shrub or brush pile. This is far enough away for the birds to see a predator hiding in the brush waiting for an opportunity to pounce or for the birds to hide in when a predator is spotted nearby. The feeders should be placed at a level where you may easily observe them from your home or yard.
Water is essential in attracting finches and other birds. The sound of running water is, literally, a bird magnet. Water may be provided in the form of a simple bird bath or, more elaborately, a small backyard bird pond. Drippers or misters may be provided with these water features to enhance the running water effect making them even more irresistible to birds.
In the spring and early summer finches build nests to raise families. An added attraction for these birds is to put out nesting material in the form of cotton strings, yarn ends or even cotton tufts. This material attracts not only finches but a large number of bird species which do not normally come to bird feeders.
Plantings in your yard can also be utilized to attract finches. Massed plantings of evergreens are useful for nesting and protection from wind and weather. Flowers in the sunflower family including sunflowers, blanketflowers, coneflowers, ornamental thistles and grasses are all preferred by finches. Remember not to deadhead the flowers as it is the seeds that the finches want. If you have an area where you can just let these flowers go wild you will get flocks of these colorful birds all fall and winter.
When providing for finches or any other type of wildlife always remember the three Cs; cleanliness, comfort and consistency. Always remember to periodically clean your feeders and bird baths with a 10% solution of chlorine bleach and water. Make sure there is always food in the feeders and clean water in the baths. Provide a nearby place for the birds to go when predators are near.
Finches add color and charm to every backyard in which they are found. If you follow the steps outlined in this article you will have finches in your yard whether you are in suburban New York or on a rural Iowa farm, the desert southwest or the Florida tropics. Once they find your yard you will be hooked. You will wonder what you did before the finches arrived.