Finches at the feeder

For many peo­ple who feed wild birds, the many finch va­ri­eties – Amer­i­can goldfinches, house finches, pur­ple finches and rose-breasted gros­beaks – are the de­light of the sea­son. Take care to se­lect one of their favourite foods.

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Sher­rie Ver­sluis

There is no ques­tion that finches are among the most pop­u­lar birds seen at feed­ers in sum­mer. Finches don't just look great, they sound amaz­ing, too, with their sweet, melodic calls. Some the beau­ti­ful songs you hear early in the morn­ing are finches as they awaken with the sun. For many peo­ple who feed wild birds, Amer­i­can goldfinches, house finches, pur­ple finches and rose-breasted gros­beaks are the de­light of the sea­son at their feed­ers. There are dif­fer­ent ways to at­tract them there, by se­lect­ing ap­pro­pri­ate foods and feed­ers.

Like canaries in colour

Amer­i­can goldfinches are of­ten re­ferred to as wild canaries due to the bril­liant yel­low plumage of the males and olive shade of fe­males. They are with­out a doubt the most de­sired bird to at­tract through­out the sum­mer months. They are very com­mon in south­ern Man­i­toba and de­pend­ing on where you live you may see only a pair or two or al­ter­na­tively dozens at a time.

New hous­ing de­vel­op­ments with lim­ited habi­tat may not see many finches, or other birds for that mat­ter. I find the num­ber I get does fluc­tu­ate each year, but there have been sea­sons where I have eas­ily had 50 at a time!

The most com­monly se­lected food for goldfinches is Ny­jer seed. This tiny black seed is from the this­tle fam­ily but is im­ported from Nige­ria and In­dia, then ster­il­ized so that it will not grow.

Due to the seed’s small size, you should use it only in a Ny­jer feeder. These feed­ers have tiny slits so that the seed won't spill and only finches can ac­cess it. House spar­rows also love Ny­jer seed and will dom­i­nate the feeder if they can get at it.

Be wary of flex­i­ble plas­tic feed­ers, as spar­rows will widen the feeder’s holes and ruin it. There is also an “up­side-down” finch feeder avail­able that is be­ing mar­keted as an en­joy­able feeder, but it is not so en­joy­able for finches! Finches are able to hang up­side down, but grav­ity makes this a less than de­sir­able po­si­tion for eat­ing.

Finch feed­ers should be hung three feet or more from other feed­ers. They can be close to your home as finches are quite tame. In fact, there are feed­ers that suc­tion cup to win­dows, which finches re­ally love, and so do the peo­ple who get to see them that closely.

House finches and pur­ple finches are a lit­tle larger than goldfinches, with broader beaks, so Ny­jer feed­ers are not the pre­ferred type for them. Some bird­ers find it a chal­lenge to dis­tin­guish between the house and pur­ple finch as they are sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance. House finches have an or­ange-red colour and pur­ple finches have more of a rasp­berry shade. Many peo­ple de­scribe both birds as spar-

rows with red on them. Pur­ple finches also have more cov­er­age of colour on their body com­pared to the house finch.

To at­tract these finches you will want to of­fer black oil sun­flower seed in ei­ther a win­dow feeder or a tube-style feeder. You will also at­tract many other lovely wild birds at these feed­ers, like black-capped chick­adees and white-breasted nuthatches.

Rose-breasted gros­beaks are a spec­tac­u­lar finch that are al­most the same size as a robin. The males are black and white with a beau­ti­ful, crim­son red breast. Fe­males are very in­ter­est­ing look­ing: they ap­pear to be very large spar­rows with a prom­i­nent white stripe over the eye.

Head for the win­dows

The large size of these birds means some spe­cial fea­tures are re­quired to ac­com­mo­date them. For food they, too, en­joy black sun­flower but need a larger plat­form to land on. Many tube feed­ers al­low you to at­tach a tray that is per­fect for gros­beaks. You can even scat­ter ex­tra food onto the tray. Sadly, gros­beaks have the ter­ri­ble habit of hit­ting win­dows so win­dow feed­ers can be used as a good de­ter­rent. But you can also pur­chase static cling de­cals that will stop all birds from col­lid­ing with your win­dows.

One other fact about finches that I have learned over the years is that they re­ally en­joy shelled sun­flower seed. When I of­fer this seed all other foods are al­most ig­nored. This is a more ex­pen­sive choice, but it is very clean and the birds no­tably pre­fer it.

Try at­tract­ing some of these won­der­ful birds to your yard this sea­son and add some colour and mu­sic to your life.

Sher­rie Ver­sluis owns The Pre­ferred Perch on St. Mary’s Road in St. Vi­tal. She can be reached at 204-257-3724.

Goldfinches at the bird­feeder full of Ny­jer seed.

Male house finch.

Rose-breasted gros­beak.

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