Not all finches have "finch" as part of their name, so you might be surprised just how many finches you have at your feeder.

Common redpoll, northern cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting --- all of these are actually finches.

(Nine fun facts about woodpeckers)

However, most of these are pretty easily identifiable. That is not necessarily true with all finches. Some look quite similar in fact, such as the house finch, purple finch, pine siskin and even the American goldfinch, especially immature birds or winter males.

 

Photo of goldfinches

Breeding male and female

American goldfinch

The state bird of Iowa is common at sunflower and nyjer feeders, and the breeding birds are easily identifiable. Breeding males are bright yellow with a black forehead, tail and wings striped with white. Breeding females have similar coloring but are more of an olive green color, and the black head patch is very faint.

Photo of a winter male goldfinch

Non-breeding male

The wings are one of the keys that will help you identify goldfinches even when they are in non-breeding or immature colors, because the wings will have the two identifying white or pale wingbars.

The other key to look for is the unstreaked body. Non-breeding males are a drab, unstreaked brown. Immature birds are brownish colored, still without any streaking.

 

Photo of a male house finch

Male house finch

House Finch

A house finch is another common visitor to bird feeders in northwest Iowa, and to feeders throughout the U.S. Males are easily identifiable because of their coloring, although their coloring can vary significantly. The male pigment comes from the food he eats when he is molting, resulting in varying redness and even orange or yellowish pigmentation.

Male house finches have a rosy face and upper breast, without any red on the back or the wing, and with much less red on the face than a purple finch. Females are a streaky brownish gray without definitive lines on their face.

Photo of a female house finch

Female house finch

The house finch also has short wings which makes its tail look long and has a shallower notch on the tail than most finches. It has the typical finch conical beak, but its header is rather long and flat.

 

Photo of a male purple finch

Male purple finch

Purple finch

Many people confuse the house finch and purple finch, because they both have a reddish-purple color to their head and chest. The purple finch is a much more irregular visitor to northwest Iowa feeders, usually visiting black-oil sunflower seed feeders when it does stop by, and has some definitive differences to the house finch.

(What birds don't like safflower?)

It has a darker head with more red than a house finch, and the red moves down the chest and mixes with white. The red color also goes into the wings and begins down the back, unlike a house finch.

A purple finch may be chunkier than a house finch and has a short, notched tail.

Photo of a female purple finch

Female purple finch

The female purple finch can be differentiated from the house finch because is is more coarsely streaked than a house finch. It typically has a whitish eye stripe and a dark line down the throat.

 

Photo of a pine siskin

Pine siskin

Pine siskin

The pine siskin has less color than other finches. It is identified by its brown, streaked appearance with yellow edging on its wings and tail. It also has a sharp, pointed bill and the typical short-notched tail of a finch.

Pine siskins like thistle and nyjer seed, and they also prefer evergreen forests.

Photo of a pine siskin

Pine siskin

(Learn how to make your own pretend backyard birding binoculars here!)

Bird egg memory match game

Naturalist Ashley Hansen talks about how amazing bird eggs are — from the myriad of colors to the variety of sizes. You can learn even more about bird eggs by downloading our bird egg memory match game! Simply print off the pieces on cardstock, cut them out and match eggs with the adult bird. When…

Read More

Types of bird nests

People live in different types of houses — some made from lumber, some from concrete, some very large and some very small. Birds also build different kinds of nests. Since there are about 18,000 species of birds in the world, so there are many, many different types of nests. Here are some common types: Scrape…

Read More

Four Iowa swallows

Bright birds with forked tails that swoop and dive around you — we see a lot of these in Kenue Park. They’re definitely swallows, but can you tell which kind? In Iowa, you’re likely to see four different kinds of swallows: Barn swallows, tree swallows, cliff swallows and purple martins. They’re quite similar, but relatively…

Read More

Purple martins are the largest swallow in the U.S.

A colony of white, gourd-like houses hang on a large pole outside of the Dickinson County Nature Center. Around them flies dozens of gliding, floating, flitting dark birds — purple martins. Local birder and owner of Bird Haven in Spirit Lake Wendell Hansen has cared for the purple martins for many years, and last June…

Read More

Iowa Winter Birds: Purple finch

Although purple finches have a non-breeding range throughout the eastern half of the U.S., they may be more of an irregular visitor to your feeder. Part of that could be due to competition with its look-alike, the house finch. (Learn how to tell them apart here) The house finch is native to the western U.S.…

Read More

Bird seed ornaments

Everyone loves to feed the birds in winter. (Learn about one of Iowa’s winter birds: Dark-eyed junco) It helps the birds that are scavenging for food. It lets you get close to watch these fun, feathered friends. Bird watching is a good hobby to do from the warmth of your house on chilly days. You…

Read More

Nine Fun Facts About Woodpeckers

There are birds at your nut feeder with black, white and red. What are they? The safe answer is, it’s a woodpecker. Adult males of six of the seven species of woodpeckers in Iowa have some combination of black, white and red, in fact. It might be a red-headed, red-bellied, downy, hairy, pileated woodpecker or…

Read More

Make your own backyard birding binoculars

Birding is such a popular hobby because everyone can do it. Whether you are backyard birding, taking a hike or even boating, you can always catalogue the birds that you see. The he Dickinson County Nature Center features nests of some of the most common birds you might see right outside your window. (Grackles, blackbirds…

Read More

Make your own pine cone bird feeder

More than 40 people attended last week’s Turkey Trot hike through Kenue Park and ended the Thanksgiving celebration by making their own pinecone bird feeders. If you didn’t attend, why don’t you grab the kids, head out on a wintry hike today, find some pine cones and make bird feeders of your own? (Okoboji seagulls…

Read More

3 Comments

  1. Alicia on March 14, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    The grey breasted bird… could it be a dark eyed junko?



  2. Susan Thorndike on July 8, 2019 at 1:35 am

    Would like more pictures of Iowa finches. What are the birds with grey breast’s ?



    • kiley on July 8, 2019 at 9:43 am

      We’re not sure what you’re describing with the gray breast. Could you tell us more?