Conservation status Extended its breeding range eastward during the late 19th century and early 20th century. In recent decades, eastern population has declined again, but reasons are poorly understood.
Family Finches
Habitat Conifer forests; in winter, box elders and other maples, also fruiting shrubs. Breeds in coniferous and mixed forests; often associated with spruce and fir in northern forest, with pines in western mountains. In migration and winter, may be equally common in deciduous groves in woodlands and semi-open country.
This chunky, big-billed finch wanders widely in winter, descending on bird feeders in colorful, noisy flocks, to thrill feeder-watchers and to consume prodigious amounts of sunflower seeds. Originally a western bird, almost unknown east of the Great Lakes before the 1890s, it now breeds commonly east to New England and the Maritime Provinces. Its eastward spread may have been helped by both the planting of box elders (a favorite food tree) across northern prairies, and the abundance of bird feeders in the Northeast.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in trees and shrubs, sometimes on ground. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale blue to blue-green, blotched with brown, gray, purple. Incubation is by female only, about 11-14 days. Male may feed female during incubation. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.


Mostly seeds, some berries and insects. Seeds make up majority of diet, especially seeds of box elder, ash, maple, locust, and other trees. Also feeds on buds of deciduous trees, berries, small fruits, weed seeds. Will feed on oozing maple sap. Eats some insects in summer. At bird feeders, very fond of sunflower seeds. Will eat fine gravel for minerals and salts. Huge bill allows it to crack large seeds with ease.


In courtship, male "dances" with head and tail raised, wings drooped and vibrating, as he swivels back and forth. Male frequently feeds female. In another courtship display, both members of a pair may bow alternately. Nest: Usual site is on horizontal branch (often well out from trunk) or in vertical fork of tree. Height varies, usually 20-60' above ground, can be 10-100' up. Nest (built by female) is a rather loosely made cup of twigs, lined with fine grass, moss, rootlets, pine needles.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Winter range in East very irregular, large numbers moving far south in some winters, little apparent movement in others. Such invasions have become smaller and less frequent in recent years. In the West, occasionally invades lowlands from nesting areas in mountains.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Song a series of short, musical whistles. Call note similar to the chirp of the House Sparrow but louder and more ringing.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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