Why Male House Finches Can Be Different Colors

You are what you eat.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

This is BirdNote!

The sweet, jumbled song of a House Finch is a familiar sound across much of the country.

House Finches eat many kinds of seeds and fruits. They readily flock to backyard feeders, and their short, thick bills are perfectly designed for hulling sunflower seeds at a brisk pace.  Female House Finches are brown and heavily streaked overall, while males typically sport a red rump, breast, and headband. 

But a careful look at male House Finches at the feeder shows that, while most males show red feathering, some are decidedly more orange – and some even yellow. It turns out that House Finches acquire their coloration from pigments in the plant foods they eat. This is true for most birds with red-, orange-, or yellow-pigmented feathers. These tones each derive from a different organic pigment, known as carotenoids. So that yellow male House Finch standing out from all the red ones? Well, his attire reflects something he ate – or didn’t eat.

Today’s show is brought to you by White Flower Farm, a family-owned mail order nursery offering a wide range of perennials, annuals, and shrubs for spring planting. More information is at whiteflowerfarm.com.



Written by Bob Sundstrom

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Narrator: Mary McCann

Song and call of the House Finch provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.A. Keller

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     March 2017     


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