The 9 Types Of Finches in Illinois And Where To Find Them

The 9 Types Of Finches in Illinois And Where To Find Them

Finches are small to medium-sized birds well known in the suburbs of North American and made famous by Darwin for his work with the evolution of species. Illinois is home to 9 different finch species, some of the breeding in the state, while others use it as their wintering grounds.

Illinois is the southern limit for many species wintering grounds, and northern parts of Illinois are therefore more diverse in their offering of finch-sightings.

Finches are very social animals and are often seen together with other individuals from their own species and from other species of finches. The males often show bright yellow and red colors while the females are less sparkling. Seeds are by far the primary diet of most finches with some, developing highly specialized beaks to suit their needs.

These Are The 9 Finches That You Can See In Illinois

1. American Goldfinch

  • Scientific name: Spinus tristis
  • Life span: 3-6 years
  • Size: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Often seen together with Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls, the American Goldfinch is one of the most common finches and birds in Illinois. Like their name implies the males possess strikingly yellow feathers throughout most of the body with back and white wings and forehead. The females show similar patterns but with a more washed-out and brownish yellow than the males.

American Goldfinch

The breeding season of the American Goldfinch starts as the latest of all the finches in North America in late July. The male will pursue the female in a zigzag pattern until the female will make a decision. If she decides to pair with him, she will start to circle around him. After the courtship display, the male will select a territory and the female will build the nest in deciduous trees or shrubs.

The primary diet of the American Goldfinch consists of seeds but are known to also prey on insects, bark and buds and maple sap. The feeding on insects is strictly in the summer when they’re more abundant.

The estimation of the global population is around 42 million birds and they’re thus on IUCN’s Red List as Least Concern. During the later half of the 20th century when suburbs and gardens in North American became popular, the number of American Goldfinches also increased, likely due to more available food from feeders and garden trees and flowers.

They have no real threat against their population, but predation from domestic cats, red squirrels, jays, hawks and crows are amongst their natural predators.

The American Goldfinch is present throughout all of Illinois and prefers habitats with weedy fields and large amounts of sunflowers, aster plants and thistles. They’re a common visitor in suburbs, parks and backyards and frequently visit feeders.

2. House Finch

  • Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
  • Life span: 10 years
  • Size: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz (16-27 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

A well-known and frequent visitor in many North American gardens, the House Finch is a very common bird also in Illinois. They’re deeply tied to residential areas and is almost impossible to avoid when visiting a feeder. The adults have a long brown tail and back.

The head of the male is reddish and the color extends to the breast, neck and shoulders and sometimes down the back. The belly of the male is lighter with streaks. The females are more generally brown with streaked underparts.

House Finch

Pairs begin to form, and courtship begins for the House Finch at the end of winter. The males will sing for the females, and the interested females will come close to the males, after which they will be fed by the males. After making a pair, they will make their nests either in coniferous trees or in natural or manmade cavities.

Their primary diet consists of seeds, buds and berries, but are also known to eat insects, though mostly during summertime.

The House Finch is classified as Least Concern on IUCN’s red list due to their large habitat, increasing numbers and large population. The numbers differ, but there are estimated around 500+ million individuals globally. They have no real threat against their population, but predation from domestic cats, red squirrels, jays, hawks and crows are amongst their natural predators.

As the name suggests, the House Finch is mostly spotted around towns and cities, and often resides in city parks, backyards, farms and woodland edges. They’re usually together in large grounds around feeders or high in the trees.

3. Purple Finch

  • Scientific name: Haemorhous purpureus
  • Life span: 3-7 years
  • Size: 4.7-6.3 in (12-16 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-32 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 in (22-26 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

At first glance the Purple Finch might be mistaken for a House Finch, but the colors and beak are a bit different on closer inspection. Looking like a flying raspberry, the male Purple Finches show a light red on head and breast especially. The females have the same colour but with noticeable streaks on the body.

Purple Finch

The breeding period of the Purple Finch starts in early spring where the male will perform his courtship dance. Spreading his wings, raising his tail and puffing out his chest, the male will hop around the female with nesting material in his mouth. When the pair is made, the nest will be built by both male and female. Nests in Illinois are built on horizontal branches in coniferous trees.

During winter, the Purple Finch feeds mostly on seeds, while they during other times of the year will feed on buds, berries and even insects in the summer.

Currently listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s Red List, there are no estimates of population size, but they seem to be either stable or decreasing in number. They have no real threat against their population, but predation from domestic cats, red squirrels, jays, hawks and crows are amongst their natural predators.

Purple finches love sunflowers, and your backyard sunflower dispenser is your best choice to spot this bird. They’re present in all of Illinois during the winter months. They move very irregularly from year to year, and an absence of the species one year, doesn’t mean it won’t come next year!

4. White-Winged Crossbill

  • Scientific name: Loxia leucoptera
  • Life span: 4 years
  • Size: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
  • Weight: 0.8-0.9 oz (24-26 g)
  • Wingspan: 10.2-11.0 in (26-28 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Eating up to 3000 seeds every single day, the White-Winged Crossbill are opportunistic breeders, meaning they can start breeding at any given time of the year, as long as the food conditions and nesting conditions are right. Males are reddish with black wings and two very noticeable white wingbars. Females are more yellowish overall with less noticeable wingbars and more washed out colours.

White-Winged Crossbill

The timing of the reproduction behaviour of the White-Winged Crossbill is severely tied to when the cone crop is best. It usually starts in end winter but can wait all the way until late autumn. The male White-Winged Crossbill chase the female around near coniferous trees and present food for her. The nest is named on horizontal branches in coniferous trees and is built by both male and female.

Their beak is highly specialized for feeding on seeds from coniferous trees like pine. Seeds from other trees are also a common in their diet.

Being highly dependent on mature forests for their food, areas with high rates of deforestation are areas with the species in decline. Currently classified as Least Concern on IUCN’s Red List, the overall population size seems to be stable or increasing. They have no real threat against their population, but predation from domestic cats, red squirrels, jays, hawks and crows are amongst their natural predators.

White-Winged Crossbills’ wintering grounds can change dramatically, and Illinois is the southern limit of their normal wintering habitat. They will most often be found in coniferous forests, especially spruce and tamarack where they will spend their time and search for food. They’re most abundant in northern Illinois, but some years they can be see all the way down in Texas.

5. Evening Grosbeak

  • Scientific name: Hesperiphona vespertina
  • Life span: 3-4 years
  • Size: 16 to 22 cm (6.3 to 8.7 in)
  • Weight: 38.7 to 86.1 g (1.37 to 3.04 oz)
  • Wingspan:  30 to 36 cm (12 to 14 in)
  • Status: Vulnerable

The male Evening Grosbeak is a stunning looking bird with many different colours. Compared to other finches the Evening Grosbeak is a large bird, almost twice the size of an American Gold Finch. The males have a dark head with bright yellow underparts and mostly black and white wings, while the females are less dazzling and are mostly greyish with white spots in the wings and orange parts on the neck.

Evening Grosbeak

The breeding period of the Evening Grosbeak starts in early spring where the male will perform his courtship dance. Spreading his wings, raising his tail and puffing out his chest, the male will hop around the female with nesting material in his mouth. When the pair is made, the nest will be built by the female in coniferous trees.

The majority of their diet consists of seeds, especially from elder, ash, maple, locust, and other trees. In spring they will also feed on buds of deciduous trees, berries and small fruits. When abundant in summer, the will also eat insects. To get enough minerals, they will often eat sand and gravel.

Being the only bird classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN’s Red List of the finches in Illinois, the Evening Grosbeak has seen a steep decline during the last 30 years. They had a rapid expansion in the eastern US during the 20th century due to the planting of box elder.

Today they’re gone from the eastern states, possibly due to the destruction of their habitat, and forest management that now favours fast-growing softwood like pine rather than slower-growing woods such as maple and box elder, a major food source for the Evening Grosbeak. Due to their feeding on sand and gravel, large amounts of birds are also killed by car collisions every year because they gather the sand and gravel from the roadsides.

Evening Grosbeaks are mostly common in the far north of Illinois but is present throughout the state. In residential areas they’re mostly found near feeders with sunflower seeds. In nature they’re most often seen in coniferous forests during winter. Illinois is the southern limit of their breeding habitat and you might have luck seeing them in the northern Illinois during the breeding season.

6. Pine Siskin

  • Scientific name: Spinus pinus
  • Life span: 5-9 years
  • Size: 4.3-5.5 in (11-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (12-18 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.1-8.7 in (18-22 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Being an aggressive bird, the Pine Siskin is known to completely rule the backyard feeders scaring around any other finches. Coloured and patterned like a sparrow, the shape and actions of the Pine Siskin is revealing its ancestry as a finch. It’s a brown streaked bird with yellow and green in its wings with long wings and a very sharp bill.

Pine Siskin

Their breeding range may differ from year to year but breeding never happens in Illinois. The male will make his courtship by flying above the female in circles showing off his wings and tail while singing loudly to the interested female. Like many other finches he will also feed her during this process. The female will then build the nest in coniferous trees, sometimes in colonies.

During winter, the Pine Siskin feeds mostly on seeds, primarily from alder, birch and spruce, while they during other times of the year will feed on buds, berries and even insects in the summer.

The Pine Siskin is classified as Least Concern on IUCN’s red list due to their large habitat and large population. Research however seems to suggest that the population is in decline. The numbers differ, but there are estimated around 40+ million individuals globally. They have no real threat against their population, but predation from domestic cats, red squirrels, jays, hawks and crows are amongst their natural predators.

Pine Siskins are common winter guests in all of Illinois and are seen clinging to the ends of branches on coniferous trees – sometimes upside down. They’re also common around bird feeders, and their call sounds like a piece of paper being slowly ripped apart.

7. Common Redpoll

  • Scientific name: Acanthis flammea
  • Life span: 3-7 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
  • Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Though their small size may suggest they’re not fond of the cold, the Common Redpoll breeds in the High Arctic and only leaves in winter due to scarcity of food, not the cold. When arriving in Canada and the northern states of the US, the Common Redpoll often gather in larges flocks and will overrun garden feeders and they seem to always be on the move. The bird is a rare visitor in Illinois and the state marks the southern limit of their wintering range.

Common Redpoll

Nesting in colonies, the Common Redpoll will often make it’s nest close to the Hoary Redpolls. In the courtship dance, the male will hop around the female while presenting her food. Unlike most other birds, reports suggest that sometimes the roles are reversed, and it’s the females who does the courtship dances. The nest is built by the female either on the ground of in very low shrubs in the high arctic.

The diet mostly consists of seeds and some insects. During their stay in the high arctic they will feed on available plant resources like buds and grasses.

Though they’re listed as Least Concern on IUCN’s Red List, their population is in steep decline due to their breeding habitat in the high arctic is being quickly affected by climate change. The global population is estimated to be around 250 million individuals, but the number is rapidly declining.

Breeding in the high arctic the Common Redpoll will migrate south in the winter with Illinois marking the southern limit of their wintering range. They will gather in large flocks that seemingly always are moving and are a common guest at feeders.

8. Red Crossbill

  • Scientific name:
  • Life span: 8 years
  • Length: 5.5-6.5 in (14-17 cm)
  • Weight: 1.4 oz (40 g)
  • Wingspan: 10-10.75 in (25-27 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern

Looking almost like a parrot, the Red Crossbill has a highly specialized beak for eating pines. This stocky little bird with a uniquely crossed beak is dull red or orange all over with greyish highlights on the wings. It is believed that there are 8 subspecies in North America with slightly different beaks specialized for different types of cones.

Red Crossbill

Like the White-Winged Crossbill the timing of the reproduction behaviour of the Red Crossbill is deeply tied to when the cone crop is best. It usually starts in end winter but can wait all the way until late autumn. The male Red Crossbill will impress the female by aerial manoeuvres and present food for her. The nest is named on horizontal branches in coniferous trees and is strictly built by the female.

Their beak is highly specialized for feeding on seeds from coniferous trees like pine. Seeds from other trees are also a common in their diet. They will occasionally during summer also eat insects when available.

Depending on mature forests for their food, areas with high rates of deforestation are areas with the species in decline. Currently classified as Least Concern on IUCN’s Red List, the overall population size seems to be stable. They have no real threat against their population, but predation from domestic cats, red squirrels, jays, hawks and crows are amongst their natural predators.

Red Crossbills can be seen during the winter in most of Illinois with the highest abundance in the north of the state. They’re present in most of Illinois but are highest in abundance in the northern parts of the state. They mostly reside in coniferous forests in the winter in Illinois and are easily distinguished by their metallic sounding calls.

9. Hoary Redpoll

  • Scientific name: Acanthis hornemanni
  • Life span: 6 years
  • Size: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
  • Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
  • Wingspan: 8.5-9.25 in (22-23 cm)
  • Status: Not Evaluated

Being very similar to it’s close relative the Common Redpoll, the Hoary Redpoll breeds in the high Arctic and is a rare guest in Illinois. Due to their territories being so high north, not much is known about the species behaviour. They look almost identical to Common Redpolls but are a bit rounder and have more light colours overall and are thus often mistaken for them.

Hoary Redpoll

Nesting in colonies, the Hoary Redpoll will often make it’s nest close to the Common Redpolls. In the courtship dance, the male will hop around the female while presenting her food. The nest is built by the female either on the ground of in very low shrubs in the high arctic.

The diet mostly consists of seeds and some insects. During their stay in the high arctic they will feed on available plant resources like buds and grasses.

The sparse amount of knowledge about the bird has given them the Not Evaluated on IUCN’s Red List and not much is known about their status. Like the Common Redpoll their population is thought to be in steep decline due to their breeding habitat in the high arctic is being quickly affected by climate change.

Present only in the northernmost parts of the state during winter, the Hoary Redpoll will migrate south from the High Arctic, making Illinois the southern limit of their wintering range. They will gather in large flocks that seemingly always are moving and are a rare guest at feeders in winter.

Conclusion

Finches are beautiful common guests at backyard feeders that most people know of. Their global and domestic populations are often enormous, but studies show a decline in overall populations due to deforestation and change in forest management to less finch-friendly wood species.

Some species, like the House Finch is not too affected by this change, due to their ability to coexist and thrive in suburban areas. The explosion of gardens and city parks in the late parts of the 20th century that helped the finch populations explode, now seems to be a major player in their decline as well. Increased numbers of predators, mainly house cats, have increased the predation on the finches.

Their tendency to eat sand and gravel from the roadside also affects their survivability due to the high frequency of car collisions that occur. Indirect poisoning from eating roadside gravel is also a large contributor to early deaths in finches