The 10 Finches Of Michigan And Where To Find Them

The 10 Finches Of Michigan And Where To Find Them

Surrounded by four out of five of the great lakes, Michigan’s extensive freshwater shoreline and vast expanse of forested areas provide a range of ideal habitats for a wide variety of birds. And its location south of the boreal region allows for many migrant visitors over winter. The finches are among these visitors. Although many species are resident, others are partial migrants, with some having erratic migrations, often coinciding with harsh winters up north.

Michigan birders can take advantage of this phenomenon and whip out a pair of binoculars each winter to see how many finches can be spotted. In the northernmost region, several species can be observed year-round. Some good birding hotspots to look out for them include the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. But during winter, they occur throughout the state and can be found around urban and suburban residential areas.

Finches are small passerine birds of the Fringillidae family – the true finches. The family includes siskins, redpolls, crossbills, and grosbeak-finches. Finches are predominantly seedeaters, and to facilitate this diet, they have short, conical bills. Many species also eat buds, fruit, and small invertebrates. They exhibit strong sexual dimorphism, with males typically brighter than females, often with shades of red in their plumage due to carotenoid pigments obtained from their food. Females are generally dull and bear more yellow hues.

Types Of Finches In Michigan:

1. House Finch

  • Scientific name – Haemorhous mexicanus
  • Lifespan – 11 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 5 inches
  • Weight – 0.8 oz
  • Wingspan – 9 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

The house finch is a common sighting in many suburban gardens. It has a dull brown and gray plumage. The underparts and flanks are often streaked. Males have pinkish-red to orange on the neck, shoulders, head, and breast. Note the long, squared tail.

House Finch

Fun fact: The red in the coloration of the male is derived from carotenoid-rich foods in its diet, and the coloration varies in intensity depending on season and diet.

House finches can be found year-round all across the state in urban, suburban, and rural areas. These birds thrive in developed environments. Their natural habit includes forests, forest edges, and stream-sides. They are known to frequent fruit orchards where they can become a nuisance. House finches build cup-shaped cavity nests out of twigs and grasses and often line them with fur and other soft materials including human-made items.

Find them around parks, farms, urban centers, and backyards. Look out for their noisy flocks foraging on the ground or in birdfeeders. Listen for their rapid, cheerful warbles and chirps. House finches eat berries, grains, and seeds. Keep your garden feeders stocked with nyjer, safflower, black oil sunflower, and hulled sunflower seeds. House finches are extremely common and widespread. However, overall populations have declined in the last decade. They are still thriving, in part due to their high level of adaptability to developed areas.

2. Purple Finch

  • Scientific name – Haemorhous purpureus
  • Lifespan – 14 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 5.5 in
  • Weight – 0.8 oz
  • Wingspan – 9 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

This name for this attractive little bird may be misleading as it is not purple. The males have a raspberry-red coloration on the head, breast, and back. The females are dull brown above and white below with dark streaks. Both sexes have brown wings and a forked brown tail.

They are forest birds that typically inhabit evergreen forests and mixed wooded habitats. They nest in shrubs, vines, or in the forks of trees under overhanging branches. The cup-shaped nests are made of twig and sticks and lined with softer materials such as roots, grasses, and fur.

Purple Finch

The northernmost parts of Michigan lie within their breeding range, and they can be found year-round in these parts. For the rest of the state, the best time and place to spot these finches are in backyard feeders during the winter months. They favor suburbs with plenty of trees. They can also be spotted along streams and in shrubby fields. Keep an eye out for them in trees or foraging among bushes and ground vegetation. And listen for their warbling songs.

Purple finches eat seeds, berries, and insects. In birdfeeders, they favor millet, nyjer, and sunflower seeds especially the black oil and hulled variety. Populations of this species have decreased due to deforestation and competition with the house finch. They are, however, classified as least concern.

3. Common Redpoll

  • Scientific name – Acanthis flammea
  • Lifespan – 10 years
  • Size – 5 in
  • Weight – 0.5 oz
  • Wingspan – 8 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

The common redpoll has brownish-grey upperparts and white underparts with dark streaks. It has a black chin patch and a bright red forehead. Males may have a red tinge on the breast and flanks. It is similar to the Arctic redpoll, but the latter is paler.

Common redpolls inhabit boreal coniferous forests and woodlands. But they also occur in suburban areas and towns. They build nests out of twigs, roots, and grasses and line them with feathers, fur, and other soft materials. Their nests are usually close to, if not on the ground.

Common Redpoll

With the exception of the far north, most of Michigan falls within the winter range of this species, and they can be found in shrubby fields, open woodlands, wooded parks, and gardens. Look out for their large, energetic flocks. The chattery call is characterized by whistling, buzzing, and trilling notes.

Seeds comprise a large portion of their diet. But during the breeding season, they also feed on insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. To attract them to your garden feeder, top up on millet, thistle, nyjer, and sunflower seeds. Common redpolls have a steady overall population, and they breed in remote areas that are relatively undisturbed. Climate change may be a potential future threat to this species.

4. Hoary Redpoll (Arctic Redpoll)

  • Scientific name – Acanthis hornemanni
  • Lifespan – 6 years
  • Size – 5 in
  • Weight – 0.4-0.7 oz
  • Wingspan – 0.5 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

The hoary redpoll has pale plumage, perfect for camouflage against the snow of its Arctic habitat. There are gray-brown above and white below with dark streaks, which are more prominent in females. Below the bill, a small black chin patch is visible, and it has a red forehead.

Arctic Redpoll

Fun fact: The hoary redpoll gets its name from the ice crystals called hoarfrost that form on trees and other objects in cold environments.

Hoary redpolls breed in brushy tundra habitats in the high Arctic. They nest among shrubs, or lower parts of trees, rocky cliffs, or stunted trees. They build cup-nests out of twigs, roots, and bark and line them with down, soft plant materials, and fur.

They are irruptive migrants, meaning that they usually migrate short distances, but in some winters, large flocks migrate much farther south than usual. This is the best opportunity to spot them in Michigan. But they tend to gravitate to remote areas. You would be lucky to find this species in your backyard, but they sometimes form mixed flocks with common redpolls. They produce a wide range of vocalizations that include chattery, buzzing, and rattling notes very similar to that of the common redpoll.

Hoary redpolls mostly eat seeds and buds, but also feed on insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates, especially during summer. Like the common redpoll, this species also has the advantage of remote, undisturbed breeding areas. Little is known about this elusive bird, but populations appear to be stable for now. However, climate change is a definite concern.

5. Red Crossbill (Common Crossbill)

  • Scientific name – Loxia curvirostra
  • Lifespan – 8 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 7.5 in
  • Weight – 1.5 oz
  • Wingspan – 11 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

The plumage of male common crossbills ranges from orange to red with dark brown wings and a forked tail. Females are similar in appearance but with coloration ranging from yellow to greenish. As the name suggests, the bill is crossed at the tip. These birds inhabit coniferous forests of spruce and pine. They build cup nests in fairly open forests out of twigs and line them with conifer needles, grasses, feathers, and fur.

Red Crossbill

Red crossbills are also irruptive migrants. During years where winter resources in the forest are low, they may seek refuge far south of their range. It is during these times that you may catch sight of them in evergreen forests, forest plantations, towns, suburban parks, and gardens. Look for them at treetops, backyard feeders, and along roadsides feeding on grit. Listen for the chattering flocks. The call of the red crossbill may vary. The common call is a sharp, metallic-sounding yip. The males produce cheerful warbly or trilling notes.

Red crossbills eat the seeds of conifers such as spruce and pine. With their specially adapted bills, they pry open the scales of the cones to get to the nutritious seeds within. Red crossbills are highly dependent on mature forests for nesting and food. Their populations have declined due to the destruction of forests by deforestation and logging.

6. White-Winged Crossbill (Two-Barred Crossbill)

  • Scientific name – Loxia leucoptera
  • Lifespan – 4 years
  • Size – 6.3 in
  • Weight – 0.8 oz
  • Wingspan – 10.5 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

The white-winged crossbill is named for the white bars on its wings. The males are pinkish-red, and the females are yellow-green. Both sexes have a dark brown tail and wings. They appear similar to the common crossbill, but the latter lacks the white wing-bars. White-winged crossbills also inhabit the coniferous forests, favoring spruce and larch. They build cup nests out of twigs, grasses, weeds, and bark and line them with lichen, moss, and fur.

White-Winged Crossbill

Winter irruptions lead them to pine plantations, cemeteries, parks, and gardens far outside their normal range. Look for them spruce, larch, and hemlock trees in the suburbs, as well as in shrubby fields and backyard feeders. Listen for the chattery calls and warbly songs. The common call is a repetitive chit-chit-chit.

Like the red crossbills, white-winged crossbills also eat the seeds of conifers, predominantly spruce and larch. During the breeding season, they may supplement their diet with insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. Populations of white-winged crossbills appear stable, but they are vulnerable to deforestation and logging.

7. Pine Siskin

  • Scientific name – Spinus pinus
  • Lifespan – 8 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 5 in
  • Weight – 0.5 oz
  • Wingspan – 8 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

The pine siskin has heavily streaked brown plumage. The wings and tail are darker brown and yellow. As the name suggests, their natural habitat is coniferous forests. They nest in loose colonies in the conifers of evergreen forests and wooded suburban areas such as parks, cemeteries, and gardens. The shallow, well-concealed nest is made of twigs, grasses, leaves, forbs, roots, and strips of bark. It is lined with lichen, moss, down, fur, and other soft materials.

Pine Siskin

Pine siskins occur year-round in the northernmost tip of Michigan, but during winter, they occur throughout the state. Their foraging grounds comprise a wide array of environments including woodlands, shrubby fields, grasslands, and thickets. You can find them along roadsides and in parks, and gardens. Look out for them in coniferous trees such as pines, spruce, and cedars. Pine siskins are known to frequent backyard feeders where they favor nyjer, thistle, sunflower seeds, and occasionally, suet.

The common call is an escalating, wheezy zrieeet that is often likened to the sound of a watch winding. Pine Siskins are widespread and common birds, but populations are in decline. Threats to the species include domestic animals, disease, pesticide poisoning, and deforestation.

8. American Goldfinch

  • Scientific name – Spinus tristis
  • Lifespan – 10 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 4.7 in
  • Weight – 0.5 oz
  • Wingspan – 8 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

Goldfinches get their name from the bright yellow breeding plumage of the males. During winter, they are dull brown. Females have duller yellow underparts and olive upperparts. Both sexes have a black forehead and a black tail and wings with white markings.

American Goldfinch

American goldfinches inhabit weedy fields, meadows, floodplains, roadsides, orchards, and other shrubby areas. They build tightly woven cup nests using roots and other plant materials bound together with cobwebs. You can find them year-round in Michigan. Look out for them in suburban parks and gardens, especially in overgrown areas where thistle is abundant.

They are frequent visitors to backyard feeders stocked with nyjer and sunflower seeds, especially during winter. Their most notable call is the Twii-twi-twi-twit flight call, for which they are sometimes known as the “potato chip” bird. Males have twittery songs with random warbly notes. American goldfinches are seedeaters favoring sunflowers, daisies, and thistle, but they also eat the seeds of trees and grasses. American Goldfinches are common and widespread birds with a stable overall population.

9. Evening Grosbeak

  • Scientific name – Hesperiphona vespertina
  • Lifespan – 16 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 6.7 in
  • Weight – 2 oz
  • Wingspan – 13 in
  • Conservation status – Vulnerable

An attractive grosbeak finch with a characteristic large conical bill. The male evening grosbeak has a brown back and head with a bright yellow forehead. Its shoulders and underparts are yellow, and it has a short black tail and black wings with large white patches. The female is brownish-gray with an olive tinge on the nape and shoulders.

Evening grosbeaks breed in forests, woodlands, orchards, and parks. They nest high up in coniferous trees or large shrubs. The saucer-shaped nests are made of twigs and roots and lined with grasses, pine needles, lichen, and moss.

Evening Grosbeak

Birds that fly south for the winter can be spotted in woody residential and suburban areas where they often visit backyard feeders. Evening grosbeaks can be found year-round in the northernmost parts of the state. They have sharp, high-pitched single note calls that can sound quite cacophonous in flocks.

Evening grosbeaks feed on insects and other invertebrates. They also eat seeds, buds, and fruit. Population numbers of this species have sharply declined due to the destruction of forests, disease, and low food supply due to pest control initiatives. They are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.

10. Pine Grosbeak

  • Scientific name – Pinicola enucleator
  • Lifespan – 9 years (oldest recorded)
  • Size – 7.9-9.8 in
  • Weight – 2 oz
  • Wingspan – 13.0 in
  • Conservation status – Least concern

Pine grosbeaks are plump little grosbeak finches. The head, breast, and back are rose-red in males and yellow in females. They have black wings with white wing bars and a forked black tail.

Pine Grosbeak

They inhabit boreal coniferous forests during the breeding season. The cup-shaped nests are made of twigs, grass, and roots and lined with lichen, conifer needles, and feathers. It is often well-concealed behind dense foliage close to the trunk.

During irruptive winters, they can be spotted in areas near open, evergreen forests, along roadsides, or at backyard feeders where they target sunflower seeds, fruit, and suet. The song is a melodious warble. The diet of pine grosbeaks comprises seeds, buds, and fruit. Pine grosbeaks are fairly common, although populations appear to be on the decline.


Finches are delightful birds that are frequent visitors to backyard feeders. Although they are common and widespread birds, studies show that many species have declining populations. One of the main threats to finches in this part of the world is the destruction of forests by deforestation, logging, and development. Some species are more resilient than others and do well around developed areas.

Although, with this adaptability comes new risks such as predation by domestic animals. Winter finches are attracted to salts applied to road surfaces during winter. Not only does this leave them vulnerable to road strikes, but it may also be toxic to them. They also eat grit (sand, gravel, etc.) along roadsides to help them grind and break down seeds. This may also expose them to harmful chemicals.

Other threats include indirect poisoning by pest control chemicals and diseases such as salmonella and conjunctivitis. Salmonella is often contracted at bird-feeding stations, so be sure to keep backyard feeders clean at all times. Some finch species are also subjected to harmful chemicals when they ingest grit at roadsides. For information on bird seeds, check out this guide to the best bird seeds for your garden feeders.

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