What kinds of finches can you find in Iowa?
Finches are incredibly beautiful birds and a lot of fun to see in your backyard.
Luckily, almost all of them will visit bird feeders, so you have a good chance of attracting multiple types of finches to your yard. If you’re lucky, you may even see a finch at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
Did you know 11 types of finches live in Iowa?
Below you will learn more about each species AND how to identify them by sight OR sound. Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which finches live near you!
- The range maps below were generously shared with permission from Birds of the World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!
#1. American Goldfinch
- Spinus tristis
- In summer, males are a vivid yellow with a black cap and black wings. Females are a duller yellow and lack a black cap.
- In winter, both sexes look the same and turn a pale brown/olive color. They are identified by their black wings and white wing bar.
These small and colorful finches are relatively common in Iowa.
And luckily, American Goldfinches are fairly easy to attract to bird feeders! Try offering their favorite foods, sunflower kernels and Nyjer seed, which not many other birds eat.
It’s also helpful to include bird feeders specially designed for goldfinches. These small birds are easily scared off by larger “bullies.” They will appreciate having places that only they can use! I like the fact they can feed in any position, even upside down.
American Goldfinch Range Map
American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians. Their diet is exclusively made of seeds with no insects, which is rare in the bird world. Naturally, they feast on seeds from asters, thistles, sunflowers, grasses, and many types of trees.
Because of their diet, American Goldfinches breed later than other birds. They wait until June or July, when most plants are in full seed production, ensuring there is enough food for them to feed their babies.
To identify them by sound, listen for a pretty series of musical trills and warbles.
#2. House Finch
- Haemorhous mexicanus
- Adult males are rosy red around their heads and upper breasts. They have brown streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Females are brown with streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Both sexes have conical beaks designed to eat seeds and notched tails.
It’s common to see House Finches in Iowa near people.
Look for them around buildings, backyards, parks, and other urban and suburban areas.
House Finch Range Map
In fact, House Finches are often the first birds to discover new bird feeders. These birds are intensely curious and rarely travel alone, so their arrival often helps other birds find your feeders too! I see them eating sunflower seed, Nyjer seed, and safflower in my yard.
House Finches have an enjoyable song, which can be heard year-round. Listen below to a series of jumbled, warbled notes.
#3. Pine Siskin
- Spinus pinus
- Both sexes are small, brown, and have streaks with fine yellow edging on their wings and tails.
- Sharply pointed bill and a short, forked tail and long pointed wingtips.
- The only finch in Iowa where males and females look the same.
Pine Siskins are social and search for food in flocks while chirping nonstop to each other. They don’t even stop chattering when flying!
Pine Siskin Range Map
Pine Siskins feed at backyard feeders normally in the winter. They prefer to eat smaller seeds without tough shells, such as sunflower or Nyjer seeds. Pine Siskins are typically found in mixed evergreen or deciduous forests, but they will move to a new place in search of food, like weedy fields, backyards, or gardens.
Listen below to Pine Siskin’s song, which is a twittering warble that rises and falls in pitch. They randomly throw in a “ZZZzzzzzreeee” that rises in pitch ever so often. You will notice they sound more wheezy than other finches in Iowa.
#4. Evening Grosbeak
- Coccothraustes vespertinus
- Both sexes have a large, thick, conical beak and are the size of an American Robin.
- Males are yellow and black with a prominent white patch in the wings and a bright yellow stripe over the eye.
- Females are mostly gray with white and black wings and a greenish-yellow tinge on the neck and their sides.
Evening Grosbeaks are one of the largest finches in Iowa.
Typically, they are found in the northern coniferous forests, and in winter, they can be found pretty much anywhere as they search for food. Evening Grosbeaks are known for their large and strong bill. They use these bills to crack open large seeds that other birds are unable to open.
Evening Grosbeak Range Map
In fact, these finches will show up at feeders far south of their normal winter range, which provides a treat for backyard birders. You can attract them with sunflower seeds placed onto a large platform feeder, which gives these birds ample room to land and eat.
Evening Grosbeaks are one of the few finches in Iowa without a song. But they do have some simple calls, including sweet, piercing notes and burry chirps, which you can hear below!
#5. Red Crossbill
- Loxia curvirostra
- Sparrow-sized. Look for their distinctive crisscrossed bills (which means the tip of their beak doesn’t come exactly together, it crosses, like if you would cross your fingers)
- Males are red overall with darker brownish-red wings and white wing bars.
- Females are full-bodied and are yellowish with dark unmarked wings.
As their name suggests, Red Crossbills have crisscrossed bills, similar to if you cross your fingers. They adapted these oddly shaped bills to help them break into tightly closed cones, giving them an advantage over other finch species in Iowa.
They are found in large coniferous forests during their breeding season, especially spruce, pine, Douglas-fir, hemlock, or larch with recent cone crops. But in winter, they wander wherever they need to go to find food. While not incredibly common, they will sometimes visit bird feeders and eat sunflower seeds.
Red Crossbill Range Map
Red Crossbills are very dependent on conifer seeds. In fact, they even feed them to their babies instead of insects like most other songbirds. These finches typically breed in late summer but can actually breed any time during the year if a large enough cone crop is available.
Males sing a variably sweet warble, which sounds like “chipa-chipa-chipa, chee-chee-chee.“ Females rarely sing, but they have call notes that are sharp and metallic.
#6. Purple Finch
- Haemorhous purpureus
- Small, with a conical seed-eating bill.
- Males have a raspberry red head, breast, and back.
- Females have prominent streaks of white and brown below, with strong facial markings, including a whitish eyebrow and a dark line down the side of the throat.
Male Purple Finches are beautiful and have been described as having looked like they were dipped in raspberry juice.
Purple Finches have a big beak and tongue to crush seeds and extract the nut. This is good news because they will also visit bird feeders! Your best chance to attract them is using black-oil sunflower seeds. Having conifer trees in your yard is also a great way to encourage these finches to visit.
Purple Finch Range Map
Purple Finches can be challenging to identify because they look incredibly similar to the more common House Finch. I know that I’ve made this mistake many times, hoping that I saw a Purple Finch when it was, in fact, just another House Finch. To tell them apart, look at their back, as Purple Finches have red coloring on it, where the back of a House Finch has none.
Similar to other finches in Iowa, males sing a rich, musical warble. Listen below!
#7. Red-breasted Grosbeak
- Pheucticus ludovicianus
- Stocky birds with a large, triangle bill. About the size of an American Robin.
- Males have black backs and wings, with a white breast with a distinctive red mark.
- Females are heavily streaked with a white eyebrow and a pale bill.
It’s easy to see how these beautiful finches got their name. One look at the males, and you will immediately notice the bright red plumage at the top of their white breasts. Females, on the other hand, can be hard to properly identify, as they look similar to many other birds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks like to visit bird feeders, where it uses its huge triangular bill to crack open seeds. If you want to attract them, the best food to use is sunflower seeds set out on a platform feeder. I’ve never seen one of these finches use a tube feeder, as I don’t think it provides enough space on the perches for them.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Range Map
Red-Breasted Grosbeak males sing to establish territories and attract females. When the female shows up, the male will sometimes play hard to get, rejecting her for a day or two before finally accepting her as a mate! To make up for this, they give the female a break and sit on the nest to keep the eggs warm.
Red-Breasted Grosbeaks are known for their beautiful song. It sounds similar to an American Robin but better! Listen for a long series of notes that rises and falls. If you hear one, make sure to look for the male singing from an elevated perch.
#8. Blue Grosbeak
- Passerina caerulea
- Stocky finch with a huge, triangular bill.
- Males are deep, rich blue with a tiny black mask in front of the eyes, chestnut wing bars, and a black-and-silver beak.
- Females are primarily cinnamon-brown. The color is richer on the head, paler on the underparts; their tails are bluish.
Blue Grosbeaks like to eat seeds and grains at bird feeders in shrubby backyards because they feel more protected. You will normally hear them singing before you see them.
Blue Grosbeaks Range Map
Blue Grosbeaks are very shy, especially around humans, which makes them very difficult to observe. Interestingly, both males and females have a weird habit of twitching their tails sideways, although the reason for this behavior is unknown.
Blue grosbeaks have also been known to “sidle”, where they walk sideways along branches, as seen in parrots. Listen below as the male Blue Grosbeak sings a musical warble that lasts for 2 or 3 seconds.
#9. Common Redpoll
- Acanthis flammea
- Both sexes are small, white, and brown. Look for streaks on their sides and a small red patch on their forehead.
- Males differ from females and have a pale red vest on the chest and upper flanks.
Redpolls visit backyard bird feeders, especially during the winter. Due to their small bill size, they prefer eating small seeds like Nyjer (thistle) and shelled sunflower when visiting feeders.
Common Redpoll Range Map
Like many finches in Iowa, Common Redpolls have a rollercoaster-like flying style.
Redpolls travel in flocks of up to several hundred birds. They move very fast, gathering seeds in weedy fields or small trees one minute and swirling away in a mass of chattering birds the next. Listen below to the Redpoll song, which is a combination of single or repeated calls (“chit-chit-chit-chit”). Their call notes are a whistle that sounds like “swee-ee-eet.”
These finches travel great distances and can turn up almost anywhere! For example, one bird banded in Michigan showed up in Siberia. Another one in Belgium was found again in China!
#10. Cassin’s Finch
- Haemorhous cassinii
- Small finches with short-medium tails, streaked feathers, and thick bills.
- Males are rosy pink all over with more red on top of their heads.
- Females and young Cassin’s Finches are brown-and-white birds with dark streaks on the chest and underparts.
Male Cassin’s get the red on the top of their head from eating colorful foods like the orange berries of firethorn plants.
Cassin’s Finch Range Map
Cassin’s Finches visit feeders in the winter that provide sunflower seeds. They also like shrubs with fruit such as mulberry, firethorn, or grape bushes. Interestingly, they crave salt and are often found visiting deposits of minerals on the ground. Their songs tend to imitate other birds, and both males and females sing. Listen below as a male Cassin’s Finch sings a joyful song with a fast series of short sounds.
#11. White-winged Crossbill
- Loxia leucoptera
- Crisscrossed bill, which is used to separate pine cone scales to access the seeds.
- Males are rose-pink with black wings and tails. Look for two white lines of contrasting color across the middle of the wing.
- Females and young males are yellowish but with the same wing and tail pattern as the adult males.
White-winged Crossbills get their name from the shape of their bill! These finches evolved these unique beaks to open up pine cones, so they can eat the seeds inside.
Individual White-winged Crossbills can eat up to 3,000 conifer seeds each day.
In fact, some people are able to locate crossbills by hearing them crunching while opening cones in the trees.
White-winged Crossbill Range Map
You can sometimes attract these finches to backyard feeders in Iowaby offering hulled sunflower seeds.
Both sexes sing a mixture of vigorous and scattered chirps, warbles, and rattles. Listen below!
Which of these finches have you seen before in Iowa?
Leave a comment below!