What kinds of finches can you find in Alaska?
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. 🙂
7 types of finches in Alaska?
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!
#1. 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 Alaska 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 Alaska.
#2. 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 Alaska.
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.
#3. 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 Alaska, 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!
#4. 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 Alaska by offering hulled sunflower seeds.
Both sexes sing a mixture of vigorous and scattered chirps, warbles, and rattles. Listen below!
#5. Pine Grosbeak
- Pinicola enucleator
- Large, plump finches. Look for dark gray wings with two white lines across the middle.
- Males are reddish-pink and gray in color.
- Females and young males are grayish with tints of reddish-orange or yellow on the head and rump.
Pine Grosbeaks are one of the largest finches in Alaska!
If one lands on your feeders, they are typically easy to identify since they will be bigger than almost all the other birds.
Pine Grosbeaks frequently visit feeders, especially during the winter. If you want to attract them, try using a hopper or platform feeder because of the bird’s larger size. Fill the feeders with sunflower seeds.
Pine Grossbeak Range Map
Pine Grosbeaks are relatively easy to find and see due to their slow-moving (some people call sluggish) behavior. In addition, they are relatively tame and not scared away easily.
Male Pine Grosbeaks sing a high-pitched warble that goes up and down. Listen below! Females do not sing very often.
#6. Hoary Redpoll
- Acanthis hornemanni
- Tiny, pale white birds with gray-brown streaks, dark gray tails, and wings, with bold white wing bars. Look for small red patches on the forehead.
- Feathers are fluffy, making them look heavier.
- Males have a reddish-pink chest.
- Females lack the reddish-pink chest.
The Hoary Redpoll breeds in the arctic tundra and can live and survive in freezing winter weather. Most people never see these finches because not much civilization exists in the places they live. They get their name from the way they look; “hoary” is for the frosty plumage, and “repoll” is for the red patch on their head.
Hoary Redpoll Range Map
These finches are common visitors to bird feeders in Alaska since they spend summers up north. Hoary Redpolls can come even more south when the weather turns cold and there is low food availability. If you’re extremely lucky, you may spot one visiting your yard eating Nyjer seeds or black-oil sunflower seeds.
Redpolls can store seeds in pouches in their throat, kind of like a chipmunk stashing seeds in their cheeks. This lets them quickly collect seeds, then regurgitate them for husking and eating when they’re back in a sheltered and safe spot.
Male Hoary Redpoll songs are a trill that often lacks pauses, which is then sometimes followed by a slow twitter. Listen below!
#7. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
- Leucosticte tephrocotis
- Males are a rich brown. Look for pink plumage on the body, a gray head, and a black forecrown, throat, and bill.
- Females are similar but with fewer amounts of pink, and their bill is yellow.
These finches are found at high elevations in Alaska!
Look for them high on mountains or cliffs where they forage on loose stones, glaciers, meadows, and even avalanche areas. They even nest on the slopes of Mt. McKinley, which is the highest peak in North America.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Range Map
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches may visit backyard bird feeders in the winter when they come down a bit from the mountains. They like to eat black oil sunflower seed scattered on the ground or platform feeders.
Listen below to the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch chattering cheep cheep song.
Which of these finches have you seen before in Alaska?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about birds that live near you, check out these other guides!
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!