Finches are one of North America’s most well-known bird species. They can be small with delicate pointed beaks, or stocky with thick conical beaks. Many species have cheerful songs, colorful feathers and are happy to visit backyard feeders. If you live in North America and are curious about the type of finch you’ve seen outside, this article is for you. Let’s dive into the 18 types of finches you can see in North America.
18 Types of Finches
1. House finch
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Wingspan: 8 to 10 inches
- Size: 5 to 6 inches
The House Finch is a medium-sized songbird native to North America. Originally they were only found in the western U.S., but have since spread east and are now just as common in the eastern U.S. They are comfortable in “settled habitats”, which include forest edges, backyards, city parks and other urban areas.
House Finches are very common visitors at bird feeders. They often show up in small groups and can be quite “talkative”, whether giving their sharp ‘cheep’ or the males long but cheerful sounding warbling song.
These finches are brown with a pale belly covered in dark streaks. Males have red on their head and chest.
2. Pine grosbeak
- Scientific Name: Pinicola enucleator
- Wingspan: 12-13 inches
- Size: 8 – 10 inches
Pine Grosbeaks are brightly colored birds. Their base color is gray, with dark wings marked by white wingbars. Males have a rosy red wash on their head, chest and back, while females have a golden-yellow wash instead. They are larger finches with stocky bodies and a thick, stubby bill.
They’re commonly found in colder climates, including Alaska, Canada, parts of the northern United States, and northern Eurasia. Their home is evergreen forests where they eat seeds, buds and fruit from spruce, birch, pine and juniper trees.
During the winter they will visit backyard feeders within their range, and enjoy sunflower seeds. Platform feeders are best due to their larger size.
3. American goldfinch
- Scientific Name: Spinus tristis
- Wingspan: 7.5–8.7 inches
- Size: 4.3–5.5 inches
The American goldfinch is a small, yellow finch found throughout the United States and southern Canada. They migrate short distances between the southern U.S. in the winter, to southern Canada in the summer, but many places in-between they remain year-round.
American Goldfinches forage in small groups, and eat mainly seeds from plants such as thistle, grass and sunflower. During the breeding season, males of this species are bright yellow with black foreheads, wings, and tails, while females have olive-brown upper parts and dull yellow underparts. In the fall the males will begin to molt into dull olive-colored winter plumage.
These goldfinches will readily visit backyard feeders for sunflower and nyjer (thistle) seed.
4. Red crossbill
- Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra
- Wingspan: 10–11 inches
- Size: 5–7 inches
Red Crossbills are a finch distinguished by their unique beak shape. Their beak is slightly curved, with the top and bottom section criss-crossing instead of matching up. This interesting shape gives them an advantage when trying to reach one of their main food sources, conifer seeds from pine, fir and spruce trees. They use their beak to get underneath and lift the scales of pine and conifer cones, exposing the seed beneath.
Both sexes have a stocky body, short dark tail and dark wings. Males have red plumage while females are yellowish.
These birds are known to be fast fliers and are very social. Red Crossbills are well-adapted to cold weather and live year-round across Canada, the Pacific northwest and Rocky Mountains down into Mexico. While they don’t technically migrate, they do “wander” around many parts of North America in search of seed crops when not breeding.
5. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
- Scientific Name: Leucosticte tephrocotis
- Wingspan: 13 inches
- Size: 5–6 inches
The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch is a finch species that inhabit high elevations, such as alpine areas above the treeline and rocky islands with cliffs. In fact, they even nest on the slopes of North America’s highest peak, Denali. This wins them the title of being North America’s highest-altitude breeding species. They spend the summer in Alaska and British Columbia, then move slightly south to the northwestern U.S. to spend the winter.
Males and females of this species do not have different plumage. They have a gray head with black throat and crown, a brown back and chest with pink wash on their sides and wings. They can have slight plumage variations based on location, and display varying levels of pink.
These monogamous birds build their nests out of grasses, wool, feathers, and mosses. Females typically lay 2 to 6 eggs, which are cared for by both parents through incubation.
6. Black Rosy-Finch
- Scientific Name: Leucosticte atrata
- Wingspan: 13 inches
- Size: 5.5–6 inches
Another member of the rosy-finch family, the Black Rosy-Finch, is a bird found in the alpine regions of Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Montana and Nevada. They spend the breeding season high up in the mountains, then move to lower elevations during the winter.
These finches are covered in brownish-black feathers with pink highlights on their wings and lower belly. Their diet changes depending on the season; when breeding, they eat both insects and seeds, but when winter arrives, they eat mostly seeds.
They’re also territorial birds, but instead of defending a specific territory based on location, males just defend the area around the females, wherever she happens to be. That is only during the breeding season, in the winter they gather together in large communal roosts.
7. Cassin’s finch
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous cassinii
- Wingspan: 9.8-10.6 inches
- Size: 6.3 inches
Cassin’s Finches can be found breeding from British Columbia to New Mexico and Arizona. In the winter, some will move further south to southern California and down into Mexico. Their natural habitat consists of mature forests with a high concentration of pine trees. Male Cassin’s Finches have rosy pink feathers with red crowns, whereas females are brown and white with dark streaks.
During the spring season, their diet consists primarily of seeds and buds. When summer arrives, they switch their diet to insects, preferring moths and butterfly larvae. They have been oberved visiting mineral deposits on the ground to add salt into their diet.
While they won’t tolerate another nest right next to theirs, Cassin’s Finches often nest in relatively close proximity, about 80 feet apart but in some situations up to 3 feet apart.
8. Common Redpoll
- Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 inches
- Size: 4.7-5.5 inches
The Common Redpoll is a small, round finch found in Europe, Asia, and North America. They breed high up in the Arctic, then move further south throughout Canada in the winter. They are less common in the United States but do sometimes come all the way down into the middle of the country to find food. During these “irruption years” when they visit the U.S. in larger number than usual, they are often seen gathering a bird feeders, especially thistle seed.
They’re highly energetic birds that frequently congregate in flocks of up to a thousand birds during migration. Both males and females have a yellow beak, red cap, and brown streaky body. Males also sport pink coloring on their chest and sides.
Males have been observed courting females by singing and calling while flying in circles. Female Common Redpolls build nests and usually place them in ground covers, rock ledges, or on driftwood, where they lay 2-7 eggs.
9. Brown-capped Rosy-Finch
- Scientific Name: Leucosticte australis
- Wingspan: 13 inches
- Size: 5.5-6.3 inches
A Brown-capped Rosy-Finch is a species of bird found in the Rockies’ high peaks from Wyoming to New Mexico, although most of the population breeds in Colorado. They’re small birds with long wings and short tails. Brown-Capped Rosy-Finches are brown with rosy underparts and a yellow beak in the winter, and a black beak during the breeding season.
You can find these birds foraging in glaciers and on the edges of melting snowfields, where they eat insects in the summer and mostly seeds in the winter.
10. Evening Grosbeak
- Scientific Name: Coccothraustes vespertinus
- Wingspan: 11.8-14.2 inches
- Size: 6.3-7.1 inches
Evening Grosbeaks are large, robin-sized finches found primarily in Canada and areas along the United States northern border. When cone seeds are more sparse, they have been known to travel far south into the U.S. to look for food. This used to happen fairly regularly every 2-3 years, however these “irruptions” have been less frequent since the 1980’s.
Males are yellow with dark heads and wings, a large white stripe on the wing, a yellow forehead and a pale beak. Females are much less colored with mostly gray plumage with some yellow around the neck.
These bird live in coniferous forests and make their nests in tall trees or large shrubs. They lay two to five eggs at a time, which they incubate for 14 days. Unlike most songbirds, they don’t have a complex song used to attract mates or claim territory.
11. Lesser Goldfinch
- Scientific Name: Spinus psaltria
- Wingspan: 5.9-7.9 inches
- Size: 3.5-4.3 inches
Male Lesser Goldfinches are distinguished by their bright yellow underpart feathers and dark upper feathers. Their backs can be a darkish olive green or a solid black depending on the region. Females don’t have much color variation between their slightly darker back and pale front.
Lesser Goldfinches are found in the western United States, down through Mexico all the way to the Peruvian Andes. They prefer patchy, open habitats like fields, thickets, meadows and forest clearings. Napa thistle seed is a diet staple, as well as sunflower seeds, cottonwood buds and elderberry.
They will visit backyard feeders, especially as part of a mixed flock of other finches including American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins.
12. Pine siskin
- Scientific Name: Spinus pinus
- Wingspan: 7.1-8.7 inches
- Size: 4.3-5.5 inches
The Pine Siskin is a tough little finch that can be found in North America. They breed in Alaska, Canada, and the parts of the western United States. Like some other finches on this list, they can travel all over during the winter when looking for food, showing up all the way in the southeast. During the winter they show up at bird feeders in mixed flocks with other finches.
Pine Siskins are small finches with a sharply pointed beak, and a brown, streaky body with hints of yellow along the edge of their wings and tail. Males and females have the same plumage.
During cold nights, they can increase their metabolism almost 40% higher than other songbirds of their size.
13. Hoary Redpoll
- Scientific Name: Acanthis hornemanni
- Wingspan: 8-10 inches
- Size: 4.7 to 5.5 inches
Hoary Redpolls, sometimes called Arctic Redpolls, are a type of finch that lives in the Arctic tundra near willows and birches. Even during the winter, these bird stay in cold northern regions. Occasionally they will come as far as southern Canada, to the Great Lakes or New England and show up at bird feeders with Common Redpolls, although that is considered rare.
They bear a close resemblance to Common Redpolls, with a streaky brown and white back, pinkish chest and red crown. However they tend to be much paler in color.
To help withstand the cold temperatures of their arctic home, Hoary Redpolls have more fluffy body feathers than most other birds. These fluffy feathers act as good insulation. During a longer spell of unusually warm summer weather, they may pluck a few of these feathers out to help cool them down.
14. White-winged Crossbill
- Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera
- Wingspan: 10.2-11.0 inches
- Size: 5.9-6.7 inches
The White-winged Crossbill is a finch that lives in the coniferous forests of North America and Europe. Males of this species have rosy red plumage with black wings and tails, while females are yellowish instead of red. They bear a strong resemblance to the Red Crossbills we talked about earlier on this list, but as their name suggests this species has two significant white bars on its wings while the Red Crossbills do not.
These birds eat conifer cone seeds, which they extract with their crisscrossed beaks and tongue. During the summer, white-winged crossbills will also consume insects that they forage from the ground. If cone crops aren’t strong, they can irrupt into the northeastern and northwestern parts of the United States in search of more food.
15. Lawrence’s Goldfinch
- Scientific Name: Spinus lawrencei
- Wingspan: 8.3 inches
- Size: 3.9-4.7 inches
Lawrence’s Goldfinches are distinguished by their mostly gray body with yellow on their wings. Males also have a bright yellow breast and black patch at the front of their face. They have a small range, breeding only in California and the Baja Peninsula, and wintering in southern Arizona, New Mexico and northwestern Mexico.
During most of the breeding season, males and females will maintain their bond by rubbing bills and calling to each other. They share duties when it comes to incubating eggs and feeding their young. After the breeding season they gather together in flocks. Usually these flocks are less than 50 birds, but have been rarely seen in huge groups of 700 birds!
16. Purple Finch
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 inches
- Size: 4.7-6.3 inches
The Purple Finch is a small bird that primarily consumes seeds, though it will also consume fruits and insects in the spring and summer. These finches live in pastures and mixed forests, where they eat seeds from trees and bushes. Additionally, they have adapted to human structures and are now seen nesting in gardens and parks. Some remain year-round in the northwestern and northeastern United States, while others breed across Canada and winter in the southeastern U.S.
Their coloring is similar to the House Finch and the Cassin’s Finch, where females are brown with streaky breasts and males are brown with red coloring. The coloring on the Purple Finch is a much more raspberry red and covers their head, chest and often extends over their wings, lower belly and tail.
17. Cassia Crossbill
- Scientific Name: Loxia sinesciuris
- Wingspan: 85.0–100.0 mm
Cassia Crossbill is a finch found only in the South Hills and Albion Mountains of Idaho. Because their beaks are only adapted to a specific type of cone, they can only be found in forests with old and mature lodgepole pines. Adult males have reddish feathers, while females have olive-yellow or dull green feathers, but both males and females have brownish flight plumage.
They were recognized as a separate, distinct species from the Red Crossbill in 2017. Their appearance is almost exactly the same with a slight difference in beak size. Named for Cassia County, Idaho where they are found, these birds don’t breed with other crossbills, don’t migrate, and have different songs and calls than Red Crossbills.
18. European Goldfinch
- Scientific Name: Carduelis carduelis
- Wingspan: 8.3–9.8 inches
- Size: 4.7–5.1 inches
The European Goldfinch is a small, multicolored songbird native to Europe and Asia. Their yellow wing stripe and red, white, and black head gives them a distinctive appearance.
Due to this unique appearance and their cheerful song, they have long been kept around the world as caged pets. While they are not native to the United States or North America, they have been spotted in the wild. Over the years as these pet birds are released or escape, they may establish small local populations. So far, none of these wild populations has grown significantly or lasted long-term.
So if you see one of these in the U.S. you aren’t crazy, it’s most likely an escaped pet.