Jan 9, 2019 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, February 2019

House Finches and Winter Weather

House finches don't pack on pounds in the winter. Photo by Pheanix / Wikimedia Commons.
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Many birds prepare for the rigors of winter by adding weight in the form of fat layers. They do this by increasing their feeding rates and by seeking out fat-rich food sources. House finches—which can be a joy or a plague, depending on how many are frequenting your feeder—apparently do not use this strategy. A study of house finches at a feeder in Indiana indicates that the birds do not gain weight with the onset of cold weather. Researchers banded and weighed birds for three years, compared the winter and summer weights of the males, and found that there was no statistical difference. The researchers did not include the weights of females in their studies because it is impossible to tell immature males from females, and males weigh more than females on average.

If house finches do not counter the effects of cold weather by changing their weight, how do they deal with winter? The researchers suggest that the birds respond the way some other species do: by altering their metabolic rates to produce more heat at times when it is needed. So when you see the feeder full of house finches and they are cleaning out the sunflower seed, don’t worry about them getting out of shape. House finches don’t pack on pounds in winter.



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