Suppose you search for ‘finch birdhouse.’ In that case, you’ll immediately be sucked into a world of traditional enclosed birdhouses and an array of often photoshopped birds using them. Instead of wasting your money, let’s explore what we mean by ‘finch’ and learn about the type of birdhouse they’ll use.
First, we’ll have to narrow down what we mean by ‘finch.’ Taxonomically, finches are members of the family Fringillidae, but that includes over 200 species worldwide. Seventeen of these occur in the U.S. or Canada.
In North America, we have yellow finches (evening grosbeak, American goldfinch, Lawrence’s goldfinch, lesser goldfinch, pine siskin), red finches (common redpoll, hoary redpoll, house finch, purple finch, Cassin’s finch, brown-capped rosy-finch, black rosy-finch, gray-crowned rosy-finch, pine grosbeak), and crossbills (red crossbill, white-winged crossbill, Cassia crossbill).
Some of these species (the grosbeaks, redpolls, and crossbills) breed fairly far north and are not likely to be encountered by most people during the breeding season, so we won’t consider them here. Species like the Cassia crossbill are so localized most people won’t encounter them.
Of the remaining birds, the goldfinches, pine siskins, Cassin’s finch, and purple finches are not cavity nesters, and the rosy-finches nest in holes under rocks or on cliffs but not in tree cavities.
That only leaves us with the house finch! However, house finches only sometimes use cavities to nest in – but they are known to use a wide variety of nesting sites and are considered a nest site generalist.
That means we’ll need to understand the biology of house finches to attract them to our nest box, but we won’t use an enclosed box. I will use my knowledge as a biologist, as I have years of experience studying bird behavior, to help you figure out the best house finch birdhouse.
Bottom Line Up Front
Finches prefer overhead cover to protect them from rain and sun, but cavities are rarely used. The actual location can include pretty much any human or natural structure, and it doesn’t have to be hidden.
That means a suitable house finch birdhouse or nest box just requires a base and a roof, but whether finches use it is a matter of chance.
I recommend the Bluebird Landing Platform for its good quality material, open concept, and attractive design.
For a structure to make my list, it had to have a base and roof, and I avoided recommending enclosed boxes since house finches only rarely use those. Otherwise, these were part of the criteria I used in my recommendations.
- the openness of the structure;
- type of wood used;
- strength and sturdiness;
Bluebird Landing Platform
This roofed platform is made from cedar and poly lumber so that it will last forever. It has a fairly open design, so finches should have no trouble using it.
The base is longer than the roof, and there are no drainage holes, so mount it in a protected area where rain won’t be an issue.
Size: 11″ W x 8″ D x 12″ H
- made from good quality material
- will last a long time
- a little expensive
This structure is just a nesting platform without a roof, so it needs to be placed in an area protected from rain and sun. This makes it the most open of all the options, which should appeal the most to finches.
I’ve always disliked having the manufacturer’s logo visible, so you can decide whether that’s a deal breaker.
Size: 7″ x 7.25″ x 10.5″ H
- open design
- white pine
- logo visible
Navaris Small Bird Nest Box
Ignore the species description on the product website – they mention multiple species, most of which won’t use a structure like this. However, finches should use it because it’s a relatively open, simple design. It would benefit from a protected mounting location due to the partial roof and lack of drainage holes.
This is one of the smaller options, but it’s definitely within the range of most finch nest sizes. Consider this if you have a smaller area where you want to place a nesting box.
I find it distracting when the manufacturer has their logo on a birdhouse. Still, at least this one is relatively unobtrusive.
Otherwise, its clean lines make it an understated addition to your backyard.
Size: 5.9″ W x 4.7″ D x 9.25″ H
- small size
- made from pine
- partial roof
Stovall Nesting Shelf
A nice simple open design that should work well for finches, as the walls are fairly minimal. It looks like the wood, presumably pine (not specified), has been stained, so it should be weather resistant.
However, even when bases aren’t enclosed, I like to see drainage holes, as water will pool at the back if mounted on an angle. So add some holes or mount it in a protected place.
Size: 7.75″ D x 8.5″ W x 13.25″ H
- open design
- wood type not given
Zootealy Bird House
I’m generally not a fan of overly artsy or fancy birdhouses. Bells and whistles don’t make houses more attractive or safer for the birds. Yet here I made an exception.
The design caught my eye because it looks natural and has a pleasing flow. I’d go with this one if you’re looking for a fancier finch birdhouse to match your backyard decor.
The roof completely overhangs the base, which is a nice feature. However, on closer inspection, you can see that where the two halves of the roof join, there’s a wide gap that will let rain fall onto the nest – and there are no drainage holes. This is the first reason this one should be mounted in a protected area.
The wood type is not specified, but it looks like plywood. This means it’s not super strong or weather resistant, and this is another reason it should be protected from the elements.
Lastly, it’s a hanging structure, so the wind will make the platform sway. Birds generally prefer solid nesting structures. See if you can get creative and secure this to corners or trees to make it more secure.
Size: 11.81″ L x 8.66″ W x 1.97″ H
- aesthetically very pleasing
- gap at the peak of the roof
- will sway in the wind
Urban Nature Store Nesting Shelf
This nesting platform has a nice, simple design that will blend into any natural environment. It’s not very weather resistant because it’s made from white pine.
The roof doesn’t overhang the base but is flush with the base. The base has no drainage holes. Because of that, I suggest mounting this in a more sheltered area.
Size: 10.75″ W x 9.25″ D x 13.5″ H
- simple, fairly open design
- the roof doesn’t overhang the base
- made from pine
Fridja DIY Wooden Birdhouse
This one got novelty bonus points. This is my first time seeing a pre-fabricated cut-out style birdhouse where you assemble the parts. Technically it is an enclosed birdhouse, but the style should be close enough for finches due to the large front and back holes and partially open sides.
I don’t know how strong the frame is, and with the lack of drainage holes, I suggest this be mounted in a very protected area. Since it only has a string for attachment, I recommend attaching additional strings as horizontal supports to nearby structures so the birdhouse doesn’t swing in the wind.
I suggest removing the long perch as finches don’t need it, and it only makes it easier for predators to gain access. It’s also the cheapest of all the options.
Size: 12.6″ L x 7.87″ H (width not specified)
- low price
- a fun activity to put together yourself or with family
- type of wood not specified
- may be fragile
- requires additional attachment to make it secure
Birding Cedar Nesting Platform
If you want solid, this is the way to go. It’s made from cedar, the ideal material, and has a pleasing rough look that will match well with wooden siding or a fence in a more rustic area.
However, it is more enclosed than the other designs, which may deter some finches.
It doesn’t have drainage holes, and the base is longer than the roof, so you’ll need to mount this in a protected area or add drainage holes.
- made from cedar
- solid design
- no dimensions given
- more enclosed than other designs
Duncraft Nesting Shelf
This model is also fairly enclosed, so the odds of attracting finches may be lower with this type of design.
There is no evidence of drainage holes, and it looks like the base is longer than the roof. The wood type is not specified, but it looks like pine. These features mean you’ll seek a protected area to mount this box.
This company also displays its logo on the front shelf of the box, which I find distracting.
Size: 6″ x 8″ x 12″ H
- wood type not specified
- fairly enclosed
- logo visible
Simon King Secret Nester
This is a different type of design and the only one not made of some type of solid wood. It’s enclosed but has a large opening, so it may appeal to those house finches looking for a concealed nesting spot.
The website claims it’s made from natural brushwood, so it’s unclear how long it will last exposed to the elements.
Some wire is supplied for attachment, but there are no specific details on how exactly to attach it. It would be best used on a lattice, bush, or other structure with small projections to tie it onto.
If the attachment wire proved unsuitable, it would be relatively easy to use your own wire and weave it through the structure’s wire frame for a more secure attachment.
Size: depends on the website; one claims it is 14 cm high x 25 cm long x 13 cm deep, another one claims measurements of 15 cm high x 27.5 cm long x 15 cm deep; yet another one claims 14.5 cm high x 27 cm long x 13 cm deep; yet another one incorrectly advertises it as 0.5” high X 1” long X 0.49” deep.
Except for the last incorrect description, the other ones are all in the acceptable range for house finches, even though the exact measurements differ.
- has interior roof lining to make it more waterproof
- drains naturally
- incorrect and inconsistent size dimensions
- may not last long
Do It Yourself
Suppose none of the above structures appeal to you. In that case, you have some flexibility in building your nesting structure and where you place it because house finches are such nest site generalists.
Ideally, you’ll want to use untreated cedar or cypress wood, as they are naturally weather resistant.
Inside dimensions should be about 15cm (6 inches) square to accommodate the largest nests and up to 20cm (8 inches) high. Do not include a front panel.
The inclusion of side walls is optional. Partial walls (with or without a front ledge) are also an option – they can help wedge the nest more securely and provide a little more protection against the weather without making the structure feel too enclosed.
Drainage holes will always help and never hurt. If there’s no front ledge, having a hole at each back corner will suffice.
Make sure the roof overhangs the base for maximal protection against the elements. A good overhang is at least 2 inches past the base. You can forgo this requirement if you’re going to mount the box to a completely protected area, for example, a porch or barn.
The roof should slope, but you can choose whether to have a single piece sloping to the front or have a peaked roof sloping to either side.
Because house finches are such generalists, the exact design won’t make or break getting a pair to nest. As long as you follow those basic rules, your structure should be acceptable to house finches, and if they do use it, you can rest assured you’ve done the right things to help the nest succeed.
House finches really do nest anywhere, with deciduous trees the only type of tree they tend to avoid.
Otherwise, they’ve been seen nesting in coniferous trees, palm trees, olive trees, cacti, rock ledges, vents, ledges, ivy on buildings, street lamps, hanging planters, windowsills, bridges, barns, abandoned farm equipment, parking structures, and under roofs. Nests may be conspicuous or completely hidden.
This gives you a lot of flexibility in where you choose to put your nest box based on your particular backyard configuration. Would you like to have a nest on your porch? Outside your window? In the middle of your yard? Near a tree?
You’ll need to select a location before you build your box because that will determine some of the construction details relevant to how you will attach it.
Keep in mind house finches seek protection from rain and sun, so try to place it facing away from the prevailing wind.
If you mount your structure on a pole, you can install a collar or stovepipe baffle to prevent predators from climbing up. This will help to deter mammals and snakes.
Points to Keep in Mind
- Use untreated wood – cedar and cypress are great choices for a long-lasting birdhouse
- Use galvanized screws – nails can loosen over time
- Make a sloped roof – overhang the base by 2-4 inches
- Include drainage holes – drill four small holes (3/8 to 1/4 inch diameter) in the corners
House Finch Biology
Keep these details about house finch biology in mind:
- Nesting begins as early as February
- Nests are placed on average 5m high
- Only females build the nest
- Length of construction varies; early nests take about 1-3 weeks, and later nests are often finished in <1 week
- Nesting material includes grass, leaves, twigs, feathers, and garbage, especially cigarette filters
- Nest size is variable, from 8-17cm (3.1-6.7 inches) in diameter
- 2-7 eggs are laid
- Often has 2 broods per year, sometimes 3
- Rarely reuse nests, but often reuse nesting material in a new location
A pathogen called Mycoplasma gallisepticum causes conjunctivitis (eye infections recognized by red, swollen, watery, or crusty eyes) in house finches. In 1994 there was an outbreak among finches that killed millions of individuals.
It’s transmitted through direct contact between birds, but the pathogen can remain alive on surfaces for up to 24 hours. Infected individuals can die directly from the disease but also through high predation rates on partially blind individuals and through starvation when individuals can no longer find food.
Though the conjunctivitis pathogen doesn’t live long on surfaces, you’ll want to keep your eye out for it in your backyard finches. Immediately take down feeders and unused birdhouses if you see any signs of swollen or crusty eyes.
Feeders are a major transmission source since multiple birds use them within a short period. Birdhouses are less likely to transmit the disease since only one pair uses them. Still, there’s the chance during nest prospecting that multiple individuals could visit them.
Answer: It can be both! In house finches, where only females build the nest, first-year females are not good at nest placement and structure. It turns out they watch older females build nests to learn how to do it better!
Answer: Yes…and no. They are native to deserts in the western part of North America. In 1939, some individuals were released into New York, and from there, they colonized most of the eastern part of North America while, at the same time, their western population began expanding its range.
House finches are very adaptable, evolving from a desert-dwelling population into one that now inhabits every habitat. Remember that it can be easy to confuse house finches with native purple finches and invasive house sparrows, as the females look similar.
Answer: Probably nothing. It’s common for house finches to start building a couple of nests, then focus on only one site, or leave both and start a new nest somewhere else. In some places, house finches build ‘preliminary nests’ that are loosely structured and very large before choosing a new site to build their real nest.
Sometimes pairs will complete a nest and then decide on a new nest site, deconstructing the old nest and using those materials to build a new one. In short, exactly what cues the finches use to select the best site is unclear!
House finches are one of the most adaptable bird species, and their generalist nesting habits reflect that. Though they rarely use cavities, they may use a nesting platform if it has a good roof and base to protect them from sun and rain.
The Bluebird Landing Platform is a great choice for anyone who wants finches, as its high-quality material will last for years. With luck, you’ll have house finches nesting in your yard in no time.
Badyaev, A. V., V. Belloni, and G. E. Hill (2020). House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.houfin.01
Looking for more interesting readings? Check out: