Of the nine species of finches in Kentucky, only three species are recognized as regularly occurring, plus there are an additional six accidental or introduced species. This guide will help you identify them with photos, song recordings, and when and where to spot them.
- Finches in Kentucky all year: American Goldfinch, House Finch
- Finches in Kentucky in winter: Purple Finch, Pine Siskin
Finches are small to medium-sized songbirds with conical bills suitable for breaking seeds and nuts. They have round, compact bodies, notched tails, and relatively pointed wings.
Despite their size, they’re often easy to spot because of their bright yellow and red colors, mostly in males. Females are less colorful than males and blend into their surroundings, and are more green and brown in color.
There are 240 species of True Finches belonging to the Fringillidae family found worldwide, except for the polar regions. They are called ‘True Finches’ as birds from other families may also be called finches, but they are not officially finches. The finch family also includes redpolls, siskins and some grosbeaks.
Finches love to eat seeds, and they have strong bills that are perfect for cracking them open. However, insects are usually fed to their young because they still can’t crack seeds open on their own.
Finches are highly sociable birds that can often be heard before they are seen as they chatter away in their groups. They don’t necessarily all have a melodious song, but some certainly do, so check them out for yourself.
Nests of finches are simple constructions in trees and shrubs, made from twigs and other woven material and lined with softer material.
A group of Finches is called a “charm”. Maybe that’s also why many finches are caged birds because of their musical voice and their bright colors.
Finches are sadly in decline due to habitat loss, window collisions, pesticide use, and cats. Some are now on Red Lists, but you can help by keeping cats indoors, not using pesticides, and providing natural habitats.
If you want to attract Finches to your backyard, provide them with tube feeders filled with sunflower seeds, a water source that does not freeze, and a place for them to nest. You can also use these free bird ID charts for Kentucky to help identify many of the birds that visit your backyard.
This guide will help you identify the types of finches spotted in Kentucky according to avibase. The birds in this list are ordered by how frequently they are spotted, from most frequent to least frequent, according to bird watchers’ checklists submitted to ebird.
9 Species of Finches in Kentucky:
1. American Goldfinch
American Goldfinches can be spotted in Kentucky all year. They are recorded in 42% of summer checklists and 33% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
American Goldfinches are popular birds. The males have bright yellow and black coloring in spring. The females are duller brown, as are males in winter.
- Spinus tristis
- Length: 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
American Goldfinches can be found in most of North America and are usually resident all year. However, those that breed in Canada and the Midwest migrate to the southern US States for winter.
You can find American Goldfinch in weedy fields and overgrown areas foraging for sunflower, thistle, and aster plants. They are also common in suburbs, parks, and backyards.
American Goldfinch Song:
Nests of American Goldfinches are usually located in saplings or shrubs. They are made of grass, bark strips, and feathers on which the female lays four to six eggs. It takes ten to twelve days for the eggs to hatch, and while the male feeds the female, she incubates the eggs.
Attract American Goldfinches to your backyard by planting thistles and milkweed. They will visit most bird feeders and prefer sunflower seed and nyjer seed.
Fun Fact: Brown-headed Cowbirds are known for laying eggs in an American Goldfinch nest, but unfortunately, the seed-based diet that the parents feed them is unsuitable for them, and they eventually die.
2. House Finch
House Finches are introduced species in Kentucky and are residents here all year. They do not migrate and appear in 25% of summer checklists and 28% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
House Finch males have a red head and breast, and the rest of their bodies are mainly brown-streaked. Females are brown-streaked all over.
- Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 5.1-5.5 in (13-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-0.9 oz (16-27 g)
- Wingspan: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)
Originally only in western US states, House Finches were introduced to eastern US states and have done very well, even pushing out the Purple Finch.
You can find House Finches in parks, farms, forest edges, and backyard feeders in noisy groups that are hard to miss. They feed on seeds, fruit, and buds.
House Finch Song:
House Finch Call:
Nests of House Finches are commonly found in thickets, bushes, natural, hollow cavities, or even in buildings. The female builds them using grass, leaves, twigs, and feathers. There can be two to six eggs at a time that take as much as two weeks to hatch.
Attract House Finches to backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, millet, and milo or nyjer seeds in tube feeders or platform feeders.
Fun Fact: House Finches were brought to Long Island as caged birds. When they were released into the wild, they flourished and spread to the eastern United States.
3. Purple Finch
Purple Finches are spotted in Kentucky mainly during winter, from September to May. They are recorded in 4% of winter checklists.
Purple Finches males have reddish-purple heads and breasts with more brown on the back and wings, and they have a paler belly. Females are brown-streaked all over. They look very similar to House Finch but are redder, especially at the top of their back.
- Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 4.7-6.3 in (12-16 cm)
- Weight: 0.6-1.1 oz (18-32 g)
- Wingspan: 8.7-10.2 in (22-26 cm)
Purple Finches breed in Canada and overwinter in eastern states but can be found all year in the north-east and Pacific coast.
You can find Purple Finch in evergreen forests feeding on seeds but also buds, nectar, and berries.
Purple Finch Song:
Nests of Purple Finches are located high up in trees. They are made of twigs, barks, weeds, and moss. They usually hold three to five eggs that are incubated for thirteen days by the female.
Attract Purple Finches to your backyards with black oil sunflower seeds.
Fun Fact: Purple Finches are the state bird of New Hampshire.
4. Pine Siskin
Pine Siskins are commonly seen during winter in Kentucky, mostly from October to May. They are recorded in 2% of winter checklists.
Pine Siskins are small brown finches with yellow streaks on the wing and tail. They have a forked tail and pointed wings, with a short pointed bill.
- Spinus Pinus
- Length: 4.3-5.5 in (11-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.6 oz (12-18 g)
- Wingspan: 7.1-8.7 in (18-22 cm)
Pine Siskins remain all year in the pine forests in the western states and along the Canadian Border. Some also breed in Canada before heading south for winter.
Depending on pine cone crops, they can be found over much of North America. As their name suggests, Pine Siskins predominantly eat seeds from conifers, but they also eat young buds and seeds from grasses and weeds.
Pine Siskin Song:
Nests of Pine Siskins are built ten to fifty feet high above the ground, away from the tree trunk. They are usually made of twigs, barks, and moss and are home to three to five eggs. It takes about thirteen days for the eggs to hatch.
Attract Pine Siskins to your backyards with thistle and nyjer feeders but also black oil sunflower seeds and suet.
Fun Fact: The name “Siskin” comes from the Pine Siskin’s chirp. So, it’s basically a “pine chirper.”
5. Evening Grosbeak
Evening Grosbeaks are vulnerable and an accidental species in Kentucky, but there have been recorded sightings in the state.
Evening Grosbeaks are chunky birds with big bills and a striking yellow and black pattern. Adult males have a bright yellow stripe over their eyes, making them look fierce. Their heads are black, with gray necks, and their chest and belly are yellow. They also have a white patch on their wings.
Females and juvenile males have greenish bills, mostly gray bodies, black and white wings, and a yellow tinge to the neck.
- Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 16 to 22 cm (6.3 to 8.7 in)
- Weight: 38.7 to 86.1 g (1.37 to 3.04 oz)
- Wingspan: 30 to 36 cm (12 to 14 in)
Evening Grosbeaks remain all year in southern Canada and down the west coast to northern California. However, when cone crops are poor, they will migrate south to most US states.
You can find Evening Grosbeaks in forests and mountain regions. During the winter, they’re often attracted to bird feeders in backyards, most often because it’s an easy food supply.
Evening Grosbeaks naturally feed on flower buds during spring; insect larvae from treetops during the summer; and in the winter, they flock to backyard feeders or feast on seeds, berries, and small fruit.
Evening Grosbeak Song:
Nests of Evening Grosbeaks are usually found up to 100 feet above ground in pine trees. The nests are loosely made, composed of twigs, rootlets, grass, moss, and pine needles. There are usually up to five eggs laid by the female, and she incubates them for two weeks until they hatch.
Attract Evening Grosbeaks to your backyard during winter with sunflower seeds, berries, and maple buds.
Fun Fact: Evening Grosbeaks have such powerful bills that they can crush seeds that are too hard to open for other smaller birds, so these birds hang around to eat whatever is left behind.
6. Red Crossbill
Red Crossbills are considered rare or accidental species in Kentucky, but there were recent sightings in the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park Campground.
Red Crossbill males are red birds with darker wings and tails. Females are yellow and brown. Their beaks are an unusual twisted shape that crosses when closed. They have notched tails. Juveniles are browner in color.
- Loxia curvirostra
- Length: 5.5-6.5 in (14-17 cm)
- Weight: 1.4 oz (40 g)
- Wingspan: 10-10.75 in (25-27 cm)
Red Crossbills live year-round in northern and western states and winter in eastern states if cone crops are poor.
You can find Red Crossbills mainly in coniferous forests but also along roadsides consuming grit in the mornings. They feed on conifer seeds and forage in flocks from tree to tree, even breaking unopened cones with their powerful beaks.
Red Crossbill Song:
Nests of Red Crossbills are found near the end of a pine tree. They are shallow saucers made of bark, grass, and roots and lined with moss and plants. The female lays three to four eggs that take as long as eighteen days to hatch.
Attract Red Crossbills to your backyards with Safflower, Apple Slices, Suet, Millet, Peanut Kernels, and fruits.
Fun Fact: Red Crossbills have different types of beaks and utter different flight calls. Birds with the same type of crossbill flock together and recognize each other’s flight calls.
7. Common Redpoll
Common Redpolls are considered rare or accidental species in Kentucky, but they have been spotted in Bowling Green and Mammoth Cave National Park.
Common Redpolls are small and have red foreheads, and are brown and white streaked over the rest of their bodies. Males also have pink breasts, but females do not. They have small bills for finch and a short notched tail.
- Acanthis flammea
- Length: 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm)
- Weight: 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g)
- Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm)
Common Redpolls breed in artic in Canada and spend the winter in the rest of Canada and northern US states and less frequently in central US states.
In winter, they will sometimes tunnel into the snow to stay warm during the night. They can eat up to 42% of their body mass every day and can store up to 2 grams of seeds in a stretchy park of their esophagus.
You can find Common Redpolls in weedy fields or feeding on catkins in trees, but they will also come to feeders for small seeds such as nyjer seeds or thistle.
Common Redpoll Song:
Nests of Common Redpolls are hidden in rock crevices or in dense, low shrubs. To keep the nests and the eggs warm, they are usually built out of moss, feathers, plant material, and animal hair. The female lays four to seven eggs that she incubates for about eleven days. Even after they hatch, the young still stay in the nest and are cared for by their mothers for two more weeks.
Attract Common Redpolls to your backyard by feeding them nyjer seeds and shelled sunflower seeds.
Fun Fact: Common Redpolls can survive temperatures of -65 Fahrenheit without freezing to death. They add around 30% more feathers to stay warm.
8. White-winged Crossbill
White-winged Crossbills are accidental species in Kentucky that were last spotted in Logan Hubble Memorial Park and around Lexington.
White-winged Crossbills are finches with heavy crossed beaks. Males are red birds with black wings and tails and two white wingbars. Females are yellow and brown and with two white wing bars.
- Loxia leucoptera
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in (15-17 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-0.9 oz (24-26 g)
- Wingspan: 10.2-11.0 in (26-28 cm)
White-winged Crossbills live in forests in Canada, Alaska, and sometimes the northern US states when cone crops are poor further north.
You can find White-winged crossbills in spruce forests feeding on seeds.
White-winged Crossbill Song:
Nests of White-winged Crossbills are nestled in horizontal tree branches. They are made of twigs, bark, grass, moss, and lichens. There are as many as five eggs in a nest, with the female incubating them for two weeks until they hatch.
Fun Fact: Unusually, these birds breed at any time of year as long as there is enough food. They can often be heard in large flocks.
9. Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinches are accidental species in Kentucky. They are extremely rare and have only been spotted in Elizabethtown, but not for many years.
Lesser Goldfinches are tiny bright yellow and black songbirds with long pointed wings and short notched tails. Females have olive backs and are more dull yellow underneath.
- Spinus psaltria
- Length: 3.5-4.3 in (9-11 cm)
- Weight: 0.3-0.4 oz (8-11.5 g)
- Wingspan: 5.9-7.9 in (15-20 cm)
Lesser Goldfinches live in the southwestern US states and the West Coast all year, but those that breed in the interior of western US states migrate for winter.
You can find Lesser Goldfinches in large flocks in open habitats, including thickets, weedy fields, forest clearings, parks, and gardens. They forage for seeds, especially sunflower seeds, but also fruits from elderberry, coffeeberry, and buds from cottonwoods, willows, sycamores, and alders.
Lesser Goldfinch call/Song:
Nests of Lesser Goldfinches are built in a tree or a low bush. The female uses twigs, barks, leaves, and rootlets to make the nest for her three to six eggs. She will incubate them for as long as twelve days until they hatch.
Attract Lesser Goldfinches to your backyards with sunflower seeds and nyjer in tube feeders or platform feeders.
Fun Fact: The Lesser Goldfinch is named as such because it’s the smallest Goldfinch.
How Frequently Finches are Spotted in Kentucky in Summer and Winter
Checklists are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted. These lists show which Finches are most frequently recorded on checklists on ebird in summer and winter.
Finches In Kentucky in Summer:
American Goldfinch 42.5%
House Finch 25.7%
Pine Siskin 0.9%
Purple Finch 0.3%
Evening Grosbeak <0.1%
Red Crossbill <0.1%
White-winged Crossbill <0.1%
Finches In Kentucky in Winter:
American Goldfinch 33.2%
House Finch 28.7%
Purple Finch 4.7%
Pine Siskin 2.4%
Evening Grosbeak 0.2%
Red Crossbill 0.1%
Common Redpoll <0.1%
White-winged Crossbill <0.1%