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Orange Variant House Finch

We had an orange variant house finch show up at feeders. Usually when you think male house finch, you think pink–and there can be various shades of pink. Periodically, you might even notice and orange one like the bird above or perhaps even a yellow male.

Here’s a comparison of an orange variant male house finch and a typical pink colored male house finch. According to Birds of North America Online, the color of male feathers results from 3 carotenoid pigments: ß-carotene, which produces yellow to orange color in feathers; isocryptoxanthin, which produces orange color in feathers; and echinenone, which produces red color in feathers. By doing controlled feeding experiments with captive house finches researchers found that all individual male finches in all populations all over the US have same potential to be pink, orange, or yellow; the color variation based on the finch’s access to carotenoid pigments when they are molting (shedding old feathers and growing in new ones).

In experiments, males that were fed a plain seed diet, which was fully nutritious but provided few carotenoid pigments, all males grew feathers with similar pale yellow coloration. On a seed diet with ß-carotene added, all males grew pale orange feathers. And, on a seed diet with the red carotenoid canthaxanthin added, all males grew bright red feathers. So, this male above is getting his ß-carotene, but not the right carotenoids for red feathers.

There is also a study that suggests the brightness in color in male house finches can be a signal of nutritional health to female house finches. Females may look at a brightly colored male as a better mate since he appears to have access to a good food supply in his territory.

10 comments to Orange Variant House Finch

  • Larry S

    Moral of the story – eat your veggies – they have b-carotene and other good stuff in them :))

  • Rick

    Actually the Orange variant is a better parent than the Red male. He is more attentive to the female.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if you could track the varients like you can track the color of trees in the fall to see correllations between, in the birds’ cases, food supply in a given year (and maybe, perhaps weather trends affecting the food supply), as you might see tree color based on water and sunlight patterns. Wow. That was an awkward sentence. :)

    I’ve never commented, but I’m learning a lot about birds, and love the bees posts! Thanks!
    JulieB

  • Susan Gets Native

    I have a few orangy male HOF around here. I yell at them to go eat something carotinoid already! How are you ever gonna get a honey looking like that?!?

    I read somewhere that there’s a theory about a correlation between “orange” male HOF and susceptibility to mycoplasmal conjunctivitis.

  • Bird Feeder Scott

    I have one House Finch that frequents my feeder that has tons of orange and yellow highlights. But, unlike this bird, it has very dark coloring. I’ve always thought that it was a stunning bird. This is the best picture I’ve gotten of it so far — LINK It has even darker markings when viewed from the front. Beautiful bird! I always wondered where it got that pigment.

  • Vicki

    All the House Finches that hang around in our yard are orange. Perhaps this is a Southern California thing?

  • Anonymous

    Watched a house finch(red)fledge 2 clutches this season from a nest built in the top cap of a natural gas container behind the home a local biologist. Some photos and archives can be found at briloon.org; check the finch cam for the archives as the birds are now long gone.

    It was neat to see the babies as they hatched and they surely would be candidates for your Ugly BabyBird Hall of Fame…..I actually thought the baby rock doves were kinda ‘cute’ in a colorful sort of way!

    Thanks for the carotene info, I’d read that stuff myself in Sibley but you made it more understandable. Can’t wait to check out your new book and get a copy for my brother in VA who called me recently knowing I love birds to tell me of this beautiful red bird he saw with a crazy orange beak – he’d never seen it before! Honey, he needs a basic bird book if he can’t pick out a cardinal, I was shamed!! Ahhhh we all start somewhere.

    Jacci in S.P.ME

  • Anonymous

    Why is that color called pink? Why not red?

    Liz in NoWhere PA

  • dguzman

    I think he’s pretty!

  • Laurel Krahn

    Craig Newmark (the Craig of Craig’s List) has posted about orange house finches at his feeder. There was an earlier post with pic too.

    We just have very pink ones, have yet to see an orange one.