Equidistant from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, The Union’s most central state is composed of hills and forests in the east and vast plains in the west. With large expanses of fertile land, Kansas is also one of the most important agricultural states in the USA.
The Sunflower State isn’t just abundant in crops, though! 225 species of bird are considered as regularly occurring here, including 11 beautiful finches.
Its position in the southern part of the Midwest makes Kansas an unusual place for finches to breed, leaving winter as the best time to see them here. Chattering away up in the forest canopy or descending on backyard bird feeders, it’s great fun watching the wide variety of finch flocks foraging greedily during the colder months.
Let’s get to know the finches of Kansas better, learning their appearance, habitats, seasonality, and how to attract them to your backyard.
Finches in Kansas, Starting With the Most Common
- Scientific Name: 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)
Seen by more than one in four birdwatchers throughout the year, American goldfinches are by far the most common finch in Kansas, and also the most frequently seen in the United States.
Goldfinch flocks are a common sight in Kansas during the winter months when they scour farmlands and forests in search of their favorite seeds and grains. Their love of grains also makes them one of the most prolific guests at backyard feeders.
Because they reside here all year, Kansans can enjoy the momentous color transformation of American goldfinches in spring. While males are a dreary gray color in the winter months, the breeding season sees them erupting into the brilliant gold that earned them their name.
Their breeding plumage makes it easier to identify American goldfinches, but throughout the year they can be recognized by their frequent calls and chatter.
- Scientific Name: 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)
House finches are a relatively recent introduction to Kansas but are already the second most finch in the state.
Until recent decades, house finches were confined to the Western United States and Mexico. That all changed when they were released into New York City after being kept as caged birds in the 1940s.
House finches soon spread, and aided by their talent for living alongside humans, rose to dominance in much of the country – including the Midwest. Now they’re a frequent sight in suburbs and farms, frequently nesting near human habitation.
House finches seem to have been welcomed more than house sparrows and starlings. Perhaps it’s partly due to the beautiful red crown and upper body of the male that originally made them popular as caged birds.
- Scientific Name: 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 have been one of the chief victims of the house finches’ rise to dominance in the Eastern and Central States, and scientific studies have revealed that they’re outcompeted more often than not by their western cousins.
Regardless, purple finches were never the most common finch in Kansas and only use the state as an overwintering ground. In spring, they fly to more northerly US states and Canada to nest and raise their young.
While purple finches share many of the same characteristics as house finches, males are even more colorful – some have even said that the male looks like it’s been dipped in raspberry jam!
Although gardeners have been suspicious of the purple finches’ love of fruits and fruit buds, studies have shown that by feeding on pest insects and weed seeds they actually do more good than harm.
- Scientific Name: 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)
If you had to name the most widespread finch in the USA, I bet you wouldn’t guess the pine siskin. Few people realize that this nomadic finch can be seen from Alaska to Florida, and every other mainland state in the USA.
It’s interesting, then, that pine siskins aren’t seen anywhere with any great consistency. The wandering flocks simply stop off anywhere there are rich feeding and breeding opportunities before moving on.
In Kansas, they’re seen by nearly 5% of birdwatchers in winter, and around half this during the summer. Listen out for their noisy flocks passing overhead on their search for seeds of conifers, birches, and alders, as well as in meadows searching for weeds and seeds.
Look out for the male’s courtship flight in spring, circling above the female with wings spread and singing heartily! He’ll often bring her food to win her charms, too.
- Scientific Name: 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 are rarely seen in Kansas. When they are, it’s usually in winter, but still only make it onto 1 in 500 bird checklists during this time.
The reason for their scarcity in Kansas is that crossbills are typically northerly specialists. Scouring conifer forests in search of the seeds that make up the bulk of their diet, they’re seen more often in the south when conifer seeds are in short supply further north.
The striking red color of the male and green female make red crossbills among the most exotic finches in North America. These parrot-like, beautiful birds are inquisitive, playful, and seemingly unafraid of human proximity.
Another interesting trait of crossbills is their willingness to breed at any time of the year whenever food is plentiful! The most common months for breeding, however, are February and March.
- Scientific Name: 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)
Even more of a northerly bird than the red crossbill is the common redpoll. As one of the hardiest small birds in the world, large numbers of them breed within the Arctic Circle.
It’s only when food supplies are very scarce further north that flocks of common redpolls venture this far south. Look out for them chattering away among birch trees and weedy fields as they search for edible seeds.
Both male and female common redpolls are characterized by their ruby red caps, earning them their common name. Males also have an attractive deep pink chest, and both sexes have largely black and white streaked bodies and yellow bills.
- Scientific Name: 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)
The smallest member of the goldfinch family is the lesser goldfinch. Normally a bird of the Western USA and Mexico, they almost never venture this far east and are considered accidental in Kansas.
Unlike American goldfinches, lesser goldfinches don’t change their plumage significantly during the year, but their appearance does vary according to the region.
If you were to see this species of finches in Kansas, it’d most likely be the Texas subspecies in the west of the state. The male of this subspecies has a bright golden chest with black back and wings, whereas the females are more grayish in color.
According to Sibley’s Guide to Birds, lesser goldfinches are usually seen in flocks foraging in open habitats like brushy fields and woodland edges.
- Sibley Guide To Birds, 2nd Ed
- Sibley, David Allen (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Last update on 2023-12-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- Scientific Name: 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)
The white-winged cross (also known as the two-barred crossbill) is a close cousin of the red crossbill but is less adventurous in its nomadic wanderings.
Whereas red crossbills can be seen from Alaska to Mexico, and from Japan to Morocco, white-winged crossbills spend most of their time in Canada and the northernmost United States. They only turn up in states like Kansas when their usual food supplies are running dry.
Like red crossbills, white-winged crossbills are largely dependent on conifer seeds for food, so need to travel when pine and spruce trees don’t offer a good harvest. For this reason, climate change could significantly affect their numbers and distribution.
- Scientific Name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 8 In (20cm)
- Weight: 2.1 Oz (60g)
- Wingspan: 14 inches (35cm)
Another very rare northerly visitor to Kansas, the evening grosbeak is recorded by less than one in a thousand bird watchers in Kansas – and only during the winter.
If you were to spot an evening grosbeak this far south, though, it’d be all the more special! Weighing in at 2 ounces with a 14-inch wingspan, these finches are more than twice the size of many of their relatives and are impressive, colorful birds.
As with the other rare finches listed above, evening grosbeaks are known as an ‘irruptive species’ – suddenly appearing in flocks in years when food sources are in short supply further north. Wielding their mighty bills to crack open tough shells, evening grosbeaks can feed on seeds that other finches must leave behind.
The oldest recorded evening grosbeak was a male and was at least 16 years, and 3 months old when he was rebranded in 1974. This makes them not only one of the largest but also one of the longest-lived of New World finches.
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous cassinii
- Length: 6.3 in (16 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.2 oz (24-34 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-10.6 in (25-27 cm)
Nowhere in North America is Cassin’s finch particularly common, and they’re very seldom seen in Kansas. Your only small chance of seeing one here would be in the west of the state during the winter.
The reason for this is that Cassin’s finch is a montane conifer specialist, spending most of its time in the Rocky Mountains, searching for seeds, fruit, and insects, in trees and on the ground.
Only in very lean years might one or two stray into the midwest, perhaps exploring the mountainous regions on the border with Colorado.
Male Cassin’s finches are very pretty birds, with rosy pink breasts and bright red crested crowns. Their appearance is reminiscent of their genus mates, the house finch, and the purple finch.
- Scientific Name: Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 7.9-9.8 in (20-25 cm)
- Weight: 2.1 oz (60 g)
- Wingspan: 14.5 in (33 cm)
Pine grosbeaks are the largest of all the world’s finches and are impressive birds to behold. Both sexes have long, notched tails, stubby bills, and white wing bars. Males are reddish and gray in color, whereas females are gray-brown.
In summer, pine grosbeaks nest in the far north or at high altitudes in coniferous forests. In winter, they sometimes travel south, but rarely as far as Kansas. Since it‘d be a newsworthy event, be sure to inform a relevant authority such as the Kansas Ornithological Society if you see one here!
Like several other northern specialists, the pine grosbeak can be spotted in boreal forests around the world. The coniferous forests of Russia are a stronghold for this species, and they can even be found in Northern Japan and China!
Two Accidental Finches in Kansas
As well as the eleven finches lifted above, there are two more finches that are even less frequently seen in Kansas.
The Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) and Gray-crowned Rosy finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis) are typically confined to more westerly states, but occasional sightings have been confirmed as accidental visitors by the Kansas Bird Watching Committee.
Kansas hosts a plethora of finch species, although many of them are very rare.
Whether you’re enjoying purple finches nibbling sunflower seeds at your platform feeder, or watching red crossbills picking through pine cones in the forest canopy, there are endless opportunities to enjoy these fascinating songbirds in Kansas.
Discover the diverse avian wonders of Kansas by checking out our guide about 25 wonderful birds that you can see in the Sunflower State.
As some of the prime predators of finches, you might enjoy familiarizing yourself with the hawks that frequent the forests, hills, and fields of the Sunflower State. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of them here.