North Dakota’s strategic spot right beneath Canada makes it a feast for the birdwatcher’s eyes. This state’s prairies and fields are home to 12 common (and rather elusive) finch species.
While you won’t find many mountains in North Dakota, you’ll get plenty of wide, open plains as far as the eye can see. Finches are rather adaptable songbirds who love a change of scenery as much as the next person.
Let’s go on a journey through North Dakota’s beautiful wilderness by exploring 12 different finch species. I’ll share tips on how to attract them to your feeder or spot them on a hike.
- Species Name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 12 cm to 16 cm
- Weight: 18 grams to 32 grams
- Wingspan: 22 cm to 26 cm
North Dakota bird watching just isn’t the same without glimpsing these charming birds. Purple finches are rare in the state, but they dazzle with their sociable personalities and vivacious coloration.
The male purple finch is sometimes referred to as being ‘dipped in raspberry juice’. It’s an apt description because they’re covered in vivid reddish pink from head to toe.
Their bellies are white and their bills can look grayish or purplish depending on the light.
Female purple finches go for an earthy approach with their brown and white bodies. They have a thick white streak along the sides of their head and a spotted stomach.
Purple finches appear in most of North Dakota during the non-breeding season. However, you may catch them migrating in the eastern portion of the state.
These finches generally prefer forested areas, hence why they’re not all that common. They may sometimes visit quiet suburban neighborhoods if they have a few extra trees.
These adaptable birds will shift from perusing trees to foraging along the ground. They enjoy a diverse diet of seeds, insects, berries, and various plant matter.
Black oil sunflower seeds are a good way to attract them, but there’s another thing you can do to increase your chances. If you’re a fan of landscaping, consider planting a few coniferous trees.
Since purple finches prefer more forested areas, you can simulate their environment in your backyard.
Purple finches have a darling call of high, lilting warbles and twitters. They often have long pauses in between the notes of their rich song.
One of my favorite aspects of bird watching is the variety of unique nest shapes different species will make. The purple finch creates a bird’s nest that looks like a little cup.
- Species Name: Spinus pinus
- Length: 11 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 12 grams to 18 grams
- Wingspan: 18 cm to 22 cm
A slightly more common finch in North Dakota is the tiny pine siskin, a rather unique member of the finch family. Unlike their stocky cousins, these finches have tiny beaks and a light weight.
The male pine siskin has a small, sleek frame and a small conical bill. He’s a light olive-brown with darker wing bars and a dusting of yellow all over.
Female pine siskins are hard to distinguish from the males but have less yellow. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you still get them confused, though.
Pine siskins earned their title due to their love of pine cones. They usually show up in the western portions of the state, particularly when it gets cold.
These finches you’re more likely to see when out on a nature walk rather than at home.
Although pine siskins usually prefer to eat seeds, they’ll sometimes try flower buds or dig around in various weeds. When their food supply runs dry, they’ll try the occasional insect.
You may see a few pine siskins visiting your backyard bird feeder if you stock up on millet, thistle, or nyjer seeds. Remember, their beaks are quite small and can’t handle larger seeds.
The pine siskin is a delightful fellow, letting loose happy tzweees and chweees. Their call is buzzy and a little strained.
Want to increase your chances of attracting pine siskins even more? Invest in a tube feeder.
- Species Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 13 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 16 grams to 27 grams
- Wingspan: 20 cm to 25 cm
Interestingly enough, the common house finch is less common in North Dakota! While they’re not rare, per se, you won’t see quite the flocks you’ll witness in other states.
The male house finch has a berry red head and chest that transitions into a brown body. His pale conical bill is easy to notice at a glance, distinguishing him from common sparrows.
The female house finch is sleek and evenly colored. She has a brown body speckled with light gray and white.
These finches show up in North Dakota year-round but are a more common sight during winter. As such, you’ll have an easier time glimpsing them if you keep your feeder stocked.
House finches are one of the most gregarious members of the family and are comfortable in both urban and forested environments.
If you’re in an urban area with a few more trees than usual, you may even spot a hawk!
From flower buds to seeds, house finches enjoy a variety of foods. They’re a common sight in orchards plucking away at peaches, apricots, and blackberries.
You’ll be able to attract house finches with songbird staples such as millet and black oil sunflower seeds. It’s worth noting they’re a touch on the aggressive side and may scare away other species for feeding rights.
The house finch song is sweet and plucky, composed of bright warbles and twitters that sound like questions.
House finches are easy to confuse with purple finches, but here’s a hint: look at the rest of the body. Purple finches are reddish all over, while house finches only have it on their head and chest.
- Species Name: Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 20 cm to 25 cm
- Weight: 57 grams
- Wingspan: 33 cm
Determined bird watchers are most likely to find the pine grosbeak, as they’re not a common sight in the state. Since North Dakota is light on forests, the pine grosbeak usually takes roost elsewhere.
The male pine grosbeak is a lovely sight with its cherry red body, gray-black wings, and thin white wing bars. He has a dark bill and darker coloration around his eyes.
The female pine grosbeak has a light gray body with hints of yellow on her head and chest. She also has thin white wing bars, but little to no dark coloration around her eyes.
Expect to see pine grosbeaks during the fall and winter season in North Dakota, though many are just passing through.
The pine grosbeak usually takes up residence in coniferous forests where they can forage for seeds, flower buds, and berries. They also eat insects and vegetable matter.
However, these birds are eager to stock up on food during the colder months. Try attracting them with fatty black oil sunflower seeds or suet once winter hits.
The pine grosbeak has a rather airy and lilting call of chirps and cheeps. They almost sound like the brief whistles you’d hear from a person trying to practice.
Pine grosbeaks are keen on making sure their chicks are well-fed. To help their young digest food, they’ll mix plant matter with insects or spiders.
- Species Name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 16 cm to 22 cm
- Weight: 38 grams to 68 grams
- Wingspan: 30 cm to 36 cm
The dashing evening grosbeak isn’t often seen here, though you’ll recognize them swiftly. These finches usually prefer dense forests or tall mountains, both of which North Dakota has little of.
The male evening grosbeak boasts yellow coloration with black wings and large white patches. They have one of the biggest bills in the finch family and are rather stocky, to boot.
The female evening grosbeak looks similar to the males but with grayer bodies. They may show a little green on their bill and some yellow on their neck.
This striking species usually shows up in the fall or spring months in North Dakota. While they’re not exactly common, these adaptable birds are happy to defy expectations – they may surprise you!
The seasons determine what evening grosbeaks feel like eating. North Dakota’s plains are home to plenty of insects for them to feed on during summer, but they prefer berries and seeds during winter.
These finches are on the larger side, so entice them to your backyard with a platform feeder. They enjoy fresh sunflower seeds and may even bring a whole flock with them.
Their call is a quaint one. Expect to hear a song composed of fast, buzzing trills in a rising and falling pattern.
Got a hopper-style feeder? Turns out these can attract evening grosbeaks, too!
- Species Name: Acanthis flammea
- Length: 12 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
- Wingspan: 19 cm to 22 cm
Thinking about sheltering during a rough North Dakota winter? This heavy weather is actually the best time to see the adorable common redpoll, one of the toughest finches around.
The common redpoll is a charming bird for their round body and iconic red forehead spot. Males have a light brown body, white belly, and tiny yellow beak.
You’ll also notice males have a little extra pink on their chests.
Female common redpolls look pretty similar but are even paler in color and lack the red chest.
Common redpolls crop up in the northern and eastern parts of the state during winter but are more scarce in the south. However, you may glimpse a few in spring gathering in weedy fields or tiny tree clusters.
If you have a high tolerance for the cold, this is a great finch to keep an eye out for during a winter walk.
Common redpolls have a pretty small bill, so they prefer food such as alder and birch seeds. However, they’re not opposed to visiting a feeder if it’s stocked with suitable food.
Try to entice these birds to your backyard during winter with thistle, nyjer, or suet. Suet is particularly attractive during the colder months and keeps them warm.
While many finches have warbles and trills, these birds have a low, fast cheet-cheet-cheet.
Flight patterns are one of the greatest joys of bird watching and these finches don’t disappoint. Common redpolls are incredibly acrobatic, swooping and falling as they forage for food.
- Species Name: Acanthis hornemanni
- Length: 12 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
- Wingspan: 22 cm to 23 cm
There’s quite a lot of scientific debate on how closely related hoary redpolls and common redpolls are. They not only look quite common but have similar feeding habits!
The male hoary redpoll looks quite similar to the common redpoll but with a few key differences. You’ll notice they tend to be paler and have an even tinier bill.
The female hoary redpoll is similar to the male hoary redpoll but with no pink on her chest and even brighter feathers. She can almost look white at a glance, but she’ll still have a little brown on her wings.
These birds are big fans of heavy winters, so it’s no wonder that they’ll occasionally visit North Dakota. While not as common as the aptly-named common redpoll, they may show up in the south.
These birds frequent evergreen forests and distant tundra, able to withstand some truly freezing weather. Unless you’re a fan of below-freezing temperatures, I recommend trying to attract them to your backyard.
Weeds, grasses, alder seeds, and birch seeds are their main sources of food, though they do eat the occasional insect. Since these birds usually live in very inhospitable conditions, they can’t always afford to be picky.
Black oil sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds are your best bet for attracting hoary redpolls.
Similar to the common redpoll, the hoary redpoll has a chirpier and faster call. Expect to hear sharp chit-chit-chits or cheet-cheets.
Both common redpolls and hoary redpolls are showing irruptive behavior, meaning they’ll show sudden population changes when food gets scarce.
- Species Name: Loxia curvirostra
- Length: 14 cm to 17 cm
- Weight: 40 grams
- Wingspan: 25 cm to 27 cm
The red crossbill is a testament to how adaptable finches are. While these birds are most comfortable in coniferous forests, they’ll still visit other environments when needed.
The male red crossbill is a somewhat misleading name, as the males can be brick red or yellow-orange. They have a fascinatingly criss-crossed beak and brown-gray wings.
The female red crossbills shake things up even more with a gray body dusted with yellow.
North Dakota doesn’t have many forests, but you can bet red crossbills will sniff them out. Their uniquely shaped beaks make it easier for them to crack open conifer cones and dig out the seeds.
However, red crossbills will leave their usual stomping grounds if their food supply gets low. They sometimes show up in the state during winter and will visit a bird feeder if it’s stocked with the classics.
Conifer seeds make up the bulk of a red crossbill’s diet, but they do eat occasional weeds and berries. You can attract them to your feeder with millet or safflower seeds, but I highly recommend suet.
Suet is a huge favorite of wintering finches and red crossbills won’t be able to pass up a bite.
Red crossbills usually let out watery trills and loose warbles. They also sometimes let out sharp chew sounds.
Unlike most finches, red crossbills may breed in any season depending on how bountiful their food supply is.
- Species Name: Loxia leucoptera
- Length: 15 cm to 17 cm
- Weight: 24 grams to 26 grams
- Winspan: 26 cm to 28 cm
A somewhat rare visitor to North Dakota is the similar-looking white-winged crossbill. These finches are a little pickier than their red cousins when it comes to feeding, but they will still adapt as necessary.
The male white-winged crossbill is generally a rusty red color with dark wings and white wing bars. Unlike the red crossbill, their wing bars are much thicker – you’ll usually see two white spots on each wing.
The female white-winged crossbill has a light gray-brown body covered in streaks. She’ll have a little olive-yellow along her head and chest but with fewer wing bars.
White-winged crossbills love spruce forests where they can gorge on their favorite spruce seeds. They tend to show up during non-breeding season throughout the state but are often passing through.
Spruce and tamarack seeds are their favorite foods, though they sometimes eat birch and alder seeds. They’re also not opposed to diving in and out of weedy fields for weed seeds.
Stock up on fresh sunflower seeds and see if you can catch a few during their irregular breeding seasons.
I often liken this bird’s call to a sprinkler sound. They let loose rapid chee-chee-chees and super fast trills, usually without pause.
These birds can have some seriously large flocks. You’ll sometimes see upwards of 300 birds flying and foraging together!
- Species Name: Spinus tristis
- Length: 11 cm to 13 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
- Wingspan: 19 cm to 22 cm
If some of the winter finches on this list are too tough to spot, then you can rest easy with the American goldfinch. This common and popular bird is a beloved choice for bird watchers who want to stay out of the cold.
I love to shake up my fashion as the seasons change, so I relate hard to the male American goldfinch. He has bold yellow plumage during the breeding season but shifts to a soft olive during the non-breeding season.
His black wings, white wing bars, and orange bill give him a zesty appearance.
The female American goldfinch looks very similar to the male outside of non-breeding season, but one detail is missing! She has a smooth head, while the male has a jet-black cap.
American goldfinches are a little quirky in their habits. They usually show up in North Dakota during breeding season, but a few small populations linger year-round.
These birds are quite comfortable diving in and out of weedy fields for food. That said, they’re not too skittish around humans and will visit parks and gardens, too.
Thistle, dandelion, and ragweed are some of their favorite plants to frequent. However, they sometimes nibble on tree sap or flower buds.
Attract these little beauties to your feeder with thistle seeds. These social birds are quite boisterous, so they’re likely to bring a few friends.
These finches have a lively chatter that sounds like sharp, jaunty whistling.
The American Goldfinch is such an icon, it’s the state bird of Iowa.
- Species Name: Passerina caerulea
- Length: 14 cm to 19 cm
- Weight: 26 grams to 31 grams
- Wingspan: 26 cm to 29 cm
If you’re anywhere in the southern part of North Dakota, make a note to keep an eye out for this finch. This gorgeous bird is both rare and rather shy, making them a challenge to spot.
If you’re a photographer, try and snap a few photos of this brilliant bird. Male blue grosbeaks have bright blue plumage with brown wing bars and a pale bill.
The female blue grosbeak has a soft, chestnut brown body with darker wing bars and a little blue on her rump. You may also see a little blue on her shoulders.
Blue grosbeaks are a rarer species in North Dakota, but the environment is right up their alley. These birds feel most comfortable in overgrown and shrubby areas.
You’ll also see a few flitting about fields, thickets, or hedgerows. If you live in a rural area or feel like visiting an orchard, keep a sharp eye out!
While finches are usually fans of seeds and fruit, the blue grosbeak actually prefers insects. They spend much of their time chasing after spiders, beetles, and grasshoppers – they even eat snails!
However, blue grosbeaks will still nibble on a few seeds if they’re peckish. Stock up your feeder with black oil sunflower seeds and place it somewhere overgrown so they feel comfortable.
These finches have a call that ranges between buzzing trills to a soft, sweet warble.
This finch is so elusive, it’s one of the lesser-understood species of the finch family.
- Species Name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
- Length: 18 cm to 22 cm
- Weight: 35 grams to 65 grams
- Wingspan: 29 cm to 33 cm
While all finches have something that makes them unique, the rose-breasted grosbeak is one of the most uncanny. Their coloration is so stark, they almost look like they were painted.
The male rose-breasted grosbeak puts his best foot forward with his cherry-red throat and chest. His black body, white belly, and pale bill carve him out against the dusky North Dakota landscape.
The female rose-breasted grosbeak…looks completely different! She has a light brown body with a white belly and white head streaks.
These finches usually show up in the eastern portion of North Dakota during breeding season. However, the western portion of the state is their migration route, so you’ll have to time your birdwatching sessions.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks aren’t as fond of dense forests as other finches, preferring semi-open woodland or forest edges. They also crop up regularly in parks, such as the J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge.
These finches spend much of their time foraging in shrubby areas for insects or berries. They’ll also sup on nectar when trees are in full bloom.
You can attract these finches with sunflower seeds, but make sure to use a sturdy platform feeder. Rose-breasted grosbeaks have a lot of variance in weight but can get rather stocky.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks have a lilting and sweet call, usually letting out warbles or faint whistles. However, their call can transform into a rather rich warble when they’re in the mood.
The rose-breasted grosbeak sounds rather similar to an American robin.
- Species Name: Fringilla montifringilla
- Length: 16 cm
- Weight: 23 grams to 29 grams
- Wingspan: 25 cm to 26 cm
I’ll wrap up this list with an extremely rare finch in North Dakota – the one and only brambling. This dazzling bird has unique plumage that helps it blend into its environment, yet stands out in the finch family.
The male brambling has a striking cinnamon-orange body with black wing bars and a yellow bill. Their heads are a bold black during the breeding season, but a patchy gray-black during the non-breeding season.
The female brambling is lighter in color. Her body is a dusty orange-brown with a white belly and soft gray bill.
While bramblings are an extremely rare sight in North Dakota, the environment is similar to their usual stomping grounds. These finches enjoy wide, open spaces such as agricultural fields and spacious parks.
However, these birds usually prefer coniferous forests when they need to breed.
Bramblings switch between insects in the summer and fatty seeds in the winter months. They’re big fans of beech mast and will fly for a very long time to find some.
The brambling song is harder to spot due to its lighter notes and shorter calls. Keep an ear out for buzzy tweets with long pauses in between.
Another reason this bird is rare in North Dakota is due to their usual stomping grounds being in Asia and Europe.
North Dakota Finches Are Tricky, Yet Rewarding to Spot
North Dakota can be a trickier spot for finch-watching due to its flatter landscape, but don’t give up! This state will still richly reward you for your patience, particularly during the winter months.
Backyard birders have an advantage here since several finch species will visit for easy winter meals. Stay stocked up on fatty seeds and suet to attract American goldfinches, red crossbills, and hoary redpolls.
Curious to see what other guides we have? Check out our birds in North Dakota to learn about swallows, hummingbirds, and more!