Virginia is a land of deciduous trees which means it is home to hickory, honey locust, oak, red maple, and river birch. This mid-Atlantic state is also home to conifers, including, and by no means limited to, eastern hemlock, eastern red cedar, loblolly pine, red pine, shortleaf pine, and Eastern white pine. All of which makes North Carolina’s northern neighbor just perfect for many finch species.
Unsurprisingly, there are 11 species of these energetic little birds that either visit this southeastern state or call it home, all year round (out of an astounding 487 bird species in Virginia). Here you will get to find out just how to tell which of them are enjoying a meal at your backyard bird feeder and when you can expect them to visit your garden or favorite park.
- Scientific Name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 6 – 9 inches
- Weight: 1.3 – 3.0 ounces
- Wingspan: 12 – 14 inches
Male evening grosbeaks are rather bulky colorful birds with dark brown heads marked with a yellow band converging between their dark eyes.
That dark brown lightens, blending in with yellow on their upper and lower surfaces, a coloring that makes their contrasting black-edged white wings stand out even more.
Their female counterparts lack the striking coloration of their males although they share the same robust build. Their plumage is gray, with a yellow collar at the neck and an even paler yellow at the breast. Their wings on the other hand are the same contrasting black and white as male evening grosbeaks.
Evening grosbeaks don’t often come as far south as Virginia preferring to spend most of their time in southern Canada and occasionally the northern United States. An absence of mast, i.e., the seeds of box elders, maples, and locusts, will impel them to move south in search of food supplies.
They also enjoy congregating around bird feeders where they tuck away as many sunflower seeds as possible.
- Scientific Name: Pinicola enucleator
- Length: 8 – 10 inches
- Weight: 2 – 3 ounces
- Wingspan: 13 inches
Unlike their evening grosbeak kin, male pine grosbeaks are a striking red with a somewhat barred upper surface which is a blend of brown and red. Their wings while black and white have a distinct pattern with each dark feather edged with white.
Females of the species have a plumage which is olive yellow at the head but is otherwise gray in its entirety. They also share the same pattern and coloring on their wings as their male counterparts.
Pine grosbeaks occupy a range that lies even further north compared to that of their evening grosbeak cousins.
This expanse extends from Alaska, passing through Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and southwards into Manitoba and Ontario.
Occasionally pine grosbeaks may move even further south, beyond the Great Lakes right into Indiana and Ohio.
They are however a rare occurrence in Virginia as they rarely make it that far south.
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 6 inches
- Weight: 0.6 – 0.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 10 inches
Male house finches have a beautiful reddish coloring that spreads over the head, the breast, and the rump. Light brown streaks cover the undersurface while their wings and tail are also the same muted brown.
That lovely red coloring is absent in females which are covered in the same light brown which is part of the male’s coloring, with striations on the chest.
These hardy songbirds can be found throughout Virginia, all year long. Their range also extends in this capacity throughout the United States. The sole exceptions are Florida’s southernmost tip and Texas’ Gulf Coast.
- Scientific Name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 4.7 – 6.3 inches
- Weight: 0.63 – 1.10 ounces
- Wingspan: 10 inches
At first glance, the male of this species seems as though it has been dipped head-first in pink dye.
Its head is covered in glossy feathers in the rosy hue which extends to its wings, and upper and undersurfaces. However, that pink coloring lightens progressively, blending with the white of its chest, and the brown of its wings and torso.
Although it may be mistaken for the house finch, its form is more elongated compared to the latter’s while its head is more bulbous. The house finch is also covered in a more intense shade of red.
The female purple finch is covered in brown plumage marked with hints of white while her chest is mostly pale and covered in prominent brown streaks.
The species prefers to breed in central and southern Canada but moves down southwards to the Pacific Coast (from Washington to California) and the eastern United States. Virginia is part of their southern winter range. As a result, purple finches can be found throughout the state during the season.
- Scientific Name: Acanthis flammea
- Length: 4.5 – 5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.4 – 0.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 8 – 9 inches
Their diminutive size notwithstanding, common redpolls are astonishingly hardy and breed in tundra in northern Canada and Alaska.
They can be recognized by a dark red patch on the crown and pale plumage shot through with brown in varying densities throughout.
When they are not breeding, they move southwards to central and northern Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Quebec
In winter, common redpolls move further south into southern Canada and the northern United States.
However, their quest for their favorite foods which include the seeds and buds of alders, birches, and willows may bring them as far south as Colorado. In the eastern United States, their southernmost winter range falls just within northern Virginia meaning these tiny avians with an astonishing cold tolerance, may be seen in the region during the season.
- Scientific Name: Acanthis hornemanni
- Length: 5 – 5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.40 – 0.70 ounces
- Wingspan: 8 – 10 inches
If common redpolls’ cold tolerance is impressive, then the ability of this closely related species to tolerate the frost is simply astounding.
These rather active finches share the same red patch on the crown as their cousins although their plumage is paler with a flush of pink at the breast.
Hoary redpolls breed in the northernmost reaches of Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, with their main range located slightly southwards.
During winter they fly towards central and southern Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. They can also be found in northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.
Occasionally hoary redpolls may fly into the United States as far south as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, only very rarely appearing in Virginia.
- Scientific Name: Loxia curvirostra
- Length: 7.9 inches
- Weight: 2 ounces
- Wingspan: 12 inches
A rather gregarious species, the red crossbill likes nothing better than wandering about in search of all its favorite foods in the company of its relatives.
It commonly feeds on the buds and seeds of firs, pines, and hemlocks and is also partial to grass seeds. The red crossbill is also fond of berries, insects, and salt.
Males can be recognized by their lovely multi-toned plumage which is mainly bronze with hints of red and even brown.
Females, on the other hand, are muted bronze on their upper and lower surfaces with their heads being mostly brown around the eyes. Both genders possess brown wings, dark eyes, and that characteristic dark crisscrossed beak which is particularly useful for opening pine cones.
The range of this species extends through central Canada and the western United States. Small populations can however be found all year round in western Virginia and the Carolinas.
- Scientific Name: Loxia leucoptera
- Length: 5.7 – 6.7 inches
- Weight: 0.9 – 1.40 ounces
- Wingspan: 11 inches
The male relatives of the red crossbill are covered in plumage which is varying hues of red, shot through with copper, and occasionally black and brown. Their wings, on the other hand, are black with bold brief dashes of white.
Female white-winged crossbills on the other hand are covered in grayish-brown plumage although the feathers at the head, neck, and throat display touches of bronze.
Both genders possess a short dark bill which is especially useful for prising conifer cones open during meal times.
White-winged crossbills generally live in Canada all year long. However, their range also extends into the United States with Colorado being its southernmost point. It also passes through central Virginia, where these beautiful finches can be spotted in pines and hemlocks. That said, sightings are rather rare and these finches will only head south in the absence of their favorite foods further up north.
- Scientific Name: Spinus pinus
- Length: 4.3 – 5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.4 – 0.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 7 – 9 inches
Members of this species possess plumage covered in brown streaks and wings edged with yellow, creating an alluring scalloped effect on their upper surfaces. The striations at the chest are especially noticeable owing to the paleness of their chest feathers.
Pine siskins enjoy feeding on the seeds of alders, birches, cedars, and spruces. They will also feed on millet and hulled seeds at birdfeeders.
Although this species is mainly found in central and southern Canada, it can also be found throughout the western United States. The entirety of the state of Virginia falls within its irruptive range meaning these finches may be spotted during the season in any part of the state.
- Scientific Name: Spinus psaltria
- Length: 3.5 – 4.7 inches
- Weight: 0.3 – 0.4 ounces
- Wingspan: 6 – 11 inches
These small finches may be mistaken for their golden feathered cousins, American goldfinches at first glance. However, a closer look reveals that the dark coloring on their crowns also extends to their upper surfaces remaining black or turning a dark, olive green.
This dark coloring extends to the wings which are also black except for brief bold dashes of white, and forms a striking contrast with the chest and undersurface which are a brilliant yellow.
Female lesser goldfinches are a light olive at the crown and upper surface while the undersurface is a pale yellow. A touch of yellow at the throat is the only bold coloring they possess. Their wings are brown and turn pale at the edges providing a scalloped effect.
These finches are rarely found in Virginia and with good reason too: their range includes a huge swathe of the west and southwest.
Lesser goldfinches mainly breed in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. They can be found all year round along the Pacific coast and in the states in which they breed as well.
- Scientific Name: Spinus tristis
- Length: 4.3 – 5.5 inches
- Weight: 0.4 – 0.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 7.5 – 9 inches
Male American goldfinches are rather striking passerines owing to plumage which is black at the crown but otherwise completely golden yellow. This beautiful coloration forms a striking contrast with that black cap and its black wings also marked with bars of white of varying thickness.
That said, its rather impressive plumage only makes an appearance during the breeding season and is swapped for a more modest olive color once fall arrives.
Although females share the same pattern on their wings as their male counterparts, their plumage is less colorful and is mainly a brown and olive color with occasional touches of yellow.
The range of this species extends throughout the United States and covers Virginia in its entirety. As a result, American goldfinches can be found throughout the state in abundance, all year long.
Although Virginia is home to a rather varied selection of finches, only a few species can be spotted at any time of the year in any location within the state.
These ubiquitous species include the American goldfinch and the house finch.
Other species such as the evening and pine grosbeaks, the hoary redpoll, and the lesser goldfinch are spotted less frequently.
However, viewing these beautiful passerines can be a truly rewarding experience and the highlight of any bird enthusiast’s day.