Birds have the same appreciation for beautiful terrain as humans do. Is it any wonder West Virginia’s varied climate and stunning mountains attract up to 8 finch species?
In fact, West Virginia is so well-known for its brilliant mountain ranges that it’s nicknamed the Mountain State. As it stands, many finch species prefer to breed and nest due to the safety of higher elevations.
Thinking of going on a hiking or camping trip soon? I’ll help you spot 8 finches in West Virginia by their appearance, birdsong, and more.
- Species Name: Hesperiphona vespertina
- Length: 16 cm to 22 cm
- Weight: 38 grams to 68 grams
- Wingspan: 30 cm to 36 cm
This finch has some of the most vivid coloration in the finch family. They’re not the most common sight in West Virginia, but you’ll recognize them instantly.
These finches have no doubt inspired many artists to write poetry. The male evening grosbeak has a bright yellow body, black wings, and white wing bars.
Easily his quirkiest feature is his big, yellow ‘eyebrow’.
The female evening grosbeak actually looks pretty similar to the male. However, she has a grayer body and no yellow brow.
These stocky, colorful finches show up in West Virginia during non-breeding season, but only sporadically. They’re most comfortable in the state’s many coniferous forests, though they’re more likely to visit feeders in winter.
Seeds and berries are some of their favorite foods, though they also have a fondness for flower buds. Expect to see them using their powerful beaks on maple and ash trees whenever they have the chance.
If you’re planning on birdwatching in the winter, stock your platform feeder with sunflower seeds. These hardy birds tend to travel more during the colder months when food gets scarce and won’t turn down an easy meal.
Evening grosbeaks have a simpler musical style, preferring simple cheeps with long pauses in between.
Think these beautiful finches are gorgeous enough on their own? They also prefer to eat food in flocks, so you may see a party of them at your feeder.
- Species Name: Spinus Pinus
- Length: 11 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 12 grams to 18 grams
- Wingspan: 18 cm to 22 cm
An easier finch to add to your birdwatching list is the adorable pine siskin. This finch is a little unique due to the shape of their bill.
The male pine siskin has a slender yellow-gray body, a streaked belly, and black wings. You’ll notice their conical bill is a little on the small side, giving them a dainty look.
Female pine siskins look quite similar to the males but with a more olive color. They’re not quite brown finches, though, and may still have hints of yellow on their wings.
West Virginia is a veritable ocean of pine trees, so it’s a small wonder the pine siskin shows up almost year-round. However, they tend to venture far north for the breeding season.
These forest birds will move between conifer trees to deciduous forests depending on whether they’re mating. However, they’re fond of forested areas in parks or quieter neighborhoods.
The vast majority of the pine siskin’s diet are various types of seeds. They’ll eat everything from alder to birch, but they branch out sometimes in search of food (no pun intended).
These finches also enjoy wild fruits and the occasional insect. Try attracting them to your feeder with sunflower or nyjer seeds to accommodate their smaller beak.
Don’t worry about missing out on this finch’s call – it’s an ecstatic one! They have a characteristic tzweee that sounds like a happy squeal.
Since the male pine siskin looks very similar to the female, this finch is one of the trickiest for bird watchers to identify.
- Species Name: Acanthis flammea
- Length: 12 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 11 grams to 20 grams
- Wingspan: 19 cm to 22 cm
I’m fond of these finches for two big reasons – their coloration and adorable tendency to turn into a ball of fluff.
The male common redpoll stands out swiftly for his big, red forehead spot. His light brown body, white belly, and tiny yellow bill cement him as one of the cutest in the finch family.
Adult males also have a dusting of reddish pink along their chests, almost like they’re blushing.
The female common redpoll looks similar to the males, also boasting a red forehead spot. She has a lovely light brown body and bright white stomach, but no pink chest.
The reason these finches are more scarce in West Virginia is due to favoring arctic environments. However, they occasionally pop up in the northeast during harsh winters.
Common redpolls love to travel among boreal forests, though they sometimes will descend into weedy fields. If you have a high tolerance for the cold, you may spot a few on a winter hike.
Alder, tamarack, and birch seeds are their go-to diet, though they’ll frequently visit backyard feeders during the winter. You can attract them with nyjer seeds, which is easy on their small conical beaks.
The common redpoll song is so rapid-fire it almost sounds like a sprinkler. Expect to hear a series of piercing notes like a chit-chit-chit mixed with trills.
The harsh wilderness has caused birds to adapt in unique ways to survive. The common redpoll has a throat pouch that lets it store seeds to gradually eat over time.
- Species Name: Loxia curvirostra
- Length: 14 cm to 17 cm
- Weight: 40 grams
- Wingspan: 25 to 27 cm
This finch never fails to attract attention for its fascinating beak shape. Turns out that’s not the only interesting fact you’ll want to know!
First things first – the red crossbill has a red or red-orange body with a distinctive criss-crossed beak. They boast black wings with thin white wing bars and a pale rump.
It’s worth noting that male red crossbills don’t always have these wing bars, however. You may also see red crossbills with orange heads.
The female red crossbill has a grayer body with hints of yellow along her rump and throat. She may have no wing bars, but she does sport a lovely gray-green bill.
The second interesting fact is about this finch’s unpredictable living habits. Red crossbills are scarce throughout West Virginia, but a handful will show up year-round in the southeastern portion of the state.
Since their beaks are an adaptation to coniferous forests, they prefer to stay wherever there are pinecones. However, they’ll still wander a little during the winter if their food sources get low.
From spruce trees to pine trees, you can safely bet a red crossbill will be eating its fill. They will occasionally visit backyard bird feeders during the winter, though.
Try stocking up on fresh sunflower seeds and make sure to get a platform feeder. Red crossbills are on the larger side.
The red crossbill song is a sharp, metallic call that sounds like scuffing the heel of your shoe on a hard floor. Keep an ear out for a cheeka-cheeka-chee pattern.
Red crossbills have a varied breeding season and will sometimes mate during the fall and winter.
- Species Name: Loxia leucoptera
- Length: 15 cm to 17 cm
- Weight: 24 grams to 26 grams
- Wingspan: 26 cm to 28 cm
I’m always keen on helping bird watchers tell the difference between similar-looking birds. The white-winged crossbill is very similar to the red crossbill, especially at a glance.
The white-winged crossbill has a similar appearance to the red crossbill – they also have a red body with dark wings. However, they have darker wings and their white wing bars are much bigger.
Basically – bolder wings are white-winged crossbills, while more evenly colored bodies are red crossbills.
The female white-winged crossbill has a light gray-brown plumage with a dusting of yellow on her stomach.
Coniferous forests are these finches’ favorite spots to dig into pine cones. They show up throughout most of the state during non-breeding season but are rather rare.
White-winged crossbills use their strong bills to eat coniferous seeds but sometimes nibble on the occasional berry. They’re also likely to visit your backyard bird feeder if you have plenty of sunflower seeds.
You’ll hear this bird’s call a mile away (not literally, but they are very loud). They let out sharp chr-chr-chr in quick succession with the occasional rattling noise.
While the similar red crossbill has over ten subspecies, the white-winged crossbill only has one.
- Species Name: Haemorhous purpureus
- Length: 12 cm to 16 cm
- Weight: 18 grams to 32 grams
- Wingspan: 22 cm to 26 cm
This widespread finch has a rather interesting presence in West Virginia. While they’re pretty common birds, you’ll still have to take into account your location.
The male purple finch has a bright reddish-pink body with brown wings and a white rump. He has a somewhat smaller beak than other finches.
The female purple finch has a light tan-yellow body with brown wings. She’ll be a little easier to spot if you look for her white headstreak.
Purple finches will show up in the eastern part of the state year-round but only appear during the non-breeding season in the west. These birds are huge fans of coniferous forests but will feel comfortable in other mixed forest environments.
These colorful birds are curious foragers who will dig around for seeds, berries, and plant material. They won’t turn down a backyard bird feeder with fresh thistle or sunflower seeds.
The purple finch is a delight to listen to with their rising and falling warble. They often repeat a chwr-chwr-chwr that trails into a chirp or whistle.
The purple finch has become a lot less common thanks to the introduction of the house finch.
- Species Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
- Length: 13 cm to 14 cm
- Weight: 16 grams to 27 grams
- Wingspan: 20 cm to 25 cm
The house finch and purple finch may be tricky to tell apart for beginner bird watchers. The key is to look at their back.
The male house finch has a reddish head, a red throat, and a brown body. Unlike the purple finch, their red coloration doesn’t extend along their back.
A major reason why house finches are so widespread is due to their adaptability. They’ll explore forest edges, settle down in farm fields, or explore suburban neighborhoods.
They stay in West Virginia year-round, too, so you’ll run into one no matter the season.
House finches enjoy a diverse diet of flower buds, fruit, and seeds. They’re sociable birds eager to visit feeders in their chatty flocks for a nice, easy meal.
You can attract house finches to your backyard with millet and sunflower seeds. They’re a little territorial, though, and don’t like to share their food supply with other birds.
Their finch song is high-pitched and sugary sweet, alternating between chee-cheets and complex warbles.
This dominant bird may be widespread now, but it was originally only seen in Mexico and southern parts of North America.
- Species Name: Passerina caerulea
- Length: 14 cm to 19 cm
- Weight: 26 to 31 grams
- Wingspan: 26 cm to 29 cm
This stocky finch is a showstopper every time. Their coloration has them easily confused for other beautiful birds like jays and parrots.
The male blue grosbeak has a berry blue body with brown wings and black wing bars. They have bright colors all over, up to their light gray bill with matching gray legs.
The female blue grosbeaks have inverted coloration. Their bodies are mostly a light gray-brown, but they have a little blue on their rump.
These birds are selective about their environment, preferring neither dense forests nor open spaces. They enjoy overgrown areas like weedy fields, shrubs, and forest edges.
Expect to see the blue grosbeak in the western portion of the country during the breeding season. They’re just the finch to look for while you’re enjoying a scenic walk through West Virginia’s countryside.
Blue grosbeaks eat a variety of fruits, seeds, and snails. However, they tend to focus on insects, which is rather unique for finches.
Black oil sunflower seeds are a good food to attract blue grosbeaks, but you’ll need to be clever. Try to position your feeder in a shrubby or overgrown area to make these finches feel more comfortable.
The blue grosbeak song is a rising and falling warble that ends sharply.
Curious to see what other lovely birds the blue grosbeak is related to? They have seven different subspecies spread throughout South America.
West Virginia is an Unforgettable Bird Watching Location
Hikers and campers will no doubt get the most out of a West Virginian bird-watching experience. The easy access to mountainous ranges combined with a varied climate means you’ll see plenty of finches.
However, backyard bird watchers will be able to bring over everything from blue grosbeaks to red crossbills. Be mindful of the type of feeder you use so you can adapt to each finch’s weight or perching style.
What other birds can you see in this stunning state? Our guide on birds in West Virginia will give you a well-rounded view for your next bird-watching adventure.