Ferocious Battle Between Female Martin And House Finches

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Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Ferocious Battle Between Female Martin and House Finches

The house finch has been known to nest in purple martin housing and for two years several of these finches either nested or tried to establish territory in some of my housing at my previous colony in Tallahassee, Florida. The first year, the martins and finches ignored one another and I allowed two pairs of finches to nest since there was plenty of room for all. Occasionally a martin would chase a finch from a gourd cross bar or house porch. But there was little behavioral interaction between them that first year. This would change dramatically the next year when more martins moved in the colony.

The house finch is smaller than the martin and is not nearly as aggressive. The finch does have a more powerful crushing beak, very much like a house sparrow. But the finch lacks the behavioral machismo and persistence of the sparrow and is more readily intimidated by the martin’s larger size and aggressive threats.

The next year two pairs of house finches established territory in my martin colony. The martins were establishing territory in larger numbers and now the finches were perceived as intruders. The martins would reign supreme. One of the first pairs of finches, which selected a Supergourd, was driven away with little fighting. They were no match for the martins and readily left the area. The second pair of finches had selected a modified Trio castle with double chambered nesting compartments and no martins were nesting in this house. These finches managed to build a nest and their young had hatched with little interference from martins. These finches thought they were safe since no martins nested in the Trio castle, but the finches were wrong. Oh how wrong they were!

About 10 feet from the Trio castle was one of my natural gourd racks and a late pair of SY martins had established territory in a gourd. This gourd faced the house finches’ nest site. For some reason, the female martin HATED these finches with a purple passion and displayed threat behavior toward them every chance she got. She would lower her head and almost hiss at the finches when they landed in front of their nest. Perhaps the martin considered the finches as threats to her nest site though she had not laid any eggs. Her mate paid little attention to the finches and he stayed close to his gourd. In fact, this late SY pair would not complete their nesting cycle.

Over the days, the martin’s threat behavior became more intense and she would fly to the Trio castle porch, lay on it, and stare intently at the finches as they entered the nest compartment. She then moved closer to the hole and would be almost staring inside each time one of the finches entered. You could almost see the martin seething with pent up aggression that was about to explode.

Then the martin began to chase the finches when they tried to land on the porch in front of their nest. She would chase them around the Trio house until the finches would quickly dart inside their nest. She didn’t follow initially. The female finch was braver and stood her ground just inside the entrance hole while the martin stared at her with a lowered head. The male finch was more timid and stayed away from the nest area when the female martin was on the porch near the entrance.

Things went from bad to worse and the martin decided it was time to show these finches which bird ruled the roost. I felt sorry for the finches because they had babies to feed and the martin’s presence was keeping the parent finches from feeding their young. Finally a showdown occurred with one of the most savage battles I have ever seen between a martin and another bird species. The female finch had managed to elude the martin on the outside and quickly darted inside the Trio compartment. The martin landed in front of the entrance, lowered her head, and didn’t just stare inside this time. She charged through the hole like a raging feathered lioness! Bedlam! Chaos! I could hear the finch screaming and all kinds of noises erupted from the aluminum compartment. I had sub floors in this Trio castle and both birds were rocking and rolling on one and banging against the aluminum. The martin apparently had the finch pinned against one of the house compartment dividers and was pecking her ferociously. Feathers were flying out of the entrance hole as the martin hammered her victim. The finch managed to get her head out of the hole. The finch was crying out loudly and trying to break loose, but martin would not let go. Finally, the finch crawled out with the martin glued to her back and both waddled down the porch. The martin tore a big chunk of feathers from her back when the finch broke free and both birds fell from the house. The poor male finch was flying around and chirruping loudly as his mate flew rapidly away. He followed her and both disappeared.

The female martin then returned to the finches’ nest site and entered the foyer area of the modified nest compartment. This is where the battle ensued. Now, I wondered if the martin would remove the baby finches. She didn’t. In fact I don’t think she even entered the actual nest compartment. She came out and then flew to her gourd and entered. She was just waiting. But the battle was not over. The male finch would now have to be disciplined for daring to enter his nest to feed his babies. He would face the female martin’s wrath.

I was concerned about the finch babies and whether the parents had deserted their nest. However, within 10 or more minutes, the male finch flew in, landed on the porch and quickly went inside his nest. Foolish finch! The female martin saw this and was wild with rage! How dare he do that! She hurled her body from the gourd and plunged inside the finches’ nest compartment. Loud screams poured from the Trio compartment and I could hear the combatants banging against the aluminum siding. The finch was getting thoroughly disciplined and within seconds the red head appeared in the entrance hole as the screaming male finch struggled to escape. Again, the martin would not easily let go. Finally, the finch exited with martin viciously clinging to his back and both birds crawled down the porch. The finch managed to climb over the guardrails and the twosome dropped toward the ground and separated. The finch left the area while the martin flew to her gourd.

These battles had occurred sometime in the early afternoon. I watched the finches’ nest and no parents returned to feed the youngsters, which called out for food. For the remainder of the day, I never saw the male or female house finch and I assumed they had abandoned the site. The female martin would sometimes fly to the nest site and look in the compartment. On occasion, even her mate would join in and both would perch on the guardrails in front of the finches’ nest compartment. But they never entered.

The next day I checked on the finch babies and could hear them calling for food. I knew they were hungry. I lowered the house and found five well feathered out babies in a filthy nest. Finch parents do not remove fecal sacks from the nest and there were little mountains of droppings around the youngsters. Maybe that was the reason the martin possibly never entered the actual nesting chamber!

Well, I figured the young were doomed. But fortunately I was wrong. The male finch finally returned and began to slip in the nest to feed his young at every opportunity. He was extremely timid and had to be constantly on the look out for the female martin which watched the finch nest. She would still chase him and he learned to NEVER enter the nest site when she was on the porch. I never saw the female finch again; the martin may have injured her. She lost a lot of feathers in that ferocious battle inside the nest compartment.

In the end, I believe the finch babies successfully fledged though I didn’t see them leave the nest. The SY martin pair stayed around for a while, but the aggressive female never laid any eggs.

While house finches may nest or try to nest in martin housing, established martins may have little difficulty defending their nest sites. In every encounter I have observed between these species, the martins prevailed. The martins were better fighters and more aggressive, particularly in close quarter combat inside the nests. But these were established martins with site tenacity and strong territorial/defensive drives. If house finches have already established territory and particularly if they have eggs or young, then they may be able to discourage martins from colonizing a new site. However, the house finch nest is NOT like one constructed by a house sparrow. It is a cup like nest that does NOT fill up the cavity. A martin can easily enter this nest. The house sparrow builds a compact nest that is a deterrent to martins and often prevents them from gaining access. Also, I have seen no evidence that house finches destroy martin eggs or try to kill small martin nestlings. Though house finches do sometimes have the finch eye disease, conjunctivitis, this disease may not be transmittable to other species. So, behavioral interactions between house finches and martins hopefully would not result in martins becoming infected. House finches are potential nest competitors for martins, but are probably of little consequence at established colonies. Established martins with site tenacity seem to have little difficulty keeping house finches at bay and even evicting them.

Steve Kroenke
Last edited by Steve Kroenke on Sat Nov 11, 2006 3:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Since the purple martin season is beginning, some folks may see those "red-headed" sparrows (males) flying around the housing. Those birds are house finches and protected species. I am re-activating an older posting of mine about some house finches and a female martin. Though I have not seen any house finches at my new colony in northwest Louisiana, I had some at my previous one in Tallahassee, Florida. From what I have observed, house finches will occasionally check out martin housing, but seem to prefer to nest closer to human houses in places like hanging plant baskets. I did have them nest or try to nest in several SuperGourds or aluminum house compartments.

From what I have observed the martins are dominant over the finches and the finches are not destructive like house sparrows. However, one year I did observe some behavioral interactions and this older posting describes a ferocious battle.

For established martin colonies, you probably have nothing to worry about if a pair of house finches are checking out the housing. At an un-established site, a pair of finches, particularly if they have a nest with eggs/young may deter inquisitive martins from investigating a house or gourd rack. If you see the finches setting up territory and carrying nesting material, then you should close up the housing to keep the finches from nesting. However, I have never seen these finches use a single unit house on a pole, so placing such a cavity nearby may not work. But if you have a carport or porch with hanging baskets, then the finches may quickly check them out!

So remember those "red-headed" sparrows (the males) are not some kind of mutant house sparrow that is just boiling mad and ready to battle! They are protected species, though introduced from western United States to the east. They are spreading to many areas and love to eat at bird feeders.

Steve
CUL Lou~Mich

Steve. They can sure be aggressive at the feeders. I've seen up to 12 or 14 of them sit on the feeder, and chase everything else away. Luckily I have other feeders out too. Lately, they haven't been quite as bad, although when I see a bunch of them, I'll open the window, which seems to scare them off. Not completely, but enough that the others can eat. I'm hoping it's about time for them to pair up, and go off someplace. When you get a mess of them, they can sure hog down the BOS. CUL Lou
Davlyn
Posts: 624
Joined: Sat Jan 24, 2004 8:55 pm
Location: Ga/Pavo

Hello Steve, I have a pair that nest in my hanging ferns every year.
I loved your story about the female martin and the finches.
April McClelland


PMCA Member
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Lou,

Yes, they can be! I always had a number of them eating my sunflower seeds. I believe I read somewhere that house finches have displaced house sparrows in certain locations. But the finch aggressiveness at feeding time did not transfer to aggressiveness at competition with the established martins in my colony. I have also seen house finches with conjunctivitis at my feeders. The finches? eyes are swollen and these birds are less vigilant and do become easy prey for Accipiter hawks. I have also found several nearly dead ones with this disease around my feeders.

Steve

Hey April,

One of my bosses had a number of house finches nesting in the fern baskets under his front porch. His wife would have to be careful at watering time and not drown the finches! At my last office building in Tallahassee, Florida, house finches nested behind the window panes of the first and second floors. It was fascinating to watch the finches build their nests, incubate the eggs and feed their young. You could sit at your desk and watch the breeding biology/behavior of house finches! However, you needed to be somewhat still and not make a lot of movement when getting real close to the window pane to avoid spooking the birds.

Steve
Guest

Thanks for the insight on House finch and Martin interaction. I've wondered about this since I have a pair of house finches that nest in a spruce about 13 yds from my martins. I did not observ any interaction between the two species last year. From your post I conclude that that could always change.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Hogwild,

I doubt you will have any issues with the house finches. Perhaps yours prefer to nest in trees and are not inclined to seek cavities or nest around human dwellings. Even if some house finches show an interest in your martin housing, I would assume your martins will successfully defend their nests. I like house finches and the male does have a pretty song. Now if they would just clean out their babies' droppings! Their nests do become rather nasty looking with little piles of fecal "mountains" surrounding the edge!

Steve
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

House finches have been expanding their breeding range and are now sometimes nesting or tying to nest in martin housing. Folks may start seeing these finches checking out martin houses/gourds. I am re-activating this older posting about a battle between a pair of finches and a female martin.

While I had some house finches at my previous martin colony in north Florida, I have seen none over here in northwest Louisiana. So far, the finches did not adversely impact any martin nests at my Tallahassee colony and the martins completely dominated the finches in behavioral interactions. These were established martins with site tenacity.

As the martin season approaches, you may start seeing house finches looking over your housing. If your colony is established, then the returning martins will probably be able to effectively deal with the finches. If you are trying to establish a colony, then it would be best to close up the house temporarily if you see finches trying to nest.

Finches love to nest in hanging flower baskets under a porch or carport. By placing some hanging baskets, you may be able to deflect any house finches from your martin housing.

Steve
RC Moser
Posts: 1537
Joined: Fri Nov 14, 2003 3:25 am

Steve I have several house finches around my yard. I also have several hanging baskets for them. Mine seldom bother my martin houses. I do see an occasionally one snooping around. I have noticed the differents in the flight patterns and shape of house finches when compared to ES. IMO this year was hard on all song birds. I seen several finch nest fail and some blue birds. I contributed it to the cool wet spring, pestering ES and then the presentient heat in my area.

Do you offer any separate housing for the finches away from you PM setup or do you discourage them from nesting around your property?

HF's IMO have such a pretty song. I had a yellow faces one couple of years ago roosting on my front porch.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

RC,

At my current site in northwest Louisiana, I have not seen any house finches. I have seen house finches around some of our satellite martin colonies located in more urban/suburban areas but the finches have not bothered the martin housing.

In Tallahassee, house finches were more common and often fed at my bird feeders. Several pairs did nest one year in my martin housing and were successful. There was plenty of room for all and little interaction between the martins and finches. The next year was war and the martins won though one pair of finches finally fledged I believe.

I have never seen the finches investigating other bird houses like bluebird/flycatcher boxes in my yard. The finches love the hanging baskets but I did not place any under my porch. The finches may like more vertically shallow boxes/cavities rather deeper ones.

I like house finches and did not remove their nests from my martin housing; the most pairs that tried to nest in my multiple housing were only two and they were not aggressive. Finches are protected species.

The house finch is native to the western United States to south Mexico and was introduced in the northeast United States around 1940 I believe. The finch has done well and spread through the eastern and southern United States.

The finch eye disease, conjunctivitis, is a problem and no doubt kills many finches and makes them vulnerable to predation. I have seen finches with swollen eyes and barely able to fly.

Steve
BamaBren

Steve......we had house finches but they didnt bother the martins at all....what they did like though was the hummingbird feeders....that was a first for me....i've never seen any other bird drink from those other than hummers till then....i was really amazed by that....had to get on the internet to see just what kind of bird it was and i did find where they go to hummer feeders because they like nectar also....ya learn something new everyday........Bren
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Bren,

I doubt you will have any problems with house finches and your martins. Your observation about house finches and hummingbird feeders is fascinating! Thanks for sharing that observation. In Tallahassee I have seen orchard orioles fly around my hummingbird feeders and perhaps they were sipping the sugar water. If you have a carport or a back/front porch with a roof, you may want to hang some plant baskets. The house finches really like these for nesting and so do the Carolina wrens. At my Mama's house, the Carolina wrens always built their nests in her hanging fern baskets. The wrens would "burrow" down in the foliage and build their dome nests. Mama would have to be careful when watering to avoid "flooding" the wrens' nest.

Steve
Carlton
Posts: 1931
Joined: Tue May 17, 2005 6:42 pm
Location: Florida/Pompano Beach
Martin Colony History: I moved to South Florida, from Delaware, in August of 2015.

I will have 2 MSS-8 houses, with Excluder entrances, here on my condo grounds. This season I will also have two Deluxe Gourd Racks with 24 Excluder Gourds with Modified Excluder entrances. In our condo development, along the lake in a different section, I have 8 Excluder Gourds hanging from 84 inch Shepherd's Hooks with predator guards.

At Quiet Waters Park, nearby in Deerfield Beach, I care for a Deluxe Gourd Rack with 12 TVG's. I also care for a Deluxe Gourd rack with 12 Excluder gourds with Modified Excluder entrances.

At another local park, Tradewinds Park at Coconut Creek, care for a Trendsetter 12, 5 gourds rack with 60 Excluder gourds with Modified Excluder Entrances and 1 Deluxe Gourd Rack with 12 Troyer Vertical Gourds with wing guards over the Conley II to keep out smaller starlings.

Thanks for all the good info about house finches and martins. I have a pair of house finches just now starting to build a nest in my Trio house which already has a pair of ASY martins.

I also observed house finches feeding at the hummingbird feeder. So cute.

Carl
litedave
Posts: 49
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2007 12:45 pm
Location: Southeast Louisiana

I wondered what those red headed birds were. My wife and I thought they might be baby Cardinals that were feeding at our Hummingbird feeders. They look like sparrows, but I also researched them on the internet and found out they were Finches. The female Finch has stripes on its underbelly, but a female house sparrow doesn't. They have nested on my back patio behind a speaker box installed high up on the porch. I may try putting up a hanging basket to see if they like it. They don't seem to be bothering my Martins and have become a welcome sight at the HB feeder.

David
Guest

I too have these cute birds at my hummer feeders.... I will try the hanging baskets... Good idea! last week i had 2 pairs of Orioles at my hb feeder... I have never seen them in our area before. They hung around for 5 days and ate sliced oranges and Suet and i guess moved on... They are beautiful too... My Martins are great, busy like everyone else's...
Take Care and Happy Martining,
Adiekaty
kborder
Posts: 52
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2007 1:02 pm
Location: Ohio/Dresden

our house finches have never attempted to move into our housing or gourds--I have seen many over the years with conjunctivitis, and even a male cardinal, which makes sense, because it is a finch as well
--what I'm wondering is this, if the finches do share PM housing, is that putting the martins in danger of catching the disease if the finches are carriers?
--something to think about
Kim Border
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

We are all familiar with house sparrows and starlings as competitors of purple martins. There is another bird, the house finch, which can in some situations compete with martins. I have had house finches show interest in some of my martin housing in Tallahassee, Florida. No house finches have tried to move into any of our martin housing in northwest Louisiana. What little competition I have observed between established martins and house finches has shown that the martins were in charge and out competed the finches.

I am re-posting an older article dealing with a ferocious battle I observed between a female martin and two house finches with babies. It was one of the most savage battles I have ever seen between a martin and another bird species.

Steve
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

The other day I saw several house finches flying around our yards. The little finches even briefly flew toward our martin colonies but did not dare to land with so many martins in residence!

The male house finch with his "red head" looks like a "red-headed sparrow"! The female finch is brown and is sometimes confused with a female house sparrow.

The male house finch has a pretty song.

The finches stayed for a while and then moved on.

House finches will occasionally nest or try to nest in martin housing. From what I have observed established martins have no problem chasing finches away and the finches are no match for martins in battles. If finches manage to set up territory at an unestablished martin colony site, then the finches may be able to keep "new" martins from investigating the housing. But even there martins still may move in to unoccupied cavities as the finches are not that aggressive from what I have observed.

I am re-posting an older article dealing with a savage battle I observed between a female martin and a pair of house finches at my previous martin colony in Tallahassee, Florida.

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
dsonyay
Posts: 1228
Joined: Fri Jul 02, 2010 3:10 pm
Location: Louisiana/Broussard
Martin Colony History: 2010-2014 located in Slidell LA. Gourd rack with 16 gourds. Max of 2 pairs during this short period in Slidell. Plenty of fledglings.

2014-present.. moved to Broussard LA. Same Gourd Rack but added a 6 room house (modified from a 12 room)

2020: after a long drought of nothing, 4 pairs and 4 nests, 23 eggs total (May2020)

Glad you reposted this becuase I've never thought there could be a problem with the HF, although it seems the problem is on the HF and not the martins.

I have lots of HFs around but very few HS. I'm been able to thwart a male HS from building a nest in a gourd by killing him and the female (she was trapped, the male was shot).

I rarely see the HFs on the gourds. They land there from time to time, but that's about it. I've yet to see one go in. They seem to be cordial with the martins from everything I've witnessed since last year.
Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4342
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

David,

House finches probably don't try to nest in many purple martin colonies. I have seen them at my old Florida colony and I remember seeing a pair nesting in a Super Gourd at an active martin colony in Tallahassee at a golf course.

House finches may fly to gourd racks or martin houses and look around some. These finches may just be curious and not really looking for a place to nest.

House finches will nest in hanging plant baskets and I have seen them do this before.

At my old office building in Tallahassee a few house finches would nest behind the window panes on some parts of the building. Office workers could watch the house finches raise their babies! Their nests were up against the glass pane and you could see everything!

I like the house finches though we have very few of them in my immediate area. I saw more in the Tallahassee area.

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season
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