Common Redpoll vs House Finch: ID Challenge

Updated: Oct. 23, 2023

These red-crowned finches can be difficult to tell apart. Learn key traits to spot the differences between a common redpoll vs a house finch.

common redpoll sitting on branch in snowy weatherCourtesy Sheila Skogen
It can be tricky for birders to identify a common redpoll vs a house finch.

Both members of the finch family, the common redpoll and the house finch are seed eaters that you may be lucky enough to attract to your feeder. Besides sharing those behaviors, they also share some physical similarities that could make identification a challenge. Taking a closer look (and listen!) can help differentiate the common redpoll vs the house finch.

Don’t miss these super pretty pictures of finches.

How to Identify a Common Redpoll

Common redpoll perched on a branch in winter in ottawa Jim Cumming/Shutterstock
Birders are more likely to spot a common redpoll in winter.

Common redpolls have a petite body with a distinctive little red spot on their forehead, brown-and-white streaked sides with white wingbars and a pink chest. They have a small, pointed yellow bill surrounded by black feathers.

Their song is a mixture of their sharp, zapping call notes that lasts about 30 seconds.

Unlike the house finch, common redpolls have a more northerly based range and are migratory. They nest in the Arctic, migrating south irregularly in winter to southern Canada and the northern U.S. This hardy bird thrives in cold weather, so watch your feeders in winter to catch a glimpse of one.

Discover more types of finches to look for in winter.

How to Identify a House Finch

house finch sitting on branchJody Partin/Shutterstock
House finches have a wider range in the U.S. throughout the year.

House finches have a long, flat head with large red patches around the face; brown-streaked back, belly and tail; and
a scarlet breast. Their thick, grayish conical bill is perfect for eating seeds, plant buds and berries.

Listen for their lengthy series of short warbling notes ending with a zeee.

These finches have a much more extensive range and are found year-round across much of the United States and Mexico, plus parts of southern Canada. If you see a red finch in the southern U.S., it is more likely a house finch. 

Female Traits

276245865 1 Titi Mcneill Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Titi Mcneill
Male and female house finch pair

Female house finches are brown and streaked, but with no red coloring. Female common redpolls have a tiny red crown, similar to that of the males. When comparing females of the two species, house finches have heavier streaking.

Next, learn how to tell the difference between a house finch vs a purple finch.