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Brooklyn Bird Watch: December 8

House Finch. Scientific Name: Haemorthous Mexicanus.

December 8, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Brooklyn Bird Watch features today the Heather Wolf photo of a House Finch. As the Cornell Lab explains, The House Finch was introduced from western North America into eastern North America relatively recent and has been afforded a “warmer reception” than other rivals like the European Starling and House Sparrow. I know from other people that European Starlings (although beautifully colored birds) and House Sparrows can be considered pests.

For example, I have a friend in Florida who says she a light sleeper and who told me about some Starlings that built a nest inside the air conditioner shell (larger than her air conditioner) outside her bedroom window and how they had what sounded like family arguments late at night, accompanied with wings beating up against the hollow metal structure. And then early in the morning just before sunrise they would wake up making funny noises rustling around inside the structure. She said she researched her issue and found out not only were they noisy pests, but that having a wild nest inside the air conditioner shell could be a health hazard. Anyway, to make a long story short, that was it, she called a professional who cleaned out the shell and covered all entrance points with a strong wire screen. No more Starlings.

The House Finch was once called the “Hollywood Finch”. This bird is originally from the Western United States and Mexico. As the Cornell Lab also explains; “In 1940 a small number of finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds (“Hollywood finches”). They quickly started breeding and spread across almost all of the eastern United States and southern Canada within the next 50 years.” And Cornell says that if you put the small, black oil sunflower seeds on your bird feeder and attract one House Finch, be prepared to see many House Finches because if one discovers the feeder, they will go and return with a flock of 50 birds.

By the way, there are estimated to be anywhere from 267 million to 1.7 billion individual House Finches across North America. Whenever I read about how many birds there are even in one species I think about that scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “The Birds” where Ethel Griffies talks about how many birds there are: “It is estimated that 5 billion 750 million birds live in the United States alone. The five continents of the world probably contain more than 100 billion birds.” That was 58 years ago.

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Wikipedia describes their courtship like this: “The male will touch bills with the female. He may then present the female with choice bits of food, and if she mimics the behavior of a hungry chick, he may actually feed her. The male also feeds the female during breeding and incubation of the eggs, and raising of the young, and the male is the primary feeder of the fledglings (who can be differentiated from the females by the pin feathers remaining on their heads). Females are typically attracted to the males with the deepest pigment of red to their head, more so than the occasional orange or yellowish-headed males that sometimes occur.”

Audubon says these birds are “adaptable, colorful, and cheery-voiced”, and that they are common from coast to coast, familiar visitors to backyard feeders. Audubon says it was “New York pet shop owners, who had been selling the finches illegally, released their birds in 1940 to escape prosecution; the finches survived and began to colonize the New York suburbs. By 50 years later they had advanced halfway across the continent, meeting their western kin on the Great Plains.

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