Archive for Invasive

House Finch male 2/4/18

I like all the birds I find, even the killers and invaders. Like my old friend and mentor Alfred Timmons would say, “Everything just wants to live.” So one of the things I’m often perplexed by is how some birders have an almost violent hatred of certain invasive species, like House Sparrows or European Starlings. Supposedly the hatred is justified on account of them displacing native species like Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Flickers. There are folks who complain or unfollow Birdaday after I’ve posted about about these invasives. But then others not, so it seems something else might be going on. Case in point the House Finch—an invasive species that has devastated the Purple Finch population in the Eastern US (except for its deep forest habitats). Why are they not vilified? Is it because they look so similar to the species they’ve displaced? Is it because they bring color to the feeder, or a pleasant song in spring?

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Rock Pigeons 12/13/14

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The Rock Pigeon, aka Rock Dove, or just plain Pigeon isn’t at all native to North America, and even more than that it was originally domesticated at least 5000 years ago and has since been introduced and widely spread over every continent but Antarctica. A name that would better reflect its peculiar heritage is the “wild-now-but-once-domesticated-pigeon.” Feral Pigeon is a more concise name but doesn’t quite convey as much. Feral Rock Pigeons come in a variety of forms, the gray winged morph with 2 dark wing bars is thought to be closest to the original stock, but there are also black, red/brown, and white morphs and a whole range of intermediate color mixes. Not to mention all the many hundreds of still-domesticated fancy breeds, but you won’t often come across those in a wild setting. Female Rock Pigeons look nearly identical to the males, except for being less iridescent.

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House Finch 7/26/14

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The last time I wrote a birdaday about the House Finch, I used the genus Carpodacus and not Haemorhous. The name actually changed in 2012, but I’m just getting used to it now. Turns out there are a lot of Carpodacus finches in the old world (collectively called rosefinches) and recent DNA studies showed our new world rosefinches aren’t much related to them as had always been thought. So all three of the American rosefinches (including the Cassin’s Finch and Purple Finch) got the new bloody genus name Haemorhous, and I suppose that means we should probably be calling them bloodfinches now instead of rosefinches. This male’s standing guard regularly slurring two notes together in an upward question—to which his sweetie, brooding chicks atop an arbor vitae, answers regularly with a much different and more typical finchy babble.

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House Sparrow winter male 12/22/13

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The House Sparrow, aka English Sparrow, is a true or old world sparrow, unrelated to the American sparrows. Like starlings and pigeons it was introduced here and in less than 50 years had spread across North America to all but the coldest latitudes with some disastrous effects on native species. Many birders revile them.  Today they are the most widely distributed bird in the world.  The one above is a nonbreeding male.

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Rock Pigeon 12/2/13

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What’s the difference between a pigeon and a dove? Most folks would answer pigeons are bigger than doves, and others might say pigeons are birds belonging to the genus Columba. Truth is there’s no real scientific distinction though ask anyone in the world what this bird is and they’ll say pigeon. Surprisingly, it took the AOU (the American Ornithologists Union)—the folks who rule over the official names of birds—until 2003 to acknowledge that the bird above is a Rock Pigeon and not a Rock Dove. Rock Pigeons are not native to North America and are a domesticated breed that originally hailed from the Middle East. They were commonly kept on ships as a food supply back in the age of discovery, and in that way were quickly spread around the globe, adapting to almost any region that sustained agriculture.

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European Starling 5/4/13

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We have some Shakespearean enthusiasts to thank for the Starlings ubiquity. Some 60 birds were introduced to NYC in 1890 so that all the birds in Shakespeare’s works could be found in Central Park. Today’s North American population numbers in the hundreds of millions, all descending from those initial immigrants. They are among the noisiest of songbirds, full of whistles, clacks, and phrases that are both musical and mechanical-sounding, into which they  mix an impressive mimicry of other birds and sounds around them—anything from car doors slamming to cameras shuttering. Short-tailed and stocky, at this time of year the speckled browns and black bill of winter dress has given way to a shaggy black coat of iridescent greens and purples, and a bright yellow beak.

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