Archive for Finch

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?


House Finch, Male 11/6/16


House Finches, along with Purple and Cassin’s Finches, used to belong to the worldwide group of birds collectively known as rosy finches. But DNA studies have shown the North American rosy finches to have diverged considerably, and so they have been moved into their own genus Haemorhous, or blood finches. While a few migrate, here they are year round birds. They originated in the southwest but were introduced into NYC and have been spreading for decades, displacing their Purple Finch cousins.


American Goldfinch molting male 4/11/16


Nothing speaks of spring more than an American Goldfinch changing out of its drab winter khakis into a lemon tuxedo. Most finches have just one set of year-round duds, but goldfinches are more like spring warblers where males sport a brilliant breeding plumage. I call Goldfinches “potato chips” because you’ll often hear them calling that when bouncing through the air overhead, “Potato chip! Potato chip! Potato chip!” The grain they depend on to raise their families doesn’t ripen until late July, and being gregarious by nature, they hang out in small flocks longer and breed later than most other songbirds.


Evening Grosbeak male 5/23/15


I hear these beauties everywhere on the mountain slopes but don’t often see them since they’ve paired up for the breeding season, and no longer roam around in winter flocks. Grosbeak isn’t a natural group of closely related birds, but a loose collection of big-beaked songbirds from the finch, tanager, weaver, and cardinal groups. The Evening Grosbeak male above is actually a Cardueline finch.


Purple Finch male 5/5/15


There’s a large clade or group of birds known around the world as rose finches, all belonging to the genus Carpodacus. But not too long ago DNA sequencing showed that the 3 American rose finches—the Purple, House, and Cassin’s Finches—had diverged from the old-world rose finches much longer ago than anyone expected. They aren’t nearly as related to the other Carpodacus as the other Carpodacus are to each other. So the American rose-finches got reclassified into the genus Haemorhous which roughly translates to “blood finch.” The Purple Finch above is a male, females are a drab brown.


Pine Siskin 2/27/15


Close cousin of the American Goldfinch, Pine Siskins are drabber and streakier but have bright yellow highlights in the base of their primaries and tail feathers. They’re quite gregarious and noisy with a near-constant finchy twitter. Like other finches their winter wanderings are unpredictable, but if you come across a flock take a few moments to scan for the uncommon green morph. These will have a yellow wash on the nape, flanks and undertail, and more than the usual helping of yellow in the wings and tail. Green morphs are always male, but less than 1% of males are green morphs.


Common Redpoll female 2/24/15


Redpolls are Arctic finches that wander erratically in winter. They follow food supplies, so you never know when or even whether they’ll show up. This female was one of 8 I found feeding on catkins. Females have red caps, black faces 2 wingbars, a forked tail and bright yellow bills, and males are the same except they add a bright raspberry wash on their breast and flanks. Juveniles show no red at all and even lack the black face, but do have the yellow conical bill and forked tail. They do occasionally show up at nyjer feeders along with other winter finches.


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