Birdwatching Canada

A voice for the northern birds

Finch Musings

Happy Spring! Today is officially the first day of spring, and in many parts of the country, it’s been a long time coming.

Just after dawn this morning, I was levitated out of my bed by a very loud bird noise in the back yard. At the very least it had to be a large hawk, or possibly even an eagle. I flew out of bed, grabbed the binos, and took a bleary-eyed look at the trees in the back. It was a bluejay.

I cannot count the number of times these blue jokers have done this to me. You’d think I’d learn after a while, but any birder will tell you there’s always a chance it isn’t one of these expert mimics, so I’ll no doubt continue to jump to their whims. I swear I could hear him laughing.

Male House Finch

Male House Finch

For the rest of the day, I’ve been serenaded by house finches. I’ve got bird feeders front and back, and hence house finches front and back. Lovely, cheerful sound on this sunny spring day!

These melodic crooners are relatively new to my yard here in southern Alberta. About five years ago I had one bird, the following year I had 5, then I had 13… I no longer bother to count as they’re everywhere.

Originally a resident of the southwestern USA, house finches were introduced to eastern North America in the 1940’s. Sold as Hollywood Finches, a great marketing gimic, they were eventually released and spread across the entire eastern USA and southern Canada in the next 50 years.

They have become naturalized throughout eastern North America, and are spreading westward. The western population is also spreading eastward, and the two populations of these adaptable birds are now meeting in the Great Plains.

In many areas, they have displaced the house sparrow, itself an immigrant from Europe. House finches are one of the few birds aggressive enough to evict house sparrows from their nests, and as my house finch population grew, the house sparrow population in my yard dropped.

Originally inhabitants of undisturbed habitats, they have adapted to areas altered by humans, and their rapid spread has been made easier by the large number of bird feeders put out by bird-loving humans.

Unfortunately, they have also displaced the native Purple Finch in some areas. The male House Finch can be told from Cassin’s and Purple Finches by its streaked belly, browner back and nape, longer unforked tail and different call notes. Female House Finches have much plainer faces than the other finches.

It’s a good thing I enjoy the cheerful melodies of the house finches, as I think they’re here to stay. Maybe the bluejay will start imitating them instead, and stop jolting me awake with his impersonation of a raptor in my backyard.

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