Monday, December 10, 2007

Common Feeder Birds: House Finch

I remember seeing my first House Finch. It was the early 1980's and one showed up at our feeder in Lebanon, Ohio, near Cincinnati. My Mom commented on the strange red "sparrow" at the feeder. At that time, the House Finch was a uncommon sight in southeast Ohio and, according to range maps, had not even spread to Indiana, yet. Little did I know that there would be many, many more to come in the following years.
House Finch male-photo by John Howard

The House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, has an interesting story. They were native to the Western United States in the 1940's and were trapped and sold by dealers in Los Angeles, California to bird stores in the East under names like "Hollywood Finches", "Red-headed Linnets" an other names to get around the ban on sales of migratory birds. According to an article by J. J. Elliot and R. S. Arbib in the Auk, 1953, the birds that were sold numbered in the thousands. The National Audubon Society got involved to put a halt to this illegal traffic and it is believed someone decided to release some of these finches around Long Island, New York. This is where the first male was observed in April, 1941 near Jones Beach, Long Island. Soon reports and numbers grew. In May, 1943 the first nest with 4 young was discovered in a tree nursery in Babylon, Long Island. In the winter of 1948-49 a heavy snow knocked the original flock back, but by 1949, the flock in Babylon had grown to 70 individuals and 3 other colonies in the nearby areas of Hewlett, Westbury and Lawrence were observed. The following distribution map shows how the individuals have spread over the years. By the late 1970's-early 1980's, the house finch numbers in the east had greatly increased and by the 1990's had almost reached the original population in the west. Nowadays, the house finch is estimated, according to Cornell Birds of North America Online, to have a population between 267 million to over 1 billion for the continental U.S. and Canada!

Maps showing the distribution of the House Finch through time.

Despite its origin, the House Finch is a handsome bird. The males color can range from yellow to orange to red, with the darker red males being in demand with the females. Supposedly, the more brilliant the red, the better the male is at obtaining good food, rich in carotenoids, a chemical found in many plants that have red and orange color. The females will want to choose a male that can provide ample food for her and the brood. The female is white and brown streaked, so she is better camouflaged when sitting on the nest.

House finch female

Look for this native Californian at your feeders. They enjoy nyjer seed (thistle) as well as black-oil sunflower and will also take suet.

No comments: