Hollywood birds sing a pretty songPublished 10:22am Monday, March 26, 2012
Bunkey has been feeding birds for about five years. His feeders are on a hanger on his deck so the birds feed only about 10 feet from the glass doors.
About two years ago, he noticed a flock of what at first, he thought were purple finches. They have been described as sparrows that have been dipped in raspberry juice. These birds, however, were the wrong color. They looked more strawberry-colored.
When Bunkey started watching birds, he bought three different bird books. He always goes to extremes with his hobbies. Just ask Petunia about his attempt to build wood duck houses. He bought plies of wood, two power saws, several different types of measuring devices, three boxes of screws, and that was just the things she knew about.
So when he started watching birds, he got the books, four different feeders and three different feeds — black oil sunflower seed, a finch mix and thistle seed.
It only took days for the birds to find the feeders, but the unidentified finches only showed up two years ago.
He discovered that they were actually house finches and a long way from their native area — the West Coast.
Because of their exuberant, tumbling song, they were captured and sold as cage birds, a vey illegal practice.
A flock of them were sent to New York pet dealers in the early 1940s. When the federal inspectors came around, the finches were released to fend for themselves.
And fend they did. They thrived. They had soon spread from the East Coast to the Mississippi River with a population in the hundreds of millions, becoming firmly established by the 1990s.
No other native bird has colonized such a wide area in so short of time in such huge numbers.
One factor in their survival may be their habit of congregating in large flocks. They are very social birds. They seem comfortable with people, often nesting in hanging baskets or wreaths hanging on doors. They nest two or three times a season here and turn out a large number of babies. They are also big fans of feeders, especially those filled with black sunflower seeds.
They are susceptible to a bacterial disease that causes their eyes to swell shut. This eventually leads to the death of the bird. It is caused by dirty feeders or contaminated feed on the ground.
Many of our other birds are affected by this disease so do keep the feeders clean and the poop contaminated seed on the ground picked up.
So how do you identify these songsters? The boys have red on their head and upper body and if they have their tails toward you, a red spot under his wings on his rump. His wife is a modest brown and white striped, plump lady.
Not long ago, no one had seen a house finch in the wild in our area, now they are one of the most abundant birds at the feeder. To keep them around, keep the sunflower feeders full, hang flower baskets in the trees for nests and just enjoy these little Hollywood birds.
Bev Johnson, Otter Tail County Master Gardener