Finches: Gold And Purple

Looking out my window this morning, I can see about a dozen goldfinches.

Finches, in the family Fringillidae, are relatives of crossbills, grosbeaks, siskins and redpolls. Nice family. The birds in this family eat seeds and have an undulating flight pattern. In the autumn, they join other birds in flocks to head south for the winter.

Recently, my feeders have been host to both gold and purple finches, which are in the family Carpodacus. Both, I think, breed on my property. I must be living right.

I’m on a roll. We’ll talk about the behavior of these birds first. Yes, you know how much I love studying that topic. Later, we’ll cover the details of how hard it is to identify these flighty, little birds in the wild.

First, the purple finch, which seems to be less common than the goldfinch. The male displays before mating. He jumps around dangling his wings and puffing out his chest (like some human males, ha, ha). Then, he vibrates those wings really fast and cocks his tail. At the same time, quietly calling, and maybe, flying about 6-12 inches above the ground. Sometimes, he will do this while holding nesting material in his bill. What female could resist that? OK. I certainly could. Give me a good meal (that I don’t have to cook) in a restaurant. It can be an inexpensive breakfast, my favorite meal of the day. Yeh! The male gets the girl. I mean female.

The next project is nest-building. Of the about 470 passerines, those that perch on trees or shrubs, only approximately 23 percent actually use holes or construct domed structures. About 77 percent build open nests.

Why would so many of them choose that route? One possibility is that both the birds and nests are under-large. (Being small myself, I prefer the word under-large or tall.) I completely understand the reasoning. Large people and birds often use their size to get their way. The large birds can adapt a smaller hole by enlarging their holes with their larger bills.

Another advantage of open nests is that they are not as noticeable as those with covers, or domes. Our purple finch is picky. It only places materials in its nest that blends into its surrounding site. Smart bird.

Finally, let’s discuss the purple finch in bird communities and how it competes with others. First, a definition is needed. A bird or biological community is made up of all the living organisms (microbes, plants and animals) that live in a particular area. This group of organisms share activities like plants producing oxygen for animals (and birds) to breathe. In return, animals produce carbon dioxide that is used by plants.

Ecologists often specialize in a particular facet, like birds or bird communities. “The Birder’s Handbook” states that competition can greatly influence who lives in bird communities and how the birds behave. What is their evidence? In the northwestern United States, the male red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds often designates their territories in open marshes. It is also true that the red-wing arrives earlier in our areas to be able to dominate a marsh. I can hardly wait to see them in the spring. Actually, I can hardly wait for spring. I don’t see the yellow-headed blackbird around here, but where it is seen, it tries to rout out the red-winged. It does this by taking over the best territories of cattails and other plants in deep water that has the most insects. The red-wing doesn’t do badly, though. It breeds perfectly well in these habitats, so that the yellow-head can’t take over the less productive sites as successfully.

If you wish to learn about these birds, go to my blog,