Posts Tagged ‘House Finch’

Over the past couple of weeks spring has been becoming ever more evident in central California.  For one, large flocks of American Robins have been showing up.  These are likely groups of Turdus migratorius propinquus, large and pale subspecies, that are migrating from their wintering grounds in central Mexico, through central California on their way to their breeding grounds which could be anywhere from northern California to British Columbia or Montana.  I saw another sign that spring is in the air Tuesday as I was walking across campus.  Near one of the large lecture halls, I heard and saw a male Cooper’s Hawk kekking from the top of a large tree.  This was the first Cooper’s Hawk breeding behavior that I have seen this year, and two day later I saw and heard him again in almost the same spot.  Hopefully he will attract a female and set up a nesting territory here.  It would be a lot of fun to watch.  Another breeding behavior that I have just seen starting is that the male House Finches have stated mate-guarding the females.  I watched one particular male as he followed a female around as she foraged, and repeatedly chased off other males that approached too close to the female.  A final sign from the birds that the seasons are changing was a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker checking out cavities as potential nesting sites.  He was moving through a couple of dead trees in West Sacramento, and stopping at any hole he could find.  he would take a few moments at each to look at the external hole, and then stick his head in to take a look at the interior.  He rejected all the contenders save for one, which he poked his head into, and apparently liked.  He climbed all the way in, and over the next 10 minutes or so that I stayed to watch, he did not come out.  Apparently that was a good spot!  To add to these avian signs of spring is one of my favorite plant signs.  The fruit trees that fill the orchards and line many of the streets in the West Sacramento and Davis areas are all in bloom!  I do love the beauty of trees covered in small white or pink blossoms.

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For the last two weeks of 2012 and the first week of 2013, we have been treated to impressive event around our condo in West Sacramento, CA.  The sycamore trees that grow in the area all dropped their seeds.  It began quite suddenly with humdreds of little seeds covering the sidewalks in our neighborhood.  The trees that are right outside our front door were the first trees to start dropping thier seeds, and the trees across the street started about a week later.  One of the most dramatic outcomes of this sudden seed fall are all the birds that have arrived to eat the seeds.  A very large flock of American Goldfinches showed up and spent their days draped over the spiky round fruits pulling ripened seeds before they fell.  An only slightly smaller flock of House Finches have spent their time hooping around in the grass and walking along the sidewalks picking up the seeds that have fallen to the ground.  With them are a group of a 40 Mourning Doves that doing the same.  At times, birds crowd together on the ground under the trees seeking food.

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Mourning Doves, House Finches, and American Goldfinches eating fallen sycamore seeds out of the grasses.

One of the most impressive aspects of this event was how synchronized it was.  In a three week period, all the sycamore trees in the area dropped all their seeds.  What was the trigger?  Was it some specific weather pattern?  Was it simply the calendar time of year?  Is there some signal that passes between individual trees that can be used to coordinate reproduction (hormones secreted into the soil perhaps)?

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We have two bird feeders hanging above the little patio of our apartment, and the most regular species that we have as visitors are House Finches.  We have them all year round with large numbers in spring and fall as the waves of migrants move through central California, a smaller number that stays through winter, and just a handful of birds regularly come to the feeders during the summer breeding season.  I strongly suspect that this is because the House Finches space their breeding territories out to where only two or three are close enough to allow the birds access to the feeders without them having to cross into a neighbors territory too much.

Yesterday morning one of the pairs was accompanied for the first time by two fledglings!  These young birds were capable of a decent amount of flight, thought they were still doing so somewhat clumsily, but they are completely reliant on their parents for food.  Each of the two fledglings picked one of the parents and followed that adult around from fence top to ground and back again begging for food all the while. The parents are more then skilled enough to fly up and land on the feeders, but the young ones do not yet have the skills.  Instead, the young birds simply give their begging calls and tremble their wings in the hope that this behavior will trigger the adult they are following around to turn and feed them.  The adults spent most of their time picking seeds off the ground and, when they had gathered a crop full, feeding the fledgling trailing behind them.  The fledglings watched the adults picking seeds off the ground with obvious interest, but little understanding.  The second most common bird at our feeders are Western Scrub Jays.  We have one pair of Jays that have claimed out feeders and let no other Jays come anywhere close to them.  This pair built a nest in a Cottonwood tree just across the parking lot from out patio.  It is about 20 ft above the ground on a branch that is particularly dense with foliage.  Today, when they came to the feeders, they were accompanied for the first time by one fledgling of their own!  This young bird also has the occasional tuft of down still poking out through its course Juvenal feathers.  The young Jay also seems to have about the same level of understanding of the world as the young House Finches seem to.  It follows its parents and begs for food.  It watches the adults gather seeds and break them open with apparent curiosity, but does not have any understanding of how to go about actually performing this task.  Instead, it follows its parents and begs for food with fluttering wings.

It will take a little while for any of these fledglings to figure out that those hard black things are sunflower seeds and that there is food inside them.  It will take them all even a bit longer to figure out how to actually open the shell.  A very fun process to watch.

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