Diary entry April 3, 2012: "Male goldfinches coming into our feeder are almost completely changed into their mating plumage."
The finches belong to the Fringillidae family and, in Latin, the word means small bird. There are 83 species in the family, which include some of the finest singers in North America, such as the cardinals and grosbeaks. Although a few of the birds in the finch family sing while in flight, most sing from a perch.
The finches, which are not colony nesters, nest away from others of their kind, with each pair establishing a territory that the male defends. They are basically monogamous, meaning they have only one mate during the nesting season.
The female builds the nest, incubates the eggs and broods the young. In most finches, the male feeds the female while she is on the nest and helps with the raising of the young.
In general, all members of the Fringillidae family have cone-shaped, strong bills, which adapt to seed eating and are the reason they often are referred to as seed eaters; however, they also eat insects.
The scientific name for the American goldfinch is Carduelis tristis, with the genus name coming from the Latin word carduus, which means eats seeds of thistle, while the species name is Latin and means sad, in reference to its call.
There is no mistaking the male goldfinch when in his mating plumage. During spring and summer, he is a lemon yellow and the only bird with black wings, black cap and tail. During the winter months, he compares to the female's olive yellow and dusky wings, with two white wing bars.
The scientific name of the purple finch is Carpodacus purpureus, with the genus name Latin, coming from the two Greek words: karpos, meaning fruit, and dakos, meaning biter.
The species name is Latin and means purple; however, the male is not purple but rather a raspberry tinge mixed with rose red, with the brightest red on the head and rump. The purple finch is more uniformly red than any of the other finches. The females are a brown-gray above and gray-white below, with a broad whitish line over its eyes.
The other finch that might be mistaken for the purple finch is the house finch. The house finch's scientific name is Carpodacus mexicanus. The genus name is the same as for the purple finch, but the species name of mexicanus is Latin and means Mexican.
The male house finch has a bright red crown, breast and rump that is brighter than the deeper raspberry color of the purple finch. The house finch also has striped flanks that the purple finch lacks.
The house finch, which was native to the western U.S. and Mexico, was introduced into eastern U.S. in 1940 when they were illegally wild trapped and shipped to New York dealers, who sold the birds as Hollywood finches.
Because this was a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects native songbirds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife stopped the illegal traffic. To avoid arrest, the New York dealers opened the cages and set the birds free. The birds spread quickly and, by 1953, they had spread beyond the city. By 1971, the house finches had established themselves all along the east coast.
Competition from the house finches with the sparrows for food, territory and nest sites could have resulted in the decline of the population of the house sparrow.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.