Several days ago, I paid a morning visit to my friend and fellow recordist Bob McGuire (we’ve done a number of trips together). Bob’s yard is full of House Finches and Common Grackles, attracted to the abundant evergreens surrounding his home. Luckily, it was a blue-sky day, so I managed to get some usable video footage of both species, with pretty decent sound.

I am always enthused when the grackles first show up in early spring. I’m alerted to their arrival by their harsh chack calls, which are more full-bodied than the similar notes of Red-winged Blackbirds. Glancing in the direction of the calls, I am delighted when I see larger-than-robin blackbirds with long, keeled tails … “oh happy day, the grackles are back!”

Once breeding activities begin, I listen for the “ruff-out squeaks” of the males, their courtship display. The male puffs out his feathers and leans forward, spreading his wings and tail, and finally expelling a raucous skew-week! as he rises upward at the end. I can’t help but chuckle when I see a male do this (although I’m sure that female grackles don’t likewise consider it a laughing matter).

House Finches don’t perform a ruff-out squeak, but they do have a pretty song … a variable rambling warble of notes, sometimes ending with a nasal wheer or wheee. Most everyone knows the story of House Finches. They are a western species, but a small number were introduced to Long Island in 1940. That population prospered and spread westward, eventually meeting up with their western kin on the Great Plains.

I feel fortunate that we have House Finches in my area. They are quite common in downtown Ithaca, where they enliven the tall buildings with their sprightly, cheerful songs. In my early days of recording, I got my best examples of song right downtown, in the wee hours of morning before traffic noise overwhelmed the city soundscape.

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