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.
And, oh boy, I always get the House Finch and Purple Finches mixed up. Even when they are shown side by side. Forget the females. Too hard. They are just nice little brown birds with a sweet melody to me! Lol.
It’s so easy to confuse the two! This season, I haven’t even heard a Purple Finch. Maybe I just haven’t gone to the right locations. But it seems they used to be more common in my area of upstate New York.
I’m not too far away,Lang. I live in Exton,Pa. We have both. But I’m so sure I see and hear the Purple finch. At the feeders. Haven’t had any of the grackles show up. What may scare them away? Hawks, bluejays? No pond?
grackles do like wet areas with plenty of cover to breed (they often nest in “loose colonies”).
A Boat Tail! Love how he puffs himself up! Thank you for sharing!
Not a Boat-tailed Grackle … that’s a different but closely related species. My videos feature the Common Grackle.
Oops! I guess they do look similar. Boy, I’m glad I don’t have a job identifying birds! I’d be homeless,lol.
A pair of house finches have made a nest in the grapevine wreath outside my front door. Hatched two eggs. We are not using the door. Mother gets very nervous if I even open the inside door, thus it has been closed for the last three weeks.
We have a robin in a shrub right outside our door. Sometimes she tolerates our entrance or exit, but usually she flushes. Unfortunately, it’s our only practical way in and out, aside from our basement door (we live in a split level house). So I guess she’ll just have to put up with our disturbances (at least we don’t loiter on the porch).
Lots of house finches like the one you recorded here in Santa Clara, CA (Silicon Valley) also!
I close my eyes and the sound takes me outside. A side note my cat enjoys the songs but can’t figure out where the bird is inside my computer
Hmmm … I haven’t figured that out either.
Why is it, do you think, the House Sparrow is despised while the House Finch is a wlcome visitor?
One is pure American while the other is a European invader?
Because the House Sparrow kicks out the Blue Bird? Thought they, house sparrow ,where considered pests.
Just wonderful love to be able to see them sing, birds are everything to me!
Thanks so much Lang. 🙂
Thank you! This was lovely.
Lol! Your response.
Grackle put his whole body into his call.
Carole: Yes, the grackle’s is a full-bodied song. That’s why biologists call it a “song-spread,” meaning that the body is sthpread-out as the song is delivered. The grackle is in the same family as the red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, and also the brown-headed cowbird. All these species perform some variation of the song-spread.
What a treat! You’ve turned a mundane yard into a theater of song. Come back anytime.
Thanks Bob for the opportunity, and I will come back soon!
Are House Finches different colors?
Rose: Females are much more drab-colored and males vary somewhat in the extent and brilliance of their red feathers.
I hear better’n see and your newsletters and site helps me learn who’s song is who’s while I listen to the songbirds outside my window.
Jules … glad to hear that you find my videos and recordings helpful!