Friday, May 13, 2011

Nature Study: Birds of Spring

If you drive past my house you might notice some horrible looking Christmas greenery still hanging up on my porch.  No, we are not just procrastinators who forgot to take down their decorations from Christmas!  
Picture of our Ugly, Brown, Dead-Looking Christmas Hanging Baskets aka The House Finch's Perfect Home

OK, I take that back.....  Perhaps we do tend to procrastinate a bit when it comes to taking down Christmas decorations.  However, that is not the only reason we have left our Christmas stuff out.  This year we have a very good excuse for leaving those baskets up.   Inside those ugly, dried out baskets is a family of house finches. It has been a wonderful experience for all of us observing those beautiful birds this spring...and right outside our front door no less!
Photo of The House Finch courtesy of IBC Bird

Hollywood Comes to Visit:
Late winter/early spring I started to notice this pretty pair of small birds scoping out our hanging baskets.  They would kind of hang out in the tree next to it, checking out the scene:  Watching how often we came in and out of our front door;  Watching the baskets to see if they were sturdy;   Landing on them and popping their heads in and out of the leaves, etc.  So I left the baskets up with the hunch that perhaps the birds were looking for a nesting location.  I had no idea what kind of birds they were at the time.  I just thought they were pretty--and I felt it nice to give the poor creatures a home seeing that my suburban-housing-development probably took up a much of their natural nesting spots.

I got out my favorite bird field guide and the kids and I looked the birds up.  We discovered that we had a family of house finches moving in.  The kids were eager to learn more about these "new pets"---so I we started to research them and learn more about them.  It turns out these simple little birds have an interesting history.  House finches were originally only residents of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.  However, in the 1940's the birds were illegally sold as "pets" marketed under the name of Hollywood Finches.  The name was a marketing ploy given to make the finches seem more posh and exclusive. order to avoid procescution under the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918, the owners and distributors of these birds started releasing them into the wild.  The birds did not die when released into the wild and infact, the "Hollywood Finches" thrived.  So much so that they are displacing the native purple finch and house sparrows.

Range Increase of House Finch:  Photos from Wikipedia

Beautiful Soundtrack:

These baskets hang inches from my front door.  So when I would have the door open I can hear the little male just singing his heart out trying to establish my porch as his territory.  The house finch has a beautiful song.  You can click this link to hear their songs.  I will sometimes just open my front door so that I can hear these little finches singing as I am cleaning up our living room.  I have to admit that I did feel a bit like snow white cleaning my house with birds singing to me in the background.   I am a firm believer that all mothers should have birds serenade them as they clean the house!
Birds should always sing to you as you clean the house! 

The Babies Arrive!
Seemingly overnight, the female finished building the nest.  The male didn't seem to help much.  Unless you call singing noisily nearby helping, and tweeting loudly at everything that pasts the nest. ???  However, the nest was built very quickly and effeciently by that mother!  Almost a week after the nest was constructed the mother begin to sit on her nest.  I didn't take any picture of this since I didn't want to spook her.  I could tell she wanted privacy and as a mother myself I respected that.  :) 

Around Easter time, the female begin leaving the nest for short periods of time to visit our bird feeder outback.  I did sneak a picture inside her nest and this is what I found:

Picture Taken 4-23-2011:  Inside the nest of a House finch.  Two VERY tiny baby birds and one egg left unhatched.

I didn't take too many picture because I could tell the poor things were frightened for their lives when they saw a HUGE person standing over their nest.  They would shake and shiver when I would come near them.   I would also try and sneak and take a peek into their nest only when the mother wasn't around.  I was afraid that she might not come back to her nest if she saw me messing with it.  (I don't know if that was a valid concern or not.  However, I didn't want to risk it.) 

A few days later I snapped another picture and to my surprise, the third egg/bird was missing.  (At least I couldn't see it all in the nest.)  I looked around the ground and I didn't see any broken egg shells or eggs.  So it is a mystery to me what could have happened to the third egg/chick. 
Picture Taken 4-26-2011:  Inside the nest of a House Finch.  What happened to the third egg/bird?
Empty Nesters:
At this point, my little baby "Hollywood Finches" have fledged the nest.  We are officially empty nesters.  I have seen multiple small House Finches at our feeders and I like to imagine that those are the babies that were in our nest.   (There is no way of knowing for sure though.)  The mother and father finches still hang out in the tree outside our perch.  And I even caught the female bringing a little piece of fluff over and stuffing it into the empty nest.

Thanks for reading!!

Links to become Attached To:
The Handbook of Nature Study Spring Bird Series
Preschool Corner


Tony Rugare said...

Beautiful post!

Unknown said...

What a great story of your finches! I love it when we can find a nature study topic right in our own yards and then take the time to notice the cycle.

I love the image of you doing your housework with the door open and the birds Snow White. :)

So the question is, are you leaving the greenery up now or is it coming down?

Thanks for sharing your entry with the OHC.

The Attached Mama said...

Hi Barb!
You know, I am pondering what to do with the baskets now myself. I read that the house finch will sometimes return to the nests and use them again the next year. So part of me feels bad for making the poor birds start from scratch with their nests. (Plus it would be cool to have our own personal finches year after year.) On the other hand, I really would like to get these Christmas baskets down. LOL

Laura said...

Oh wow, how exciting to be able to see the nest and baby birds! The kids must have been thrilled!!!!

Phyllis said...

This is great! I learned so much and I love your photos.

Brimful Curiosities said...

What a fun post! My mom has a pair of finches that always wait for her to hang up her hanging basket of flowers every spring near her front door. She's always worried about watering the plant with a nest in it.

Unknown said...

Wow, this must have been so exciting for your family to watch! Great post :) Thanks for sharing the story of your finches.

Unknown said...

How neat that you could the babies and finches up so closely! We found a nest recently - we like it's a Robin's - and are waiting to see the egg shells on the ground underneath. (Robins tend to "throw" the empty shells out of their nests when the babies hatch.) Stopping by from Science Sunday!

Sylvia said...

Great pictures, how much fun! I laughed when i saw your favorite bird guide, that was Zak's very first guide when he was 2. He has always been fascinated with birds and his copy of the book is very well loved and used!

Ticia said...

What an amazing thing to observe! We have a nest in one of our trees, but we can't see in it.

Thanks for linking up to Science Sunday!

learningtable said...

I always feel like the finches are watching me when I hang up the new ferns for the season! They move right in almost immediately. It's amazing how bold they are.


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