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Gardening For Wildlife #53 The Almost Ubiquitous House Finch
February 04, 2008

Thank You so much.........

So many of you mentioned last week how you enjoyed the topic on kids and playing in nature.

Kids always have a special place in our lives don't they?

You also said it brought back childhood memories of your play time.

Times have changed and lives are different, but we can't forget our future.

40 plus years ago, most of us at least knew someone that owned a farm or we knew of someone that worked a farm. Now that number is less than 1% of us knowing a farmer.

Sad but true.

That means less play space and habitats.


The sun sets after 6:00PM this week.

Though you wouldn't know it looking outside, Spring is one week closer :-)

Last week brought the nastiest winter weather of the season.

Tuesday and Wedneasday, much of the country had temperatures plumet 40 to 55 degrees in a matter of a couple of hours.

We had wind gusts of 64 MPH with snow and white outs....... you get the picture.

Then on Thursday night and Friday morning we were blessed with a huge dumping of white stuff.

Today there is rumor of rain mixed with snow.

It sure made for a pretty landscape or for a postcard, but why now?

I mean it's February, and cabin fever has slammed me right into the wall.

Still, one nice thing about storms is all the bird action they bring to my feeders.

It wont be long and the Cardinals will be staking claim to territories.

The Red polls will be heading North along with the Purple finches and of course the Red breasted nuthatches that I have enjoyed hand feeding this year.

Every season is what we want to make of it, so enjoy it while you can.

Did you know that February is "National Bird Feeding Month" here the the USofA?

Here is how it came to be so and why.

In January 1994, Illinois' 10th District Congressman John Porter read a resolution in the Congressional Record making February "National Bird-Feeding Month".

This observance was established because wintertime is one of the most difficult periods in much of North America for birds to survive in the wild.

Consider that: - A typical backyard bird doesn't weigh as much as two nickels. - Birds spend most of their waking hours searching for food -- without the help of "hands" and "fingers". - They may consume 15% of their body weight overnight just keeping warm enough to survive. - Like mail carriers, they're outside in sleet, snow, wind and cold.

The resolution noted that one-third of the adult population feeds wild birds in their backyards. Providing food, water and shelter helps birds survive, benefits the environment and supplements wild birds' natural diet of weed seeds and harmful insects.

It's nice to have the recognition, but our Canadian neighbors and us Northern folk pretty much understand that birds need our help now days.

Especially as habitat continues to shrink.

Many species of birds are at risk as they lose areas to feed and nest.

This is why it is so important to "Garden for Wildlife".

Many birds like the Bob White quail, Kirkland's warbler, Meadow larks and other species have specific requirements.

If those requirements no longer exist, than the species will simply fade away into extinction.

Non native birds like European starlings, House sparrows and Rock pigeons have adapted and are flourishing.

Some of our native birds like the American Robin and House finches have adapted to the people invasion and take advantage of our lawns, gardens and hardscapes.

How many of you have had a House finch nest in a hanging pot or basket?

Maybe a nest on your grapevine wreath you so lovingly hang.

About 28 years ago, this new species of bird shows up at my feeders.

A sparrow sized bird with reddish, orange markings.

After some research and a newspaper article published on the newest local bird, I realized I had House finches.

But where did this new species come from?

House finches are supposed to be a Western bird aren't they?

Is originally a species of the Western USA and Mexico (often confused with The Purple finch pictured here).

Male Purple finches are more of a raspberry red in color.

House Finch,(Carpodacus mexicanus):

In 1940, wild birds illegally sold as "Hollywood Finches" in New York were released in that city by dealers anxious to avoid prosecution.

In 1943, these released birds were reported breeding in the New York area.

By 1971, breeding populations extended along the east coast from New England to North Carolina. Their populations continued to expand westward.

Today the species is widespread over much of the eastern United States and southern Canada.

Only a couple hundred mile stretch of the Great Plains separates the East population from the West population.

I'm sure there are a few House finch sightings in the Prairie belt.

Adult males vary in color from orange yellow to bright red. The color is derived from carotenoid pigments that are obtained from their diet of seeds, flowers, and fruits and added to the feathers during normal periods of feather replacement.

(Male House finch pictured to your right)

Females are a plain gray/brown with the familiar wing bars.

The bill is short and thick, with rounded top edge.

House finch conjunctivitis

If you are seeing house finches with crusty, watery, or infected-looking eyes at your bird feeder, then you are not alone.

A condition called house finch conjunctivitis that was first discovered during the winter of 1993 - 1994, continues to spread through feeder bird populations in the eastern United States, affecting mainly house finches.

Symptoms of the disease include scabby, swollen, runny, cloudy-looking, or glassy eyes, mucous oozing from the nostrils, and an upper respiratory infection. Some sick birds recover, while others become blind and die of starvation, or fall as prey to cats and hawks.

Any of the conditions listed above probably indicate house finch conjunctivitis.

Although many different bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites can cause eye inflammation and disease, lab tests have confirmed that this conjunctivitis outbreak is caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a well-known bacterium.

Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) infection was formerly confined to domestic birds such as chickens and turkeys.

The disease seemed to have jumped hosts.

Some wonder why it is mainly the House finch.

One theory is the in-breeding of a small Eastern population made the house finch much more suspect as the gene pool was limited.

The disease is usually present in one eye first and then spreads to both.

Sick finches may appear mangy-looking, lethargic, disoriented, or weak, and are often alone at feeders.

Severely ill birds may not fly at all, and often remain on the ground pecking at seeds dropped from the feeder above. Finches with partial vision loss may fly into bird feeders and windows, or allow bird watchers to get close.

The infection apparently causes some discomfort, (much like Pink eye does to us) as diseased birds wipe their eyes frequently on branches and bird feeders, which may enhance the spread of the disease.

As its name implies, this new condition is mostly limited to house finches.

Although there are reports of other common feeder birds such as chickadees, titmice, and sparrows with house finch conjunctivitis symptoms, these cases are rare, and have not been tested in the laboratory.

Studies at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology concluded that other songbirds are rarely affected by this new strain of MG.

Humans and other mammals will not catch conjunctivitis from contact with sick birds because MG is an avian disease only.

It is unlawful to treat birds yourself, and treatment by a trained person is rarely successful.

Dead birds need to be disposed of properly.

Wear gloves and ALWAYS wash your hands.

My own research indicates Conjunctivitis fluctuates from year to year.

I have yet to see sick birds this year, have you?

The sickness is passed by fecal matter, nose mucous and through the air.

This is but one reason for keeping feeders clean and if need be, remove feeders so the birds disperse and minimizing a full scale outbreak.

Conjunctivitis has not yet reached the western population of House finch, but as the Prairie gap closes and East meets West?????

It's the first part of the month, remember to clean your feeders well.

A 10% solution of bleach water will sanitize your feeders. I like to use oxygen bleach when cleaning. It doesn't damage the feeder like bleach can and it is safe for the environment and wildlife.

Be sure to soak and scrub them well.

Rinse well and let dry before you fill them again.

If time is an issue, spray your feeders with rubbing alcohol. They dry fast and no residue remains.

Feeders where birds stick their heads in (tubes) are more apt to harbor diseases and fungus.

February 15 to the 18th is the Great Backyard Bird Count.

click on the link if you are interested in participating this year.

It doesn't take long and it gives you a chance to be a citizen scientist.

Feeder pests are always an issue.

I mentioned a link a few week ago on feeder pests, but if you didn't get a chance to click on

cats in the garden.

Cats are a delicate issue for those of you that have outdoor cats.

I know, I've had outdoor cats before.

I deal with not just birds, but cat health and your health as well.

Cats are doing what cats do best, they can't help it, but we can.


It's time to fly for now.

Be sure to share you smiles this week.

Give your biggest and brightest smile to a stranger

Who knows, you may be sharing it with an angel.

Don't ya love that thought?

As always

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please feel free to forward them to friends and family or have them sign up for their own copy. Thank You.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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