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The Alien With A Sweet Tooth
by Charles Kennedy

At first glance, they look like sparrows, especially the female. She is basically brown with streaking on the sides and back. A closer look reveals that some of the birds have a reddish orange color on their heads, backs, and rumps. These are the males. 

The Alien With A Sweet Tooth - Male House FinchIf you live in the eastern U.S. and have a birdfeeder stocked with sunflower seed you have probably seen an "alien with a sweet tooth."

Historically, the House Finch was strictly a western bird. The Rocky Mountains proved to be an effective barrier to any eastern migration by this species. This is true of many other western birds. In 1940 House Finches got a free ride across the mountains.

New York City bird dealers imported several dozen of these "Hollywood Finches", as they advertised them, for sale in their bird shops. When they discovered that it was against the law to sell native wild birds, they released them to avoid prosecution. These western aliens have made a good living in the east and can now be found in all the eastern states.

It is almost always a bad idea to introduce an alien species into an area. This is true whether the species be bird, mammal, or plant. When this happens a native species usually suffers from the competition.

Wildlife biologists are watching very closely to see what effect the coyote population explosion in the east is going to have on rabbits, deer, quail, turkeys, and other prey species. A ride through the countryside almost anywhere in Alabama in summer reminds us of the kudzu fiasco.

The introduction of the House (English) Sparrow and the European Starling into North America was a contributing factor in the decline of the Eastern Bluebird.

There is speculation that the Purple Finch will not do well in competition with his western "Hollywood" cousins.

House Finches are aggressive! They gang up around feeders and fight among themselves. Smaller birds like chickadees and titmice are intimidated by this rowdy crowd. The finches are not people shy and will often come onto a porch or patio to build a nest in a fern.

Do House Finches really have a sweet tooth?

 When my azaleas bloom I see flocks working the flowers almost everyday. In early April when the collard patch bolts and the plants are loaded with seed and bright yellow flowers they are also loaded with House Finches. The first time I saw this I assumed that the birds were eating the seeds. I got out the binoculars for a closer look and discovered that they were eating the flowers. A little quick research turned up the fact that House Finches have been observed quite often eating flower petals.

The alien sweet tooth is the most obvious when it drives the rascals to drink.  Hummingbird feeders make a good alien watering hole.

I havenít come up with a way to prevent this on the feeders that do not have bee guards, nor have I been able to keep them away from the sunflower seed feeder. I guess we will just have to learn to live with and enjoy this "alien with a sweet tooth".

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