Just as the coffee was being made, a bird burst into song right over my head. The kitchen skylight lets us see into the plum tree's blossoms where the singer was perched. A male house finch with head thrown back and wings spread was singing his heart out. The object of his affection was sitting nearby. Courting male house finches go all out in pursuit of their ladies. This one was serenading with great vigor and also tempting her in another way. "Sweets for the sweet" seemed his plan.
House finches are notorious for a well-developed sweet tooth. Those sweet teeth get the better of the finches in the spring when the blossoming fruit trees are tempting. It isn’t unusual to see blossoms raining down long before they are past their prime. There is a bit of sweet nectar in each flower and the finches can’t resist it after eating seeds all winter.
As I watched the pair in the plum tree the male finished his song and immediately picked a blossom. It wasn’t for him. He leaned over and offered it to the female sitting beside him. Love songs and sweet treats, this fellow knows how to do things right. I’m sure that he has a nest site picked out and will soon show it to her.
We take house finches for granted during the long winter months. They are always at the feeders and often in large numbers. Once spring arrives, the flocks break up but it isn’t unusual to have more than one pair nesting in the yard. After they are no longer in flocks, sitting and shelling sunflowers for much of the day, they become different birds. The male’s singing transforms him into one of the most vibrant performers in the neighborhood. When a house finch bursts into his nonstop song that runs through a variety of notes and trills, he lifts your spirits. He says “spring is here” in a way that brings out the sun even when it is cloudy.
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The male’s romantic courting is just the beginning of his transformation. The female chooses where their nest will be built and does all of the building. However, he participates in the exercise with his characteristic enthusiasm. Not only does he accompany her on her forays for nesting materials, he continues his singing as she puts the nest together. Last year, one of our males would sit inside the decorative wreath hanging on the front door and sing nonstop. His mate was working on their nest hidden in the passion vine growing on the arbor. He was not only encouraging her efforts, he was telling other birds the territory was taken. He was on guard.
Unlike male hummingbirds, the house finch stays with his mate to raise the family. They believe in large families. Once the first brood is ready to leave the nest, Dad leads them to the feeders and introduces them to sunflower seeds and the lard/oatmeal mix. You can easily spot a new family. The youngsters are not only chirping and begging, but they look like they have horns. Remaining natal feathers stick out on either side of their heads giving them a humorous look.
The male takes charge of the first brood because the female is already starting on a second one. These are family-oriented birds and the first batch often helps with the second one after they are ready to leave the nest. It’s comical and touching to watch a young house finch feeding a begging younger sister or brother.
Spring does wonderful things to the birds we have pampered all winter. Watching these changes is reward enough for cleaning and filling feeders over and over. Hearing their spring songs is just the beginning.
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