Monday, April 7, 2008

Plucky little House Finches.

The corner of the yard is carpeted with cherry blossoms. Not cherry blossom petals -- the flowers aren’t yet senescent -- entire blossoms, falling one at a time, every two seconds or so.

This is a neighbour’s tree, which overhangs our yard. Many of the branches are at least partially denuded, especially near the top, thanks to the foraging of a mob of House Finches. They are plucking the blossoms, as described in this account of the closely related Purple Finch:

“In February of 1939, at my home in Berkeley, California, I noticed that the California Purple Finches (Carpodacus purpureus californicus) were singing every morning in a plum tree which was in full bloom. On closer observation the birds were seen to be plucking blossoms. Each bird worked systematically, and in one movement picked a blossom and snipped open the base; it then removed the nectar while holding the blossom in the bill, following which it dropped the blossom to the ground. Upon examination the dropped blossoms were found to be undamaged except for removal of the nectar. The birds’ unhurried swiftness was interrupted only when they paused to sing.” Ned W. Stone (1939) The Nectar Eating Habits of the Purple Finch. Condor 42: 126.

The House Finch is closely related (Carpodacus mexicanus), so it isn’t surprising that it does the same thing. And with gusto. They seem to be doing a lot with gusto, including chasing each other and other birds from the sunflower-seed feeder and the seed-littered ground beneath it. Females are fluttering their wings at males, and males are feeding them seeds. I haven’t seen a male offer a blossom though. Perhaps it’s not possible, the nectar will run out in transfer, or perhaps males need all that nectar themselves to keep up with the frantic pace of spring-things. In any case, the females are filching flowers too.

Pluck one.... and then the next and the next and the next...

...and then the last...

Blossoms pithed, each one neatly snipped off and drained of its nectar through a hole in the stem.

Blossom in bill in bird in middle of tree.


Cicero Sings said...

Love the title! Interesting post ... I haven't observed this behaviour but I've never had blossoming cherry trees (or any other fruit trees ornamental or other) that close at hand.

Your camera choice does sound like a good one. You'll appreciate a better camera! I didn't get an SLR because I just didn't want the bulk. As it is, my new one is bigger and heavier than my old one ... just doesn't fit pockets etc quite the same.

Mel said...

Georgeous pictures and great information, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

So THAT'S what happened to our blossoms! We were wondering why our 4 cherry trees had such rapid blossom loss. We have a plethora of house finches that fill the air with their constant warbling. They also chase the very large crows that hang out. Amazing to see these "plucky" little guys chasing and pecking (mid-air no less) crows that are more than 20 times their size.