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Hollywood Finches

Range maps are important tools for identification. They will tell you if your identification matches a bird that is common or rare in the area. Identifying a rarity should include ruling out the common species.

House Finches and Purple Finches look very much alike, they even sing practically the same song. Aside from the always subjective field mark of color, the one reliable distinction is the presence or absence of streaking on the flanks. But, the simplest way to separate House Finches from Purple Finches the majority of times is to look at your surroundings. If you can see houses and you are in the eastern United States, chances are that the finch you are seeing is a House Finch, not a Purple. It wasn't always that way. In the 1940's, pet shops in New York City began selling "Hollywood Finches." The fanciful name did refer to where you might see one, that is, in the southwestern United States as well as Mexico. As the story goes, someone doing a good deed infomorned one of the sellers that this was illegal under the International Migratory Bird Treaty but would give them time to fix the problem before reporting them. Well, the "fix" was to release the birds. At first, their range was quite limited, but today they have populated nearly the entire area east of the Rockies. In the process, they out-competed the native Purple Finches. Purples haven't disappeared, but they are the far rarer visitor to our feeders and generally have to be sought outside of developed areas. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, so it is easy to be armchair quarterbacks criticizing the actions of the past, but to be fair, the person reporting the violation had good intentions. Yes, we all know what path is lined by those, but in this case the rightness of the motivation is worth respecting. Where would the world be if we all chose not to do the good thing for fear that a bad thing might result? Prayer: God of Goodness, help us to do the right thing, even when all we can see is the present moment. Amen.


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