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Saturday, 12 June 2010

Further comments on HOUSE FINCHES at sea

As part of a large baseline survey of New Jersey's Atlantic Ocean waters out to 20 nautical miles, I was part of a two-year effort to map distribution and abundance of birds. In about 1100 hours of survey effort, we recorded House Finch (HOFI) just once, in fall 2009. This despite finding American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins on multiple occasions and recording some 30+ species of landbirds. Add this in to the rest of the time that I have spent at sea on birding trips in the western Atlantic, the sum of my experience with HOFI at sea is... just once.

Additionally, I do not find yellow-variant HOFIs to be all that rare. I suspect that the phenomenon may have a local aspect to it, but I have run across yellow male HOFIs nearly everywhere that I've spent any considerable time and where there were at least reasonable numbers of HOFIs, including California, Colorado, New Jersey, and New York. I suspect that the phenomenon is under-reported, as are many aspects of bird species with wide distributions and found in high abundance - they're "trash" birds and overlooked by many/most birders.

It seems exceedingly presumptuous to state that a particular yellow House Finch found in the UK is from a particular chunk of Florida, just because one or two people seem to believe that yellow birds are more prevalent there than in the rest of the regular range of the species. There are NO good data supporting that contention. Additionally, it would be unlikely for a rare variant to account for the first record from such a far-flung location, though I do understand that the UK has some experience with just that phenomenon (i.e., the oddball Varied Thrush)

(kindly contributed by Tony Leukering, Villas, New Jersey)