ARTISTS AND BIRDS
By Marilyn and Keith Davis
"A Jazzy Singer"
Such a strident, unidentifiable call! What bird is it? I heard it in the front yard; I heard it in the back yard; day after day.... until finally I heard it right above my head with binoculars in my hands. I thought it might be a House Finch, until I saw the early beams of sunlight illuminate the head with a florescent glow of red. Wow.... this was no House Finch. This was a Cassinís Finch in full plumage. I had good reason not to recognize the song. The Cassin's Finch is an accomplished mimic, often adding the calls of other species such as the Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Northern Flicker, and Stellerís Jay to its warbled songs. But no matter.....I had a Cassinís in my yard!
This winter the Cassinís Finch has been seen all over southern Utah. What a treat for us, because they are common in the mountains of the west....and St. George is not spruce and fir country. There are many reasons birds take their stand in new areas some years. Could be weather, lack of food and habitat, fire, drought.....many reasons. Whatever, we welcome the Cassinís Finch.
During breeding time, the Cassinís Finch male sings from the highest treetops, and also while making smooth horizontal sallies. Then, the breeding adult males stop singing as nest building begins, for their nests are semicolonial (an average of 20 to 80 feet apart), and song is not important to defend only a small territory around their female and nest. Cool Fact: The male Cassin's Finch stays in its female-like plumage during its first breeding season. It sings like an older male and may give the false impression that both sexes sing.
The Cassin's Finch is often mistaken for our numerous House Finch. In St. George, the rule of thumb is... if there is red on the head and throat.... it is probably a House Finch. There is a difference. Cassinís are slightly larger, looks as though it has just had a crew cut, the red covers the entire cap of the head, and there are only faint streaks on the flanks. Another identifying characteristic is that the Cassin's Finch craves salt, and is often found visiting mineral deposits on the ground.
We really want to thank Judy Warren for this great representation of the Cassinís Finch. Donít you love the florescent colors on the cap of the head? This month the Audubon Field trip will be to the Henderson Ponds (Nature Center/Sewage Lagoons). This is a trip we look forward to all year long. Come along! For more details on this field trip, call Marilyn Davis, member of the Red Cliffs Audubon, 673-0996. The Audubon Meetings are the second Wednesday each month, at Tonaquint Nature Center. (Marilyn & Keith Davis)