You may remember that back in January I rejoined the Bloggerhead Kingbirds and competed in my second Superbowl of Birding. You may also, if you have an absurdly good memory, remember that the day before the competition we tried to chase down some good birds. What you are most likely not at all aware of is exactly what one of those rarities was, mostly because we were all sworn to secrecy. What bird could be rare enough that the person whose yard it was appearing in, who, by the way, is a bird blogger by the name of Jason, that it had to be kept secret to keep out the birding masses? Well, how about a Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs?
Chaffinches are normally found in Europe, though their range extends to Africa and Asia. They are most definitely not a normal North American species, which explains why this bird was kept under wraps for so long, with information about it being spread by word of mouth and access limited, in order to prevent the home and neighborhood it was appearing in from becoming a three-ring circus. Fortunately for we Bloggerhead Kingbirds, out fearless leader, Christopher, is well-known (and apparently, liked) in the Massachusetts birding scene and he managed to secure an invite for the entire team.
So, after seeing the Saw-whet Owl Christopher guided us to the home where the bird appears and we were escorted into the kitchen where, eventually, we got pretty good looks and horrible pictures of a-seriously-rare-for-North America bird. How horrible are the pictures? Well, take a look at my best:
I am sure better pictures will be forthcoming now that the bird has absconded and the all clear to post about it has been granted. Fortunately, before the bird disappeared it was banded and two feathers were taken, which should help a great deal in figuring out from where the bird came, especially if it is a wild or escaped cage bird. For the moment I have checked it off my North American life list but someday it may have to be removed…
Many thanks to both Christopher for setting up the visit for we undeserving Bloggerhead Kingbirds and especially to Jason and his family, who were kind enough to host several hundred birders while the bird was appearing. Go take a look at Jason’s blog, Brewster’s Linnet, and see if you can figure out what is in the bag.
By the way, if you happen to do a post about the bird please feel free to leave a link here in the comments, especially if you have good pictures.
Oh, that’s where the whippersnapper wave disappeared to!
Wow, neat bird. I mean, come on, it’s “only” a Chaffinch but it is a bird that propperly demonstrates that birding is all about location, location, location.
I’m not sure which is more suprising – seeing a Chaffinch or that Christopher is so well-liked. 🙂
I’m curious to see what the records committee says or what results the feather analysis gives.
@Patrick. hey, who are you? You look somewhat familar, but I can’t quite remember where I might have seen you before.
Feather test have been conducted on Asian ducks that had turned up in Europe, and both (I am aware of) ducks tested turned out to be genuine.
Fingers are crossed.
Chaffinch* (Accepted, Origin Uncertain).
As this blog states often the illegal bird trade is alive and well and being so close to Boston… one cannot completely rule out human involvement even if feather anaylisis says the bird was wild.
Imagine: the bird could’ve landed, unnoticed and unremarked-upon, in any of a thousand backyards, but it wound up at the home of someone who recognized its specialness.
Nice! I assume that “feather analysis” will have as its goal the identification of trace elements; but how would that prove anything but that this bird had or had not been in its native range sometime during this molt cycle? This is a very interesting and very important case, and records committees across the continent are going to be interested in the results and the interpretations. Thanks for letting us know about this bird!
It’s funny to think of such a common bird causing such a kerfuffle!
Although truth be told, I don’t think I’m that well-know, and am pretty sure I’m not much liked – just happen to have a few good and talented friends.
Yeah – common enough bird across the pond, but we were pretty excited over here.
I wish to take this forum to thank Jason and his family for opening their home to so many people to see this bird. Really the only way to see it was from their kitchen window – and they set aside their own lives and plans to let anybody who asked, come and see the bird – weekdays or weekends.
Obviously I’ll be posting the whole story as I get around to writing it, but picture of the bag is a link to the contents, which might be slightly better quality than Corey’s. There’s also a bit of audio up already, currently the bottom post on my frontpage.
A few notes and responses:
@OpposableChums: Probably half the people that came by said something similar. I’m left wondering how many birds land in those other yards and never get discovered. I can think of several similar records nearby, so there must be thousands.
@Will, @Rick, etc: The stable isotope analysis is about origin but not the question of cage versus wild. Plumage, bare parts, and behavior have me convinced he’s a wild bird (and that seemed to be the opinion of everyone who has dealt with these issues before). However, there was a “rapid and puzzling flurry” of reports from Quebec to Michigan (see the current North American Birds, page 381 of the Changing Seasons column is available online at least). So we’re trying to figure out if he’s potentially a true vagrant or the offspring of some of those birds.
@Christopher: friends, former coworkers, same thing 😛
Fortunately with winter I didn’t feel like I was missing much by not spending time in the field and enjoyed meeting and socializing with everyone, not sure what would have happened if he stayed past the first trickle of migrants. Definitely a big thanks to my parents who dealt with far more visitors than I did, especially in the first week when they came all day long.
I’ve heard this referred to as “the Cape May effect,” wherein educated and practiced eyes wind up spotting birds that “civilians” might miss, thus conferring a birdy mystique to a situation that may well happen more often than we realize.
– Opposable Chums (i.e., the Other Jason)
It’s not so much that it is amazing how this one special bird happened to show up where the people would recognize that it is unusual. The real question is how many chaffinches have been missed. How many thousands of rare birds must show up or pass through unseen by birders every year? That is the question that keeps me up at night.
Details are up.
i am a bird lover,never have sean achaffinch in america.Did you know that in europe there are chffinch grosbeak.exsacly the same look exept the beak and the crast
I’ve seen a Chaffinch this morning at my feeder. I live in Ohio. It was a female. I’m very excited. It’s a life bird for me. I have taken several photo’s of her, but at a distance. I wish they were clearer. I will attempt to take better pictures if she returns.
Dee, I’ve sent you an email. A Chaffinch in Ohio would be pretty good. Please send pictures, no matter how bad you think they are!
I searched online regarding Chaffinch in the United States/New England and found this site..
A few years ago I was visiting a friend who has a place in Wells Maine right on the beach. I saw a bird on the seawall of the house next door that I did not recognize. The closer I got to it the more perplexed I was as to what species it possibly was. I went to get my camera and when I returned fortunately it was still there and I was able to take a number of pictures. I searched online for birds with characteristics similar to it and am fairly certain it was a chaffinch. I don’t have a website but I could email you the pictures,
I am curious if it actually was one as i understand it is very rare to see them in the US.
I know this post is 10 years old and maybe theyre common to the us now. but we just moved to KY and I have been an avid birdwatcher for decades. I came across a bird that Ive never seen. I looked it up and I am sure its a chaffinch! looks, behavior…all whats described. Are they still rare in the us or have they become common since you posted this? thanks,maria
Maria, they are definitely still mega-rare. If you think you have a chaffinch in KY, please reach out to your local birding chapter. They’ll definitely want to know about it!