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As Common as, well, Finches by Carolyn Donovan

There’s a saying in Ireland: “He’s as common as muck.” The Irish also have another saying, “He’s as thick as two planks,” but that’s for another column.

You'll need an occupancy permit, ma'am

We have tenants – squatters, really – at our house, and after days of squinting at pixilated images online and pouring over every “Birds of Boston” book I could lay my hands on, I have decided that we have a pair of common finches nesting in our front porch.

Finches are little birds that would fit in the palm of your hand. They sing a lot. No tweeting and chirping, finches are full-fledged songsters. The male has a red head (crest I believe you’d call it in bird parlance) and some red on the rest of his body. The female is a cute little brown/grey/spotted thing, and unless you know what she looks like, you cannot tell her apart from her nest. Camouflage, ho!

The Psychologists call it Nesting

This pair has tried to nest with us before, although I had no idea what they looked like or what they sounded like. Last year we put up a wire bird cage – you know those green “bird cages” they stick pots of ferns into? – and they started to build their nest, but the b*st*rd starlings just swooped in and destroyed it. I tried very hard to be brave, but seeing that little tiny pale blue egg smashed on the porch was such a cruel reminder of the natural world that I used the kitchen door for a month afterwards. I was sure that we lost our little avian guests forever.

Being ever hopeful, though, my boyfriend came up with an ingenious idea of weaving twigs through the bars to make the available space smaller, thus thwarting the b*st*rd starlings. We waited, thinking we were just wishing for the best (actually, it was me wishing, my boyfriend went back to his carputer project and kept saying “They’ll come, they’ll come.”) In mid-spring we heard this amazing bird song, and I finally tracked it down to the two little lovely birds flitting about the lower branches of the cottonwood trees

Sure enough, Mrs. Finch started building her nest amidst the safety of the twigs. She used grasses, leaves, and flowery bits, and every once in a while would stand on her twig “deck” admiring her handiwork. Mr. Finch sat on the tree, singing at the top of his lungs “We’re gonna have a family!” and flying about in a very protective finch manner.

Job must've been a Finch

Mrs. Finch has been patiently nesting, nesting, nesting. We have suffered through a Spring nor’easter that sat on us for six days. It was rainy, and cold, and dark. Even though the nest is inside the porch nestled up near ceiling, it swayed in the wind. But there she sat, browny-grey head just visible, not moving, not fretting. I don’t know if this is a long time for nesting, or if the weather has caused problems, but she’s still here. Today I saw the coolest thing: Mr. Finch feeding Mrs. Finch as she sat in the nest. The chicks haven’t come yet, but I think they will.

Common, my eye.


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Photography by Wan Chi Lau