Teach the controversy

Controversy continues to swirl around my habit of calling my finches “purple.” A consensus is emerging among semi-perfessional birders that they cannot be. Bird Dog, at Maggie’s Farm (here), is the latest to “call me” on this. Purple finches are piney-wood avians, he insists. Those must be common-garden house finches who address me from my balconata railing, here in inner-city Parkdale.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I take them at their word. They say they are purple finches, so that’s what I report. Besides, there could be legal issues. They might be “trans” purple finches. In which case, my calling them house finches could get me a visit from the Mounties, under our young Liberal government’s latest experiment in criminal law. One can now get two years in the slammer, up here, for failing to acknowledge any creature’s personal choice of identities.

It is possible I misheard them, however. Sometimes they speak a singular metallic weet, whose meaning is clear enough. But usually it is a “bubbly continuous warble” (Andy Bezener, Birds of Ontario) — resembling Hindi, but with no English nouns inserted to help one determine the subject. I thought they said, Carpodacus purpureus. Perhaps it was, Carpodacus mexicanus, instead. Definitely, Carpodacus, and not, Loxia, for they sure don’t look like crossbills to me.

And then there is the fact that they lack the (slightly vulgar) body streaks, that I would expect to see on a house finch, whether male or female. And the lads seem to lack the brown hat. And the colouring, on those males, strikes me as a more graciously distributed matte raspberry; the red on a house finch would be more chesty and alarming and, … you know, burgundy.

The ladies, especially, know how to dress. There is that ermine mottle on their undersides, and it seems to me, that delicious dusk cheek. And they are less saucy than one would expect of the (sometimes frankly shrewish) house finch dames; they are lady-like and classy. I would swear, though not necessarily in a court of law, that their tails are slightly notched, too.

A visitor to the High Doganate said no, the tails are square, and besides, they can’t be purple finches. I told him purple finches have been recorded by the bird club in the woods of nearby High Park. He told me they stay there. They don’t do balconies. But this, I declared, is a distinguished balconata.

We all know the house finch is one of those “introduced” species, from the extreme Southwest, released in number by bird-dealers in New York City a century ago in anticipation of a police raid; that they took to urban life like many other questionable immigrants; and spread quickly from one town to another. That they displaced the native purple finches to the sticks, and have so pushed and shoved even the house sparrows (illegal immigrants of a previous generation), that we now have more than a billion of them, in dense congregations.

Did I say “illegal”? … Sorry. … The Eurasian house sparrows were imported in the 1850s to control the insects afflicting our cereal crops. But, ha! Turned out they were vegetarian — indeed trash vegetarians, who moved right into the slums. So that our melodious song sparrows felt obliged, street by street, to move elsewhere. These “Mexican” house finches have the same reputation. (Maybe Trump should have a go at them.)

My finches are not like that, at all. They are delicate, cultured birds who, as I say, can sing in Latin (as well as Hindi). They are not in the least aggressive. Well, sometimes they will note that the seed dish is empty — but softly, musically, regretfully. Surely they are finches of the “purple” class.