I recently addressed some of the many introduced species in Texas, including various deer in addition to blackbucks and aoudads. It’s true that there are many nonnative mammals inhabiting the Lone Star State.
But what I want to address now is the odd introduction: the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).
This bird indeed is endemic to Texas. In fact, Texas is the only place where the native territories of house finches and purple finches (Carpodacus purpureus) come close to each other. Purple finches are an eastern species whilst house finches are a western species.
So to the chagrin of “purist” birders in North America, house finches are an introduced species everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains except Texas. That’s right: if you don’t live in Texas and if you live east of the Rocky Mountains, house finches are a nonnative species. To wit, you can lump house finches in with house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris).
Before the 1940s, house finches were resident only in Mexico and the southwestern United States. But pretty birds don’t stay localized for long; people capture them and take them everywhere. Then stupidity sets in and the birds wind up released. So when “Hollywood Finches”, as they were called at the time, were deemed illegal east of the Rocky Mountains under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, what did owners and dealers do with them? They released them, of course.
According to scientific studies, house finches are shown to displace native purple finches in eastern North America. In fact, they’ve also displaced house sparrows in some areas. Sounds like pick your poison, or at least pick the lesser of two evils.
Most troubling, though, is the purple finch issue: purple finch numbers are declining throughout their territory, and evidence suggests that house finches and house sparrows are at least partly to blame (the two species have been documented as out-competing purple finches for food and nest locations).
So it goes without saying: if you live east of the Rocky Mountains but outside of Texas, and if you practice a “native first” mentality with regards to nature, house finches should be your enemy if you hate house sparrows and European starlings. Otherwise you hate the native purple finch and you are hypocrite, cognitive dissonance notwithstanding.
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The next post in this nonnative series will be about a truly invasive species. We’re terribly anthropocentric, so we call “introduced” species “invasive” since we don’t want to own responsibility for their presence. But an invasive species is quite different from an introduced species: introduced means we’re responsible while invasive means the critters are responsible. In the scheme of things, the vast majority of hated creatures are introduced, not invasive. And some invasive species are loved, which is precisely the kind of species I’ll cover next.
And yes, I’m increasingly disgusted with nature purists. How selective they are. Shall I mention their dislike of brown-headed cowbirds and their attempts to kill this species in hopes of protecting other birds? Shall I mention their disgust with house sparrows and European starlings whilst they pretend cattle egrets are A-OK? Shall I mention their hate of rock pigeons while they ignore the hunting of mourning doves—deaths in the millions each year? I’m only just getting started…