A candy-red House Finch was singing lustily in the tree outside my office building this morning.

He doesn’t know what a martyr OR a greeting card is. And he wouldn’t care if you told him.

He’s singing in New Jersey because, in 1940, a pet store (or stores) in Long Island (or Manhattan, or both,) facing charges for illegally selling wild-caught “Hollywood Finches”, turned them out to fend for themselves. Which they did. With gusto.

I can well imagine a swain of 1938, wanting to impress his lady friend, looking in the windows of stores. He’s not yet convinced by DeBeers that a shiny chunk of carbon is forever and probably not about to spend six month’s salary on anything, with the immediate past full of bread lines and the immediate future full of the rumblings of war. But a pretty little bird, with a sweet and enthusiastic song, to brighten up the corner of her apartment? Sure, he can go that. And it’s got a touch of glamor, that Hollywood moniker. So I can see why there would be enough of the males in stores to make up a pretty good flock a couple of years later when the law declared selling wild-caught native birds verboten and the shop owners gave them the boot.

But what about the female finches? After all, you can sing all day, but with no female finches you’ve got no baby finches and no invasion. Female House Finches are about as plain as it’s possible to imagine (the males will fade if they don’t get enough beta carotene, but our window-shopper need not know that; let the buyer beware!) and they don’t sing. Perhaps they were the cheap option, the supermarket bouquet of the day? Or perhaps there were hopes of captive breeding. Either way, obviously there were enough females, and the rest is history. (You often have to find women in history this way, by teasing out implications, by really thinking.)

A. V. Christie wrote a poem about this.

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