House Finches in Highland Park, NJ

house finch in tree
I don’t see house finches often in my backyard. However, when I look at the 2014 sightings of birds in Highland, Park, New Jersey, I see that the house finch is spotted each month. One task I have been started to work on is moving that list of birds into WordPress – the 2015 birds are now here. Joanne Williams has been sending me that spreadsheet of birds since 2001 – before WordPress existed (or maybe when it was a baby – see WordPress history). For various reasons, some environmental pages will gradually be making their way to WordPress. But I digress – back to house finches in Highland Park, NJ.

When you see what looks like a finch, you might think: is this a house finch or a purple finch? Seems house finches are more common. I did love this description of a purple finch: ‘The Purple Finch is the bird that Roger Tory Peterson famously described as a “sparrow dipped in raspberry juice.”’

finch and sparrow
The above photo shows a house finch on the left and a sparrow on the right. They do look a bit similar – bottom coloring, head size and beaks.

I learned from this 1968 article that a house finch can also be called a linnet. If you scroll down, you will find a common on food of the house finches in Denver: “The House Finch will eat almost anything vegetable, though it prefers seeds, and experiments with different seeds show that hemp is selected to the exclusion of all others.”

According to the Cornell All About Birds site, the house finch is a new introduction to the NorthEast: “The House Finch was originally a bird of the western United States and Mexico. In 1940 a small number of finches were turned loose on Long Island, New York, after failed attempts to sell them as cage birds (“Hollywood finches”). They quickly started breeding and spread across almost all of the eastern United States and southern Canada within the next 50 years.”

As we have had two March snowstorms (which is highly unusual for New Jersey), I’m sharing some snow photos, too:

Purim in the snow
The above photo of our backyard was taken the day after Purim (March 6).

snowstorm   20150320_snowstreet

The above two are from this past Friday’s snowstorm (March 22).

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Dark-Eyed Junco Name – Bird of Reeds

junco with two feet in the snow
Continuing with my discussion of bird names – these dark-eyed beauties called juncos showed up in my yard after our biggest snowstorm (9″ in New Jersey, perhaps). Funny thing about juncos is they wander around the ground, not hopping about in the branches. See, even in the snow they prefer exploring what’s down.

junco on his feet
On a site called Beauty of Birds, I learned this about the junco name:

The species’ Latin name “hyemalis” translates into “winter;” and the genus name, Junco, roughly means “bird of bushes or reeds” – referring to their preferred habitats.

On the Wikipedia article for Junco: “Despite having a name that appears to derive from the Spanish term for the plant genus Juncus (rushes), these birds are seldom found among rush plants, as these prefer wet ground, while juncos like dry soil.”

Well, my juncos seemed to be OK hopping along on top of the snow. They are sometimes called snowbirds, but I think that’s usually a reference for flying south, *away* from the snow.

junco on ground of snow
Some of the photos I took of the junco came out rather dark because the bird was down in the shadows. I might have changed the ISO to be a little higher on the one above, so it looks a little brighter.

junco by fence
On the Wikipedia article specifically for dark-eyed junco, it says they are related to the sparrow.

Not to confuse, but to give some contrast, here’s a photo of a tufted titmouse on our backyard tree when the tree was totally full of snow:
tufted titmouse in the snow

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Tufted Titmouse Name – Songbird in Chickadee Family

tufted titmouse
A tufted titmouse came to visit our backyard last week.

tufted titmouse in tree looks up
I recently talked about the source of the name of cardinal bird. I decide to look up the name of the tufted titmouse. The answer is fairly simple, as noted on this BirdNote site:

The name descends from two ancient Anglo-Saxon root words — “tit,” from a word meaning something small. And “mouse,” from a word applied to any small bird, as well as that little rodent.

tufted titmouse up close
I feel fortunate that when I fill my bird feeder, I occasionally get visits from tufted titmice (yes, that is the plural).

tufted titmouse by the bird feeder

Here is a nice description of a tufted titmouse on the Cornell All About Birds site:

A little gray bird with an echoing voice, the Tufted Titmouse is common in eastern deciduous forests and a frequent visitor to feeders. The large black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest gives these birds a quiet but eager expression that matches the way they flit through canopies, hang from twig-ends, and drop in to bird feeders. When a titmouse finds a large seed, you’ll see it carry the prize to a perch and crack it with sharp whacks of its stout bill.

There are quite a few historical descriptions of the tufted titmouse on this Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds article from 1947, but my favorite note is at the end: “On the feeding shelf the tit seems to be the dominant character; only the blue jay refuses to make way for him. ”

Getting back to the Tufted Titmouse name, I found a bit more on this 10,000 Birds What is a Titmouse article: “A bird in the genus Baeolophus is neither a mouse nor…the other thing. The word titmouse descends from the Old English terms, tit (any small animal or object) and mase (small bird), essentially meaning one small, small bird.”

Then that article starts to get a bit funny: “Though there is nothing inherently prurient about this critter’s cognomen, it’s within the realm of possibility that even the mere utterance of it inspires twittering and naughty feelings in some individuals, and is thus best avoided. It is worth pointing out that titmice belong to the family Paridae, an expansive international clan made up primarily of what we call “chickadees” in the states but are known as “tits” in the Old World. What do you expect of those decadent, debauched Europeans?”

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Northern Cardinal Name

cardinal male red in tree
Which came first: the Catholic leader or the bird? What do you think? Answer at the bottom of this post.

In terms of location, cardinals live on the eastern side of North America. It seems if you feed them like I do (I give them black oil sunflower seeds), they came back to visit often.
male cardinal in tree
I don’t know how I got so close to this particular cardinal to take his photo.

cardinal turns his head
Note the fluffiness of the feathers. If you want to see a female cardinal, you can visit this old post.

cardinal male fluffy and red
A few years ago I did a cardinal watercolor painting.

Now for the source of the Northern cardinal name: the Catholic leader came first. From Wikipedia:

Cardinal, 1125, “one of the ecclesiastical princes who constitute the sacred college,” from L. cardinalis “principal, chief, essential,” from cardo (gen. cardinis) “that on which something turns or depends,” originally “door hinge.” Ecclesiastical use began for the presbyters of the chief (cardinal) churches of Rome.

The N.Amer. songbird (Cardinalis virginianus) is attested from 1678, so named for its resemblance to the red robes of the cardinals.

Here is a funny response: How the Cardinal Got Its Name, in which he says “Catholic cardinals wear red to hide spaghetti sauce stains.”

Read: How did the Northern Cardinal get its name? – In 1758 the Cardinal was one of the many species originally described by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature, in the genus Loxia cardinalis. Loxia is derived the Greek loxos which means crosswise. Based on appearance, Linnaeus thought the Cardinal was related to the Red Crossbill. However taxonomists found the two species were not closely related. Subsequently in 1838, it was changed to the genus Cardinalis and given the scientific name Cardinalis virginianus, which means “Virginia Cardinal” because there were a lot of Cardinals in Virginia. Then in 1918, the scientific name was changed to Richmondena cardinalis to honor Charles Wallace Richmond, an American ornithologist. But in 1983 that was changed again, to Cardinalis cardinalis and the common name was also changed to “Northern Cardinal.” There are actually several bird species in the world with the name Cardinal. The term “Northern” in the common name refers to its range, as it is the only cardinal found in the Northern Hemisphere. And the “Cardinal” name was derived from the vivid red plumage of the male, which resembles the robes of the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Finally, lots of good information on cardinals in general: What you should know about Cardinal – Northern birds

Early settlers were said to have named this bird after the Cardinal of the Catholic Church because the red of the bird reminded them of the color of the Cardinal’s robes. Since 1886, the Cardinal has considerably expanded its territory from being rarely seen north of the Ohio River to thriving over much of North America. The Northern Cardinal is quite similar to the Pyrrhuloxia, which is a southwestern species that is mostly gray with a crest tipped in red.

Thanks to Lorri (follow the link for hatching cardinal babies) for helping me find informational links.

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February Jewish Book Carnival 2015

Red Poppies in Shiloh: photo by Batya Medad
Red Poppies in Shiloh: photo by Batya Medad

Welcome to the February 2015 Edition of the Jewish Book Carnival!

Freelance writer and editor Deborah Kalb interviews a wide range of authors—fiction, nonfiction, children’s—including writers on Jewish themes, on her blog, Please take a look at her Q&A with Carol Matas about Matas’s new novel for young people, Tucson Jo, a 2014 National Jewish Book Awards finalist.

At Life Is Like a Library, Kathe Pinchuck discusses two books about Cats and IsraelThe Cats of J-Town by Raphael Karp and The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis.

On My Machberet, Erika Dreifus praises Salami Jew, a new poetry collection by Matthew Lippman.

The Fig Tree Books blog notes a newly published translated story by Isaac Bashevis Singer–and shares a fresh appraisal of Singer’s novel Shosha.

The newest episode of The Book of Life podcast, hosted by librarian Heidi Estrin, features an interview with conference panelists responding to the Pew study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” and how children’s literature can help – it all boils down to diversity.

People of the Books, the blog of the Association of Jewish Libraries, is the hub for the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour. Visit for links to all the stops on this virtual book tour of the gold and silver medal winning authors and illustrators. The Sydney Taylor Book Award recognizes the best in Jewish literature for children and teens.

Brief interviews on Jodie Books with Jewish National Book Award winners and finalists: First up, Carol Matas for her middle-grade novel Tucson Jo. Later this month Devra Lehmann’s YA non-fiction on Spinoza and Allison Ofanasky picture book The Patchwork Torah.

Batya Medad presents a review of Rabbi Zalman Weiss’s book Adon Olam- A Search for Meaning. She also has a review of Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew by Reuven Chaim Klein.

Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah hosts the final stop on the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Awards blog tour with a cyber-roundtable of the gold and silver medalists. The Whole Megillah also interviewed National Jewish Book Award finalist Carol Matas for her children’s book, Tucson Joe.

Lorri reviews A Perfect Peace, by Amos Oz.

If you know anything about Golda Meir, you’ll know that she was one tough cookie. But what do you know about her childhood? In this charming new award-winning book, we find out all about how as a young child in Milwaukee, “Goldie” got her start by taking a stand for poor children in her local school. Read: Sydney Taylor Award 2015 BLOG TOUR: Goldie Takes a Stand, with Barbara Krasner and Kelsey Garrity-Riley

•  • • 

Visit headquarters of the Jewish Book Carnival, a monthly event where bloggers who blog about Jewish books can meet, read and comment on each others’ posts.

About the photo: while we in the Northeast U.S. have snow and ice, Batya Medad has been spotting red poppies where she lives in Shiloh, Israel. Thank you to Batya for allowing me to use this photo for the February Jewish Book Carnival 2015.

Blizzard That Wasn’t and Feeding Birds on Shabbat Shira

snowstorm 2015
My husband and I were both happy that the blizzard that was predicted for our area of central New Jersey was not a blizzard at all but a mere 6″ inches of fresh snow.

cardinal female in tree
So because of the storm I went outside with my camera and took some great shots – many of a beautiful female cardinal with regal brown and bits of red feathers.

female cardinal, head cocked
Here is the female cardinal, head cocked a bit.

cardinal female tail
Note the beautiful tail of the lady cardinal.

junco at feeder
And what is this lovely bird with a white bottom and long tail – a new visitor (for me). It is a male junco. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it is a visitor from Canada that comes to New Jersey in winter with a long tail, rounded head and short, stout bill.

Here’s the dark-eyed junco – note that round body!

junco on the floor
The junco was enjoying the ground – this is just below our bird feeder.

tufted titmouse in feeder
A tufted titmouse visited the bird feeder.

tufted titmouse in tree
The tufted titmouse also posed in our backyard tree.

garden during snow storm
Above is my garden during the mild snowstorm.

echinacea covered in snow
My dried echinacea plant is now topped with bits of snow.

Getting to the title: what is Shabbat Shira? Shabbat Shira is the Jewish Sabbath on which the song of Miriam is recited/chanted/leyned in the synagogue. So what does it have to do with the birds? There is a custom of feeding birds on Shabbat Shira. I wrote a bit about the discussion of feeding birds on Shabbat Shira on an older post (in short, birds ate the manna and birds like singing). For questions on whether it is better to feed birds on Shabbat itself or right before, one should consult your local rabbi. On this post I want to remark that I don’t really know many Jews who actually do this. But if you are Jewish and considering feeding the birds, please be careful to feed them bird seeds and not bread. Also, once you start the custom of feeding birds, it is nice to continue, isn’t it?

A few links for more on Shabbat Shira and birds:

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