I was lucky enough to have some free time today, which gave my dad and I a chance to chase the Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) in Union Township, New Jersey. Found on December 20th, proving this bird of wild origin is a tricky matter. We ended up getting nice looks at the bird, seen twice for about a minute each time during a ten minute period.
In terms of origin, the current ABA Checklist lists four accepted records of Common Chaffinch in North America (singles in Newfoundland, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Massachusetts). As Paul Lehman mentioned, an important part in determining the provenance of this bird is knowing what subspecies it is. I am personally not familiar with Common Chaffinch subspecies at all, but this bird definitely appears to be of one of the northern races (either F. c. coelebs or F. c. gengleri). This is good in supporting wild origin, as a bird of a population from a more southern race (i.e. the Canaries or Azores) would almost surely be of captive origin. However, the northern populations (especially gengleri) are migratory. That knowledge paired with the fact that Common Chaffinch is one of the most abundant birds in Northern Europe leads to the conclusion that vagrancy by northern birds has occurred and could be the case here.
Also, the bird does not show any overt signs of captivity, such as bands, rings or wear on feathers and tail or out-of-season molt. Behavior-wise, the Chaffinch was loosely associating with a flock of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos and has been seen around the property in the company of these birds. Nothing about the bird’s actions seen so far point to captivity.
So, we have a Common Chaffinch, likely a bird of the migratory northern races on the east coast of North America. The bird does not display any overly apparent signs of captivity and is associating with the native species. Usually I’d be saying “awesome….everything points to countability, I’ll just put it on now.” That’s my usual approach with these kinds of birds – typically very liberal as to origin. Today on the ride home I asked myself the question: “If I were a member of the NJBRC, would I vote yes to this bird with the current information about it I currently possess?” The answer: NO. I realized, that, if I were a committee member, I’d want much more CONCRETE proof, be that a feather or bowel sample (to send in for testing) or a chance to band the bird and take a closer look at it myself. Although we can never be certain even with that information, I’d like a lot more info before I voted to accept this bird onto my state’s list.
Origin aside, it was a great bird to watch and an awesome one to have on this side of the Atlantic! Photos below: