House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus
It’s interesting to note the arrival of House Finch in Florida and in Duval County; Edscorn (1976) noted that they did not occur in Florida through 1975, but was obviously foreshadowing their arrival in the state as the species continued to push south from New York. The first report from the Jacksonville area came from Ron Davis in mid-December 1994 (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Mr. Davis lived around the area of Park and Cassatt Avenue on Jacksonville’s west side, and was fortunate to have not only the first known record of House Finch in the area but had a Western Tanager visiting his backyard in February 1994 (Rowan, pers communication, 2020).
House Finches were first noted as a probable breeding species in summer 1995 (Paul & Schnapf, 1995). Four years later, they were noted as established breeders during the summer 1999 (Paul & Schnapf, 1999), and have continued in that status ever since.
Today they can be found throughout the county in most seasons, where they are frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders. Reliable places to find them are on the grounds of Kingsley Plantation, Reddie Point Preserve, Blue Cypress Park, and Huguenot Memorial Park (in winter).
Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus
Purple Finch is another species that was reported with a little more frequency in previous decades, but they have not occurred much in the last twenty-five years. Maynard mentioned seeing a Purple Finch in Duval County, which would have been sometime in the 1880’s (Howell, 1932), but the first specific observation comes from Mrs. H. Robinson on 14 May 1950.
Eight were reported on the 1963 Christmas Bird Count, and they were not recorded again until 1971 when they began appearing on the CBC almost annually from 1971-1983. In the winter of 1971-1972, Purple Finches were noted as particularly abundant during an irruption year across the southeast. Virge Markgraf reported one on 18 November 1982, marking perhaps the earliest fall county record (Stevenson & Anderson, 1994). Hoffman (1983) noted high numbers of Purple Finches in the area during the winter of 1982-1983, and there was one report from Fort George Island the following winter on 26 December 1983 (presumably on the Christmas Bird Count).
The next report came from Black Hammock Island during the 1985 CBC on 28 December. There were a few reports in January 1986, and one wintered in 1987-88 (Ogden, 1988). A decade passed before the next report when Peggy Powell noted several during the winter of 1997-1998 (West, 1998). The most recent record is from 17 December 2015 when Dennis Peacock photographed three off Interstate 10 in extreme western Duval County.
Purple Finches should not be expected in the county, as they are not a regular winter visitor here. However, bird watchers should pay careful attention to their backyard feeders in December through February and document any suspected Purple Finches very well.
Common Redpoll Acanthis flammea
Since it is part of the county’s lore, I will mention that a Common Redpoll was reported on the 26 December 1971 Christmas Bird Count. According to Stevenson & Anderson (1994), the observers had a “close leisure study of all field marks”, but the record was not accepted by the state committee and remained on the hypothetical list for Florida.
Pine Siskin Spinus pinus
Pine Siskins are another highly variable species that do not occur in Jacksonville in most years. On average, they seem to occur here in just two or three winters every decade. The earliest record in the area comes from 7 February 1947 near the Duval/Clay County line in Orange Park along Route 17 (Weaver, 1948). In the winter of 1971-1972, they were noted as “numerous” in Jacksonville (Stevenson, 1972). The next known report is from 15-25 January 1973 (Woolfenden, 1973) and another followed six years later on 23 January 1979 by Virge Markgraf (Stevenson, 1979).
There are a handful of reports from the 1980’s: six on 28 January 1982 (Stevenson, 1982), 28 December 1985, January 1986 (Langridge, 1986), and again on 16 May 1986 – providing the latest known County report (the previous late date was 3 May 1972). In January and February 1988 they occurred in small numbers in Jacksonville, and a group of six were reported throughout February 1991 (Ogden, 1991).
A period of almost 15 years passed before the next report – Noel Wamer noted one on 4 March 2005. In March 2011 a few visited a feeder along US 17 in north Jacksonville, and it wasn’t until the winter of 2014-2015 that they occurred again. In January 2015, they could be found in large flocks in several areas including Seaton Creek Preserve, Durbin Creek Preserve, and Thomas Creek Conservation area. As many as fifteen remained at a private residence through 6 April 2015. Sporadic reports have occurred since then, with the most recent being of four birds visiting an Arlington area feeder in January 2019.
Seaton Creek Preserve is an ideal place to try for this species each year, but I would not expect to find them there in any particular winter. I’d simply suggest planning a visit there in mid to late January to look for Brown-headed Nuthatches and sparrows, and listen carefully for them.
American Goldfinch Spinus tristis
American Goldfinch are an annual winter resident, arriving as early as mid-October and remaining through late April, and in some cases – early May. Consistent with their nature, they can be a bit unpredictable to locate on a given day but can be found with a bit of effort. Fairly reliable locations include Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park, Sheffield Regional Park, Reddie Point Preserve, and Blue Cypress Park. They are also very reliably found along the UNF nature trails circling Lake Onieda, and are frequent mid-to-late winter season visitors to residential bird feeders.
Evening Grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus
There are a number of county records for Evening Grosbeak, beginning in the winter of 1968-69 when the species invaded Florida by the thousands. Stevenson (1969) noted a specimen taken 9 February 1969, and Grimes reported as many as twenty in the area a couple of weeks later.
The remainder of observations all occur from 1972 through 1989. There have been no county reports in the last thirty years, so I would obviously not suggest that one should expect them here – but they will undoubtedly occur again during a future irruption year.
In the early 1970’s, Julie Cocke was fortunate enough to have Evening Grosbeaks visiting her backyard on multiple occasions: 21-23 December 1971 (male and female), 13-18 January 1973 (two females), and 4-20 March 1973. Additional records from the Jacksonville area during the 1970’s include 12 December 1972, 30 April through 7 May 1973 (Kale, 1973), and 12 December 1977. Woolfenden (1973) noted that they appeared in “good numbers” throughout Jacksonville in the winter of 1972-1973. In the winter of 1977-1978, they were noted as “not plentiful” by Virge Markgraf but they could be found around the county nonetheless (Stevenson, 1978).
Observations persisted intermittently throughout the next decade, with reports from January-February 1981 (Stevenson, 1981), 22-24 April 1987 (Langridge, 1987), and two birds visited S. Jarvis’s feeder the week prior to 23 December 1989 (Ogden, 1990). According to Cocke, during the winter of 1980-81 many people had Evening Grosbeaks coming to their feeders, with Dr. Cole in the Orange Park area having as many as twenty all winter!
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Based on Howell’s (1932) notation that the species occurred as far south as Crescent City by 1886, it is reasonable to presume House Sparrows were in Duval County sometime around the mid-1880s (R. Rowan, pers comm, 2016). They showed up on the Christmas Bird Count for the first time in 1924, with a rather impressive seventy noted for a “first occurrence”. Today they can be found throughout the county in places where you’d typically expect to find them – parking lots, gas stations, and urban areas. Fortunately they have not established a presence in most of our more natural parks and birding hotspots. If you must seek them, fairly reliable places include Riverside Park, the Jacksonville Landing, the streets of downtown Jacksonville, and along Atlantic Boulevard at the Jacksonville Beaches.