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The Mexican finch is an extremely adaptable bird. Introduced more or less accidentally in North America, it thrives today both in nature and in cities, to the point that even our waste has found a use in its daily life.
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Welcome to Bêtes de Science, the Futura podcast that gives pride of place to animals. I am Marie and for this new episode, we will be interested in a bird that has transformed our waste into real miracle products.
It is called Haemorhous mexicanus, carpodaque or Mexican finch. Its plumage could be banal, close to that of the sparrow, but it is distinguished by an intense red spot, as if our little bird had taken a paint pot in the head or had participated in the Holi, this Hindu where we send brightly colored powders in the face.
This bird is native to Mexico, as the name suggests, but it can be found all over North America today. In fact, in the 1940s, it was imported and sold illegally under the name “Hollywood finch” in the United States, where it enjoyed great commercial success. However, the law eventually catches up with bird owners and sellers who decide to release their merchandise into the wild rather than risk the fine. But this kind of act always has consequences on nature.
Result: the carpodaque spread over a vast territory where it was not originally but where it nevertheless still thrives today, and is doing quite well. It has even become an important food source for predators and a beneficial seed disperser for local flora. Very sociable, it lives in nature as well as in cities, where it invests the nesting boxes with its half. Because the Mexican finch is monogamous, and to seduce its sweetheart, it performs an impressive courtship display, culminating in a figure that researchers have baptized the “flight of the butterfly”. During this, the male climbs in flight to an altitude of 20 or 30 meters then slowly descends to its perch, singing gracefully for its sweet. A great romantic this little bird!
But if he interests us today, it is not so much for his talents as an aerial artist as for his intelligence. An intelligence that allowed him to adapt wonderfully to the human world and to benefit from our most disgusting waste like… cigarette butts.
Indeed, researchers have found that finches living in cities have a habit of completing the construction of their nests with a few butts cleverly arranged: sometimes more than ten of them, sometimes just a filter or two, shelled from their paper. But why then fill his house with this rubbish which, frankly, does not smell very good? You guess ?
A team of scientists from the University of Mexico looked into the question and found that this practice helped ward off parasites, especially the dreaded ticks that love to suck birds’ blood and attack their feathers. . Indeed, amateur chemists or not, finches have understood that nicotine acts as a very effective insecticide – so much so that neonicotinoids are today infamous for their deleterious impact on bee populations.
Unfortunately, with this brilliant idea comes a rather problematic side effect for birds, as the harmful components of cigarettes are known. Studies have confirmed that these chemicals interfere with cell division. Put more simply, although cigarette butts protect them from parasites, they could also have a negative effect on the health of the baby birds as they grow older. Scientists still do not know if the birds are not aware of this phenomenon or if they believe that the game is worth the candle anyway.
Anyway, we still have to admit that this little sparrow has some in the brain. Able to understand the invisible power of the objects that we throw in the streets, he knows how to use them to his advantage and shows us in passing that if recycling is within the reach of birds, it is within everyone’s reach. So, not so stupid, the finch of Mexico!
Thank you for watching this episode of Beasts of Science. You can find Nathalie Mayer’s original column on Futura and the podcast on Spotify, Deezer, Apple Podcast, and many more. Remember to subscribe so as not to miss a single episode and find our other podcasts on your favorite audio applications. See you in two weeks, with new behaviors that are still amazing. Goodbye !
Music and sound effects:
Silly Intro and Freedom, by Alexander Nakarada
Sardana, par Kevin MacLeod
Cinematic Suspense Series Episode 009, by Sascha Ende®
Creations, by Rafael Krux
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