Quick. Think of a pink bird.
An afternoon rain pings off the air conditioner. Millie has sprawled onto her back, her four short legs divining like the arrows on a weathervane, and her upside-down panting corgi-smile peeking out like a sea monster in the margin of a Dutch mariner’s map. Beyond my desk, Stanley Donan’s Funny Face is playing on TCM—it’s the opening musical number: the office doors have just been painted pink and Kay Thompson bursts out, “Think Pink!” Scene set.
How did you do with the pink bird question? Tricky. Probably the first pink bird that came to mind was a pink Flamingo (and then it was probably a dead heat between the listless group at the Bronx Zoo or the classic plastic stand-in gracing a suburban lawn—seeing the vast flocks of wild birds blushing an African lake is on my personal wish list.) There is a Rose Cockatoo and a Roseate Spoonbill, but you won’t see them windowsill-hopping on Charles Street. A Ross’s Gull from far Siberia, in snazzy summer breeding attire, has a smudge of rouge on its breast, but seeing one in New York City would send birders into a head-spinning tizzy.
However, we do have our own year-round resident pink-dipped bird: the House Finch. Not native to the east coast, they were sold illegally as cage birds in the 1940s, imported from the west as “Hollywood Finches.” When traffickers feared arrest, the birds were released. The finches adapted easily to eastern life, and because they have a cheerful, burbling song, and are pink, they’re given more leniency than the metronomically chip-chip-chipping rachetty-tuned European House Sparrow. In the morning, if you hear a chortling sound trickling down to the street from a high perch, look up, it’s probably a House Finch, pink-ing a railing or chimney stack.
Fred Astaire is inundating Audrey Hepburn’s “sinister” Greenwich Village bookstore for a high-fashion photoshoot (hilarious.) The downpour on the air conditioner is deafening. Millie topples to her side, curving like a cashew nut.
Surely there are structural explanations for why feathers have rarely developed to reflect pink wavelengths, and speculative evolutionary reasons why donning pink has rarely dominated as a survival strategy (though the sartorial snap of a pink pocket square, necktie or socks, and the sensation of Jackie Kennedy’s pink suit and pillbox hat argue to the contrary.)
Fred, Audrey and Kay bluster in the elevator on their way to the top of the Eiffel Tower (heaven.) Millie continues her slow-motion belly roll, nose propped on her front paws, eyeing me with watery ambivalence.
I’ve told the story many times that my West Village Bird #1 was a House Finch caroling on the southwest corner of West 4th and 12th streets—inaugurating my “Listing” on September 9, 2006. I was new to birding at that time, and a pink “sparrow” sparked my fascination. Other partially pink-ish birds seen within my usual village streets: Rose-breasted Grosbeak (WVB #74, Bleecker between Perry and West 11th streets, May 6, 2011—wearing a triangular rose bandana around its neck) and Ruby-throated Hummingbird (WVB #101, Garden of St. Luke’s, August 26, 2014—its name says it all.)
Audrey is running down the steps of the Louvre (in red, not pink, but still divine.) A thunder crash jolts Millie’s nap.
I haven’t pinpointed any House Finch nests in the neighborhood, but surely there are some. It can be a June project to discover where the toddler finches come from. A Pantone® color trend for 2015 is the pinky “Strawberry Ice.” The House Finch is ready for its closeup!
Fred and Audrey’s raft drifts into the idyllic landscape, swans decoratively following, white doves preening and circling. (How were swans trained to swim beside that raft?) The rain has stopped. Millie stretches to go out. The End.
For more information about nature walks, books and photographs, visit http://www.keithmichaelnyc.com .