For months, I assumed this rare visitor was a sparrow–goldfinch hybrid. We have a lot of teasel growing in our garden, which attracts goldfinches, and when our visitor and the goldfinches perch near each other, it’s clear that they have almost exactly the same shape and size, and exhibit very similar mannerisms. And our visitor is on extremely familiar terms with the twenty or so sparrows who divide their time between our lilac tree and our bird feeder.
But thanks to Seán Ronayne, ornithologist and creator of Irish Wildlife Sounds @soundsirish, I now believe that our visitor is an escaped scaly-breasted munia, or something similar (such as a black-throated munia), a native of southeast Asia. I gather that some such birds are kept here as pets in cages, and are usually called nutmeg mannikins or spice finches, although I confess I’ve never heard of or seen one before.
Despite the privations of the Irish weather, I’m glad our little bird escaped. It seemed to thrive here in Cork through the summer, and still seems to be doing fine so far this winter, despite the cold (which is rarely extreme in our maritime climate). For the foreseeable future, it is guaranteed an abundance of food from our feeder (which I have been diligently refilling during the Covid crisis, since I am going nowhere). To all appearances, our beautiful little bird is sprightly, healthy, happy — and free.
Thanks again to Seán Ronayne for his expertise.
You can hear what it sounds like from the following clip (made from three shorter recordings spliced together):