As promised, here are a few more photos of American goldfinches invading Continue reading
A Day on Merganser Lake
American goldfinches continue to be the top customer at my feeding station. I get dozens and dozens each day and it’s been like that for months. I only wish Nyjer seed wasn’t so expensive. It’s been fun and educational watching the goldfinches. Their plumage is constantly changing and there is great variety among the individual birds.
It is the height of spring migration. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re seeing.
(Repeat text for context: I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)
I’m taking a one-day break from my photo series so I can share my latest bird column, which runs in several New England newspapers. …
I alluded in last week’s column to a goldfinch being in transitional plumage.
The truth is, in a way, American goldfinches are always in transitional plumage. Unlike most songbirds that look pretty much the same year-round, goldfinches look dramatically different in their breeding and non-breeding plumage. All birds molt (replace) their feathers at least once a year, usually at the end of summer. Most songbirds, whether the molt is done gradually or all at once, look the same at both ends of the molt.
Male American goldfinches are a brilliant yellow in their breeding (summer) plumage. They are a beloved bird and they adorn calendars, magazine covers, bookmarks and conservation promotional materials. It is this brilliant yellow-and-black plumage that makes them desirable fodder as bird models.
However, you rarely see goldfinches in their non-breeding (winter) plumage on magazine covers. The non-breeding plumage is Continue reading
The snow this week brought not only the unexpected visitors, such as fox sparrows, but also the regular visitors such as chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, doves, juncos, and woodpeckers. It also brought goldfinches, which was to be expected, but what was surprising was the number of goldfinches. Every perch on my thistle tube feeder was filled and other goldfinches either waited patiently nearby or “settled” for sunflower seeds at other feeders. There were even goldfinches on the ground among the many juncos.
I hope to post a video of the goldfinches later today. Let’s see if time and my technical knowledge of video programs permit …
Here is the latest For the Birds column, which appears in several New England newspapers.
A large field grows next to the driveway of my son’s friend’s house. When I drop my son off, I always look there to see if anything is happening.
Usually I don’t see much, except maybe a butterfly or a dragonfly or two from a good distance. But lately the field has been alive with activity, mostly from a familiar bird with a familiar song. Goldfinches are there — by the dozens. Three or four pop up from the tall grasses and sing their “potato chip” song as they fly in their undulating pattern to another spot in the field. This happens about every 15 seconds.
So why all the goldfinches lately? Most of the other birds that nest in New England are relatively quiet when August rolls around. Other birds are largely done with nesting and tend to lay low as they raise their first-year broods.
Goldfinches are different. They are late-nesters, especially by New England standards. While many birds time their nesting to coincide with insect hatches, goldfinches time their nesting to that of another food source: seeds.
When the babies arrive, growing goldfinches have their pick of thistle, milkweed and other flowers going to seed. Nesting typically begins in late June or even into July — when most young birds of other species have already fledged or are getting ready to fledge. By the time young goldfinches fledge, their food sources are Continue reading
Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.
N othing cheers up a day like a goldfinch. Those little, bright bursts of yellow are always a welcome site at your feeder, bird bath or perched on a flower in your garden.
I especially appreciate goldfinches in the dead of summer. I remember taking a walk a few years ago on one of those classic hot, humid days in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and, not surprisingly, I was finding very little in terms of wildlife. Dragonflies were dancing all over the place, but even the butterflies seemed to be hiding from the heat.
Suddenly, I heard the cheerful song of a goldfinch in flight coming up from behind me. I turned just in time to see the bright yellow bird perch on the top of a thistle flower. The pink-and-purple flower rocked back and forth as it reacted to the weight of the tiny bird. When the flower settled, the goldfinch went about its business of picking at the flower.
I didn’t see any other birds on that walk, but the single goldfinch perched on the flower made it all worthwhile.
Goldfinches also score points with me as they are frequently seen in my garden. I’ve seen goldfinches perched atop coneflower and black-eyed Susan flowers, picking away at the seeds. I’ve also seen them on sunflowers.
Goldfinches, of course, are also reliable feeder birds, often occupying every perch of a tube feeder. I love to see all six perches of my blue tube feeder occupied by the bright yellow birds.
Goldfinches will eat sunflower seeds and will visit platform or tube feeders. A sure way to attract goldfinches is to offer Nyjer in a tube feeder specifically designed for the tiny seeds. Do not try to use thistle seeds in a regular feeder as the tiny seeds will spill through the holes.
“Sock” feeders stuffed with thistle seeds are a good alternative.
Goldfinches visit feeders at any time of the day. It’s interesting to note that goldfinches move on frequently so the birds you see at your feeder in the evening are not likely the same ones you saw in the morning.
Goldfinches are found throughout the country and many remain in New England through the winter months. They are not the flashy yellow birds we love so much in the summer, though. We still love them in the winter, of course, but they are much duller, often appearing olive or brownish.
It’s fun to see the splotchy male goldfinches in the early part of spring as they slowly regain their bright yellow plumage. Only the males are bright yellow. Females are a duller yellow.
They also have black caps and black wings with white stripes. My brother Ed and his wife, Debbie, are big Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so the goldfinch is a favorite in that household.
Of course, you don’t have to be a Steelers fan to appreciate the beauty of a goldfinch. The bright yellow speaks for itself. Throw in a purple or pink flower and you’ve got real proof that Mother Nature likes her colors.
For the second day in a row the unpredictable New England weather provided an opportunity to get an interesting photo at the bird feeding station. Monday it was snow. Tuesday it was ice. Here, an American Goldfinch visits the Nyjer feeder, undaunted by the ice and freezing temperatures. Notice that this male is transitioning into its breeding plumage. Below are a few more icy photos from Merganser Lake.
99.9 percent of the birds that visit the window feeder right over my desk are either titmice or chickadees. I love seeing them, but a little variety would be nice. So it was a nice surprise to see these American Goldfinches pay a visit the other day. Photo taken with iPhone.
Here’s my latest For the Birds Column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Conn.) and The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel:
An interesting question came my way via email the other day. It came from a long-time Norwalk resident who wondered how the goldfinches in her yard knew that she suddenly switched to Nyjer seed. She had never seen goldfinches before at her feeders, but when she put up a sock feeder filled with the small, black seeds, the goldfinches came within one day.
“How did they know? Are they sock experts? Do they have X-Ray eyes that could penetrate the sock and see the thistle? Does thistle smell so they could sniff a trail? Do they have scouts always watching every yard?”
Great question. As a quick aside, what is commonly referred to as thistle seed is really either niger or the trademarked name Nyjer seed.
Whatever you call it, how do the birds know it’s there? Common sense may dictate that they smell it. How else could they know? But most birds, including our favorite backyard birds, have a poor sense of smell. Also, the seeds are largely odorless so even if the birds did have a strong sense of smell, it’s unlikely they’d be able to pick up the scent anyway. It’s not like a neighbor barbecuing chicken on a breezy day. The most likely scenario is that the birds saw the new feeder and recognized it — probably from past experience — as a food source. American Goldfinches are very nomadic …
You don’t always see cardinals and goldfinches perched near each other, but when you are watching a feeding station at which the birds are somewhat skittish, anything can happen. The usual assortment of birds were enjoying the feast at Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Stamford, Conn., the other day, but other than occasionally being perched on the same feeder, the species generally kept away from each other.
However, the birds scattered every five minutes or so because of some unseen (by me anyway) force and sometimes the birds would find themselves perched next to an individual of another species.
I was focused on getting a photo of this cardinal, but noticed the goldfinch off to the right, so I decided to get them in the same frame. Why not?