🐦 Wild Bird Watchers Bulletin: April 2021 Edition

American Goldfinch

One of the most anticipated arrivals in spring is the American goldfinches. These little birds fill the air with the sweetest of songs and shine with their brilliant plumage. Often referred to as wild canaries, these birds are a popular summer attraction to backyard bird feeders. Their friendly disposition and almost tame nature make them a joy to have in the yard.

The American goldfinch is approximately 5.5 inches long with a wingspan of nearly 8 inches, and weighs less than an ounce. The beak is a conical shape designed to extract seeds from the heads of many weeds and flowers. Some of their favourites are coneflowers, thistles and sunflowers. The beak is a pink hue but in spring turns bright orange as breeding season begins. During winter, both sexes have dull colours that change to a brilliant plumage in spring. The male turns into a lemon yellow with prominent black wing bars and a perfect black cap. When flying, this is all accented with a snow-white rump. The female is an olive colour with wing bars and a yellow bib.

They have an array of warbles and tweets, which all have a purpose. Some calls are made only during flight, and others are distress calls if a predator is near. The rest are all forms of communication between the adult birds themselves or to their young.

The breeding season for American goldfinches is the latest of any bird. It is believed the timing coincides with the ripening of thistle plants, one of their favourite foods. Starting in late July, the male will begin a courtship with incredible aerial maneuvers accompanied by beautiful singing. The male will display different flight patterns to show a female his good health. Once the female accepts, the pair will fly together in wide circles as the male sings a celebration song. The male chooses the territory, which involves additional interesting calls and flight behaviour to signal the right spot. The female builds the nest in a shrub or tree and takes about a week to complete. The male helps collect materials like weeds, vines, and grasses, but the construction is the female’s job. The nest’s inside is finished with soft down from plants like spider silk, milkweed, cattails, and thistle. These nests are built so well and woven so tightly they can hold water. Four to six eggs are laid, and the female is the sole incubator while the dedicated male brings food to the nest for her. Incubation time is 12-14 days, and like most birds, development is rapid as the young leave the nest about 15 days after hatching. The parents feed the fledglings for another three weeks until they are fully capable of fending for themselves.

The diet of goldfinches consists mainly of seeds, including thistle, dandelion, ragweed, sunflower, and alder. Other foods are sap, berries, and tree buds. Goldfinches can be attracted to bird feeders using a specially designed feeder that dispenses nyjer seed and fine-shelled sunflower pieces. They are also very fond of window feeders, which suction cup to the glass and are a great deterrent to birds striking windows. Shelled sunflowers are a real treat to offer in these feeders, and the goldfinches enjoy it.

To encourage American goldfinches to your yard, consider planting zinnias, asters, purple coneflowers, cosmos, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, sunflowers, and goldenrod. Stop in to see us in May when we have our annual plant sale carrying these plants and more! The right trees and shrubs provide good nesting spaces like dogwoods, caragana, and maple trees. Bring some extra beauty into your yard this summer by attracting one of nature’s most colourful little gems, the American goldfinch!

Seasonal Tip

Be sure to have your finch feeders up anytime now and hummingbird and oriole feeders should be up the last week of April!

Brown-headed Cowbirds are a ‘brood parasite’ bird that lays their eggs in American Goldfinch nests. The cowbird egg may hatch when they do this, but the nestling seldom survives longer than three days. The cowbird chick cannot survive on the vegetarian diet that goldfinches feed their young. Goldfinches are known as one of the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, eating an entirely seed-based diet with only the occasional insect.