Friday, May 20, 2011


Male in summer
We've been seeing a lot of goldfinches around here lately, like starting way back in the winter.  We don't have a bird feeder in our yard because when Mom used to have one, Mel was always eating the bird seed that fell on the ground.  And also the bird seed made the rats like to come and live in our yard.  So that's why we don't have a bird feeder.  But we do have a bird bath.  And in the wintertime, Mom keeps a heater in it, so it doesn't freeze over, and the birds can get a drink there if they are thirsty.

So anyway, we think the goldfinches come to our yard because they like our bird bath.  And maybe they go in somebody else's yard to get some nice seeds to eat.  Sometimes we will see 5 or 6 goldfinches on our birdbath at one time.  They don't usually take baths, they just get a drink.  And then they fly up and sit on the electric wires that are above the bird bath.  Or else they go sit in the big oak tree in our neighbors' yard. And they do a lot of twittering and chirping and carrying on in a birdlike way.

The kind of goldfinch we have here is called the American Goldfinch, and sometimes it is also called the Eastern Goldfinch or the Wild Canary.  The scientific name for this bird is Carduelis tristis.  The word carduelis comes from carduus, which is Latin for "thistle."  And tristis is Latin for "sad."  So I guess you could say the goldfinch's name means "sad thistle" or maybe "sad thistle-eater."

Male in winter
Most people can recognize male goldfinches because they have bright yellow-and-black feathers.  But male goldfinches only look this way in the summer when they are trying to impress the girl goldfinches.  In the winter, the males are kind of an olive color.  The females are sort of a dull yellow-brown all year long, but they are a little brighter yellow in the summer.  Goldfinches are the only finches that molt twice during the year.  Molting means that they take off most of their feathers and put on new ones.  Dogs do it, too, but it's called "shedding" when a dog does it.

The kinds of places where goldfinches like to live are fields and meadows, and also roadsides, orchards, and gardens.  The reason they like these open sorts of places is because lots of plants with yummy seeds grow there.  Goldfinches are what are called granivores, and that means they mostly only eat seeds.  Here are some of the seeds they like best:  thistle, teasel, dandelion, ragweed, mullein, cosmos, goatsbeard, sunflower, and alder.  Sometimes they also eat insects because insects have protein in them.  And other things they sometimes eat are tree buds, maple sap, and berries.  Goldfinches have beaks that are very good for getting hold of seeds, and they can also use their feet to hang upside down or move seed heads around to where they can reach them better.

Yellow = summer-only range
Green = year-round range
Blue = winter-only range
American goldfinches are found in most of the U.S. during at least a part of the year.  In some places, like the green section of this map, they just stick around all year long, so that's why we see these birds at our bird bath here even in the winter.  Mostly, goldfinches are social birds that like to hang out in flocks.  But during breeding season, the males set up a territory and defend it from other males.  The female finds a nice shrub or tree where she builds a little nest that is about 2.5 inches in diameter.  It takes her 6 days or so to build the nest.  The outside layer of the nest is made of bark, weeds, vines, and grass.  Then all that stuff is bound together with spiderwebs and caterpillar silk.  The inside is lined with the down of milkweed, thistle, or cattail.

The nest is woven so tightly that it is actually waterproof.  So if there is a heavy rainstorm, the baby birds could drown in the nest.  Which is why the mom and dad birds have to cover the nest and keep the rain out.

Male feeding female on nest
Anyway, the goldfinches wait until really late in the season to do all their mating and nesting stuff.  They wait until almost the end of July, which is later than any other kind of finch.  Probably, the reason they wait so long is so that there will be lots of seeds to feed to the baby birds after they are born.  But the fact that goldfinches wait until July to mate means that they can usually only have one family each year.

The female goldfinch lays 4 to 6 eggs which are bluish-white and about the size of a peanut.  Then she sits on them until they hatch, which takes between 12 and 14 days.  The male brings food to the female, but he doesn't do any egg-sitting himself.  The chicks are naked when they are born, and they don't open their eyes for the first 3 days.  But they grow some feathers within a couple of weeks, and then they start learning to fly.  Their daddy feeds them for about 3 weeks after they grow their feathers, and then after that they are on their own.

"What did you bring us, Daddy?"
So that's the story of the goldfinches, except I will also say that they are in no danger at all of going extinct.  In fact, when people clear out forests and make more open land, that is good for the goldfinches because it creates more habitat for them.  Oh, and maybe I should also mention that the goldfinch is the Official State Bird of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington.  Which seems like a pretty big deal to me.


  1. Good morning from your cat friend, Di. It's Friday and my mom is NOT in a good mood, (I can tell because she always gets very quiet and doesn't say a thing) and Dodi's in trouble. Seems like I'm the only normal one in this family - at least that's my opinion. Dodi broke another "cow" mug, so mom is not happy with Dodi. I think mom should spank Dodi and put him in a room by himself, but mom never ever spanks....just makes an "ugh" sound and says, "Dodi, Dodi, Dodi." What a wimp! That's between you and me - OK? Enough of the Morton household.

    I love your blogs about birds. I would like to chase a goldfinch, but since I'm what mom refers to as an "inside cat" I don't see my chasing desire happening. I think the goldfinches are very pretty. My mom says there are lots of goldfinches in West Virginia and other kinds of finches too. Have a good day!

    oops almost forgot, mom apologizes for not accessing your blog recently, but is trying to catch-up.
    Love - your friend, Di

  2. Dear Di,
    Goldfinches are good birds to chase and eat, if you can catch one. At least that's my opinion, but I did not put that in the blog because Mom said I should stop sounding so predatory about every animal I write about. But I can't help myself, since dogs are predatory animals, after all. Anyway, Chloe and Charlie would also like to chase birds, but they are supposed to be indoor cats, just like you and Dodi. Chloe likes to sit in the open doorway and just watch all the birds and squirrels in the yard, but so far she has not gone after one.

    Tell your mom to get some cat mugs instead of cow mugs, and then maybe Dodi won't be breaking them all the time!

    Love, Piper