BIRD TALK: THE GOLDFINCH

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By Greg Dunne

January 23, 2017 (San Diego’s East County) - The most loyal aviating visitor to my yard is the Goldfinch. These little guys are a blast to watch, feeding on their thistle all day long in my front yard. I get as many as 12 to 20 birds or more on my two-sack feeder most of the day – everyday. However, this might drive you to the poor house in bird seed as they are voracious eaters.

Even in this cold damp weather we’re having in January, Goldfinches come to my feeders as soon as there is a slight break in the rainfall. It could be a cold morning with some drizzle coming down when it’s been raining all night, and the birds will still be in large numbers on my bird feeders.

Part of the reason so many Goldfinches gather is because I am diligent in keeping the feeders full. You must be careful feeding wild birds as they can become dependent upon the feed you provide. So, if you are going to start a bird feeder please remember that they are going to use it as a source of food, so keep that in mind and keep it filled as needed.

Goldfinches are a very quick-moving bird, darting from tree to feeder and back to tree in an instant. It can be a battle of maneuvering as the feeder gets covered with birds while still more are waiting in the trees nearby to move in when there is room. It’s also a very noisy event as some of the more dominant birds will fill the air with their harsh chirps as if to say “Don’t try to butt in here, this is my spot”. It can be a battle, but everyone gets a chance to feed.

The Goldfinch is a very social bird and can sometimes travel in large flocks. I see them often on the trails and lakes around our East County.  However, I am rarely able to study them or get a good photo because they are quick and always on the move.

There are several feeders available for the black Nyger seed that Goldfinches eat. Most large stores such as Wal-Mart or Home-Depot stock them with the bird seed and they are easy to find online. You can hang a feeder almost anywhere in the yard and they will come to it. I have mine near the top of the steps in my front yard so that I can watch them from the living room window or when sitting on the front deck.  Keep in mind they can be a bit messy so find a place that can readily be cleaned up. Also, try to keep your birdfeeders clean. Cleaning once every two weeks is recommended.

The three species of Goldfinches we see in our county are the American Goldfinch, the Lesser Goldfinch and the Lawrence Goldfinch. The Lesser Goldfinch is one of San Diego County’s most widespread birds. It’s a year-round resident and can be seen from the coast to the mountain ranges and even in our desert regions. The Lesser Goldfinch is the most prominent of the three that visit my feeders. They can be hard to tell apart. The Lesser Goldfinch is slightly smaller than the American Goldfinch and the yellow coloring on the American Goldfinch stands out much bolder. The Lawrence is a bit different with gray all over with yellow breast and wings.

The popularity of goldfinches as a cage bird in Victorian Britain led to huge numbers being trapped to supply demand, causing the bird’s population to crash. Goldfinches were trapped by a variety of methods including birdlime (birdlime is an adhesive substance used in trapping birds), clap nets, and spring-loaded cages using a decoy. The numbers of birds caught is staggering. In 1860 it was supposed that 132,000 birds had been taken at Worthing, Sussex. The Society for the Protection of Birds, later to become the RSPB, made it one of their first priorities to halt the decline of Goldfinches in the wild. Goldfinches appear frequently in medieval paintings of the Madonna and Child, reflecting the finch as a symbol of fertility and resurrection. In the early 18th century the word goldfinch was used as slang for a very wealthy person.

Most of our beautiful wildlife is shut out of the cities we create – being populated with buildings, streets and cars. But we still can enjoy the birds. Attracting birds around the house gives life to your yard. We take it for granted, but we are fortunate to have birds surrounding us all the time in our urban lives. A “Charm” of Goldfinches in the yard is a blessing.