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American Goldfinches like my yard. It took me a while to entice them to visit, but once they came, they seemed to have liked the ambiance. They have stayed year round, only leaving for short periods every now and then. They stay busy around the flowers in warmer months, the seed heads in the fall and pine cones up at the top of the pines in cooler months. The yard is busy with their activity, checking out everything, from lilac bushes in the spring, zinnias and strawflowers in the summer, to flowers and seeds on weeds in the fall.
What American Goldfinches Eat
In my yard, goldfinches also like the four tube feeders filled with nyjer seed and the two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders filled with sunflower hearts. Most of the year they are usually found on and around the nyjer feeders at one end of the house.
But come late summer and early fall, they are everywhere, checking into all the feeders, picking up seed scraps under various feeders and endlessly lining up around the edges of the birdbaths. They’ll even sip water from the ant moat on the hummingbird feeders.
Goldfinches Nest Late
American Goldfinches are completely vegetarian and don’t eat insects. So they nest late, waiting until late summer or early fall when there are lots of seeds to eat. For the past several weeks, the air has been full of the almost constant be-peep sounds of little goldfinch fledglings constantly quivering their wings and demanding food from a hard-pressed parent. No wonder the feeders are so busy with goldfinches this time of year.
We may be just a little past the real fledgling period now though. I think some of the young birds take a little while to drop the begging habit. Today I watched one sitting next to dad at the feeder, demanding food and then getting it for himself when dad didn’t comply.
When Goldfinches Dominate
Most of the year, House Finches are more dominant at feeders and goldfinches give way to them. I don’t know if this is because they are a little bigger or a little more aggressive, but House Finches typically dominate the Squirrel Buster feeders. (They mostly leave the nyjer feeders to the goldfinches.)
But this time of year, probably due to sheer numbers and the demands of their young, goldfinches seem to have pride of place. They dominate every feeder that contains a type of seed they like (They don’t go for safflower, nuts or suet so ignore those feeders.)
Goldfinch Spring and Fall Molting
Some birds look the same regardless of time of year. But American Goldfinches have seasonal differences, molting twice each year. During the breeding season, from late winter to mid-summer, males display lovely bright yellow feathers with a crisp black cap and tail and black wings with white bars. The females’ yellow is never as bright. They don’t have the black cap and their wings are not as contrasty as the breeding males.
But in late summer and early fall, goldfinches begin to take on their winter non-breeding appearance. They turn a more yellowish brown and their wing bars shift from white to light brown. This warm gold/brown outfit is less flashy but quite handsome.
The males in particular switch over from breeding to non-breeding plumage in a patchy kind of way and not on exactly the same schedule. So there are still a few sporting bright gold colors and others that are mostly in their fall suit but with random lingering brighter feathers.
I must admit that in the winter, when I typically have a flock of fifty or more in the yard, I tend to just count them as “American Goldfinches” in eBird rather than try and keep track of the number of males and females. They look so much more similar from a distance in the winter months than they do in the spring and summer.
Fun Little Birds
Goldfinches are fun little birds and it is not hard to see why they are so popular. Their bouncy flights across the yard, social behavior and general inquisitiveness make them fun to watch. For more on American Goldfinches, check out the All About Birds page on American Goldfinches.
Learn More About American Goldfinches
Learn More About Maryland Birds
See my post on Central Maryland Backyard Birds.
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