• Laurel Contributor

American Goldfinch

by William McReynolds



This is a year-round bird on the Highlands Plateau. The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) transforms itself in spring and is gloriously renewed just as the fairy tale sad sister was magically adorned for her prince. Goldfinch molt twice a year, once in the fall (pictured in the inset) and again in spring.

The lemon yellow body plumage contrasts with black wings and tail feathers to give the spring and summer male goldfinch a canary-like appearance. Note the jaunty black cap the male sports. The female is a more modest olive green with yellow appointments.

Goldfinch live in flocks and colonies and forage in small flocks or charms. Easily recognized on the wing, their alternating wing beats with coasting produces a wavelike flight pattern, an undulating scallop.

Goldfinch are seed eaters and have beaks well-suited to opening seedpods. They mob birdfeeders offering black oil sunflower seeds. They also eat some insects, the sushi of the forest.

Some are short-range migrants, ranging widely in North America. In the summer breeding season, they are found coast to coast from western Canada and California east to North Carolina and in the winter in the southern U.S. into Mexico. Their favorite habitat is weedy fields and meadows and open areas in woodlands including transitional woodlands over old growth.

Their pair bonds are monogamous and lasting. A pair raises broods together year after year. At night the female emits a small sound to guide the male back to the nest.

Goldfinch breed in late summer when seeds are plentiful. The female builds the nest with the male bringing her nesting materials. The nest will contain four to six peanut-sized, blueish white eggs. The female incubates the eggs, the male bringing her food, for about two weeks. The mother feeds her hatchlings regurgitated seeds. Their first plumage is complete enough in two weeks for fledging to begin. The male feeds the young fledges after they have left the nest.

Best wishes for a merry May of bird watching from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society.

The mission of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society is to provide opportunities to enjoy and learn about birds and other wildlife and to promote conservation and restoration of the habitats that support them. HPAS is a 501(c)(3) organization, a Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Visit highlandsaudubonsociety.org for information on membership and all activities.

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