Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, August 6, 2016


(Margo D. Beller)
When I was growing up, American goldfinches were not part of my world. They could've been flying around the yards of Brooklyn, N.Y., back in the 1970s but I didn't notice.

That does not mean they were not around the house. As you can see here, we had a goldfinch figurine on the table (a careless house cleaner broke off one wing and if you look closely you can see where I glued it back on).

We also had plates with birds on them - jays, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks.

As with the rest of the birds, however, I didn't start noticing goldfinches until I moved to New Jersey. Goldfinches are the state bird of New Jersey, MH proudly told me.

There are three types of goldfinches in this country. In New Jersey it is the American. Lesser goldfinches are in the U.S. southwest. Lawrence's goldfinch is found only in Baja California.

Once I started feeding birds, I still didn't notice the goldfinches because in winter the males, normally bright yellow with a black cap, look like the females, who are usually greenish brown. Goldfinches hang around for the winter and sometimes are joined by their cousins the pine siskins.

However, pine siskins - which are strictly winter visitors and only come if they can't find food in their usual northern wintering grounds -  have streaked breasts and thin, pointy bills. The goldfinches have the thicker bills of other finches and are not streaked.

Through trial and error I discovered that a thistle sock, like the one above, would feed the goldfinches and a few other types of birds that don't mind hanging on something that soft and porous - house finches and black-capped chickadees mainly.

(Margo D. Beller)
Goldfinches, when they are finally in their breeding colors, mate and have families much later in the summer because that is timed to when the various thistle plants go to seed. So I wait until late July, when I hear the male doing his flight call and make great loops in the sky to impress the female, to put out the sock. It takes a while but eventually a pair comes.

However, as the picture above shows, at some times of the year huge flocks of goldfinches pass through. This gathering the other Spring was rather extraordinary. We had as many as 20 individuals at any one time. That is why I had to break out the cage feeder to go with the sock. Even then, it didn't seem to be enough.

However, for now we have a pair and that is enough for me.
Goldfinch pair, Duke Farms, Hillsborough, NJ (Margo D. Beller)