Goldfinch Fever

By Emily White

One of the first signals that spring will eventually break through the grey days of winter is the reappearance of bright yellow feathers on our resident male goldfinches. By the end of April, the male has fully returned to his brilliant breeding plumage. The female remains in the same dull olive colours of winter.

The goldfinch is primarily a bird of open habitats such as fields, orchards, and roadsides rather than wooded areas. This species is also becoming a more common sight in suburban gardens, feeding happily at backyard nyjer feeders. Anyone who has provided nyjer seed at a feeding station knows that it works like a finch magnet. Once goldfinches discover a reliable supply of nyjer, they will visit regularly throughout the year.

They do tend to go through a visible visitation cycle in the summer. This cycle closely follows the production of their favourite wild seeds. For instance, they often visit feeders less frequently in June when dandelions go to seed. Then, they disappear again in late July when wild thistles are in bloom. July is their nesting season - much later than most birds in order to coincide with the abundance of their natural food preferences. Even during this busy time though, goldfinches usually manage to visit a nyjer feeder for a few quick snacks each day. Make sure to keep your feeders full of clean, dry seed and your finches will be sure to regard you as a reliable and consistent food source.

There are many styles of finch feeders available. The most common are tube-style finch feeders with several perches and tiny holes for dispensing nyjer seed. Mesh feeders and thistle sacks are also popular due to the fact that many finches can cling all over this style of feeder without a limited number of perching positions. Upside-down finch feeders (the feeding port is below the perch) are a fun alternative, and also prevent competition from other species of birds.

Nyjer is a premium seed that can be a bit pricier than many other types of seed, but this “black gold” is worth it. Not only do goldfinches love it, but also it may attract house finches, chickadees, juncos, purple finches, pine siskins and redpolls. Make sure to look for fresh, high quality, dust-free nyjer seed from India. Sunflower seed is another goldfinch favourite. Hulled sunflower is especially popular with these “wild canaries”.

In the warmer months, water is particularly inviting to goldfinches. They likely drink and bathe more often at backyard water sources than any other species (except possibly for robins). A birdbath, fountain, or even a pond can be an important addition to your garden when trying to attract a variety of beautiful birds.

Cover is essential for these birds to feel at ease in your garden. Hedges, shade trees and clumps of shrubbery will help them feel more comfortable.

Beginning in September, these birds go through a complete molt. Males, females, immature and adult will all be olive drab for the winter season. It will be a long winter before again we glimpse a little flash of sunny yellow to signal the inevitable, yet long awaited coming of spring.

1570 Hyde Park Rd. 474-1165
6 Stanley St. 435-1488

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