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Our New England Goldfinches
By Chris Bosak

Nothing cheers up a day like a goldfinch.

Those little, bright bursts of yellow are always a welcome site at your feeder,
bird bath or perched on a flower in your garden. I especially appreciate
goldfinches in the dead of summer.

I remember taking a walk a few years ago on one of those classic hot, humid
days in August. It was the middle of the afternoon and, not surprisingly, I
was finding very little in terms of wildlife. Dragonflies were dancing all over
the place, but even the butterflies seemed to be hiding from the heat.

Suddenly I heard the cheerful song of a goldfinch in flight coming up from
behind me. I turned just in time to see the bright yellow bird perch on the top
of a thistle flower. The pink/purple flower rocked back and forth as it reacted
to the weight of the tiny bird. When the flower settled, the goldfinch went
about his business of picking out the seeds from the flower. I watched the
scene briefly and continued my walk. About five minutes later I heard the
bird again. I looked up to see it fly over my head and disappear into the

Despite its tiny size (about five inches) the goldfinch is an easy bird to
identify in flight. It flies quickly in an undulating fashion similar to a roller
coaster with small hills usually uttering its potato-chip, potato-chip song as it
bounces up and down.

I didn't see any other birds on that walk, but the single goldfinch perched on
the flower made it all worthwhile. Goldfinches also score points with me as
they are the only bird I see in my garden, other than robins hopping along the
ground looking for worms. I've seen goldfinches perched atop coneflower
and black-eyed Susan flowers, picking away at the seeds. I've also seen them
on sunflowers in other people's gardens.

Goldfinches, of course, are also reliable feeder birds, often occupying every
perch of a tube feeder. I love to see all six perches of my blue tube feeder
occupied by the bright yellow birds. Goldfinches will eat sunflower seeds
and will visit platform or tube feeders. A sure way to attract goldfinches,
however, is to offer thistle (or nyjer) seed in a tube feeder specifically
designed for the tiny seeds. Do not try to use thistle seeds in a regular feeder
as the tiny seeds will spill through the holes. "Sock" feeders stuffed with
thistle seeds are a good, inexpensive alternative.

Goldfinches visit feeders at any time of the day. It's interesting to note that
goldfinches move on frequently so the birds you see at your feeder in the
evening are not likely the same ones you saw in the morning.

Goldfinches are found throughout the country and many remain in New
England through the winter months. They are not the flashy yellow birds we
love so much in the summer, though. We still love them in the winter, of
course, but they are much duller, often appearing olive or brownish. It's fun
to see the splotchy male goldfinches in the early part of spring as they slowly
regain their bright yellow plumage. Only the males are bright yellow.
Females are a duller yellow. They also have black caps and black wings with
white stripes.

My brother Ed and his wife Debbie are rabid Pittsburgh Steeler fans, so the
goldfinch is a favorite in that household. Of course you don't have to be a
Steeler fan to appreciate the beauty of a goldfinch. The bright yellow speaks
for itself. Throw in a purple or pink flower and you've got real proof that
Mother Nature likes her colors.

About the author:
Chris Bosak is a bird columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel. He may be
reached via his Web site at
Goldfinch, photo by Chris Bosak