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The American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches

In spring American Goldfinch definitely deserve their nickname, wild canary. The male is bright lemon yellow with a black cap, wings and tail. Females are olive-yellow with dusky wings. They both have white wing-bars, a notched tail, and a thick, orange beak. For most of the year, males and females are hard to tell apart. Living in mixed flocks, they bound through the air with their roller coaster flight singing in chorus over orchards, fields, and roadsides.

American Goldfinches feed on the seeds of conifers and alder trees, thistles, golden rod, and dandelions. In the garden, they eat the flowering heads of zinnias, cosmos, and lettuce.

American Goldfinches commonly change mates between seasons. In most of the country they are known as late nesters, but in California they do things differently, and start nesting in May and June. Nests are made out of woven plant fibers, and held together with spider and caterpillar webbing. The nest is so thick it can hold water and mother must shield it with her wings during a rainstorm or the chicks could drown. The female spends an incredible 95% of her time on the eggs and is fed by the male with much fancy flight and song.

American Goldfinches sometimes get hooked on burrs while feeding on burdock and canít escape. They also get caught in the web of orb-weaving spiders.

First published March 2009 MCAS Whistling Swan
photo by Tim Bray