Back to Back Issues Page
Goldfinch Nesting Time ------- It's Not What you Think
August 12, 2013

Below normal temperatures continue in the Great Lakes Region.

I'm enjoying some sunny days, in the mid to upper 70's and low humidity

But if feels more like late September than early August.

It's not much fun for beach goers.

Besides, most vegetable crops thrive in the heat and really need it to produce bumper crops.

Nature is very special to me.

Every so often We are blessed with something special or unique.

Earlier this summer, it was a family of River Otters that hung around for a couple of weeks.

Recently it was a close encounter with some rabbits.

Okay, what is so special about Cotton Tail Rabbits?

Nothing really.

I've had the pleasure of watching nest building.

Handling new born bunnies all pink and bald.

Monitoring their progress to the time they fledge (12-14 days).

But, I've never had one right at my feet before.

Pictured is a mother and nursing baby in my driveway.

They came out of a flowerbed, baby dropped onto my right foot and mom standing by.

I think this is the semi-tame rabbit that allows me to come within a few feet of her and feeds with the ducks.

I hollered for Karen to get the camera.

Mom came back, and baby latched on once again.

It was one of those "You Had to See It or Be There Moments".

I love how nature can make any day special.

It was for me.

I'm a bit late with this, but here goes.

August is synonymous with plant mildews and other fungus.

Warm days and cool wet nights (heavy dew) make for ideal breeding grounds for fungus to thrive and grow.

There is something about 70-80 F. degree days, and 50 F. degree nights that allow for fungus to explode over night.

Black-spot takes over on roses.

Mildews cover a host of plants.

If you haven't, you may choose a preventive program.

Now, spray and remedies wont rid plants of fungus, you can retard the growth, however.

To avoid fungus all together, you need to start a preventive program long before a problem arises.

Try to avoid overhead watering and watering late day and nighttime.

There are homemade remedies and several commercial products (some organic) to aid in this yearly battle.

As I sit here pecking away at the keyboard, I hear the cries of a fledged Red-tailed hawk.

(Why not join the other species of fledged birds that cry for comfort and food in this strange, new world.)

It is almost comical, yet a bit sad to see these giant birds cry out of fear and hunger.

In a couple of short months, they will become an apex predator.

Red-Tailed Hawks, are a joy for me to watch.

From hunting to feeding to kiting and other
playful activities in the wind.

Mother House Wren is busy caring for the last brood of the season.

If I'm quite, I can hear the babies within the nest box.

If I get too close, she lets me have it, loud and clear.

Little birds with the big sound.

Feisty too.

Another sound I enjoy so much this time of year and through September, are the many call and cries from the current batch of fledged American Goldfinches.

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).


I write on this topic every couple of years, and I will until people get it right.

Maybe I need to do it more often to pound the message home.

Many experts want you to believe that American goldfinches wait to nest so they have thistle down to line their nest with.

Maybe there is something romantic about that whole idea.

"Waiting for thistle down to build a nest."

Get Real.....................................

This couldn't be farther from the truth, and I don't understand why this is always brought up as the answer or reason.

(I've even E-mailed a couple of these authors, experts, and their publications to explain this to me, but I never had a response back.)

Next thing I know, they'll be telling that hummingbirds do indeed migrate on the backs of geese.

Its all about food.

Yes, some species of birds do indeed require certain habitats.

Kirkland's Warbler require Jack Pine scrub to nest in.

Still, if there isn't a food source, the best field of scrub is useless.

Common loons require a good sized, and quiet body of water to raise a family and for take-offs and landings.

However, without a supply of food, Lake Superior would be rendered useless.

The same goes for all of our birds.

The basics of life.

Food, water, shelter.

No food.....

No water....

Shelter doesn't matter much.

It's Nature.

If you are still here, I'll attempt to explain this whole thing to you and you can decide.

Now remember, I'm a Naturalist.

I think like a 'Naturalist' (sometimes).

Often, I see things differently .

I'm also a 'Michigan Certified Nurseryman' which means, I just might, or I should know a thing or two about plants and possibly weeds.

(I don't know everything, but I am required to know a few things.)

Things that 'Ornithologists' may not be on top of.

Here is a Fact or Two:

A vast majority of the thistle weeds that find there way into your gardens and grow along roadsides and fields are introduced and invasive species.

Yes, even 'Canadian Thistle' (Cirsium arvense) pictured, is an introduced species from Europe and on the invasive plant species list.

It is believed that seeds were in grain supplies and brought to life sometime in the 17th or 18th century.

(Most species of thistle came over with European settlers.)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), pictured below.

Bull thistle is often used in photos and paintings with goldfinches.

Bull thistle is a widespread biennial thistle originally from Europe and Asia, but now introduced throughout North America.

Although it is intimidating in appearance and can sometimes form large infestations, this thistle is not as challenging to control as many others and is mainly a problem in hay fields and pastures.

Also found along roadsides.

Whether in plant form or seed mixed with crop seed, it is now here to stay.

I digress......

Now if I remember my history, possibly 300+ years have passed since the weeds were introduced along the eastern coast of North America.

That means that these noxious thistle plants have been around for maybe 200 years or less for many locations.

Maybe 100 years in the western regions of North America.

(Bull Thistle flowers pictured.)

I believe in creation, but that isn't even a blink of an eye, even in evolution terms.

So, what did American goldfinches do, or use before thistle plants came along, if it is all about thistle down that is?

Besides, are there actually enough thistle plants scattered about to line all the goldfinch nests?

What about suburbia where thistle plants may be rare?

If plant down is an issue here, why not nest in the spring when there is plenty of down.

Anyone that lives near a female Cottonwood tree, knows there is more than enough plant down in the spring to line all the nests in your county or region you live.

Wild willows provide down in the spring and countless native plants and weeds provide down as well throughout the season.

So my question is this................

How can plant down be the reason these birds nest so late in the season?

And why do so many promote this belief?

The answer.....................

Plant down isn't the answer for late nesting at all.

It's all about food, period.

American goldfinches are 99.9 percent seed eating birds.

Virtually everything they eat is some kind of seed.

Even newly hatched Goldies are fed a regurgitated mix of seeds.

Are you with me?????

Now then .............................

What time of year do most plants go to seed?

How often do you see goldfinches gleaning from your sunflower heads or your coneflowers?

Goldfinches enjoy Liatris, Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Gaillardia, etc. as well.

Late summer offers seeds from Goldenrod, Asters and a host of plants and weeds.

Are you getting the picture?

So many of our plants and weeds go to seed in mid to late summer, and into fall.

Seed eating birds .................................

Most plants go to seed in late summer.


Makes sense that our Creator would dovetail the two.

So now I have scores of seed eating, fledged goldfinches coming to my yard and in the fields (other critters preparing for winter too) and Nature's table is set for the bountiful feast.

If Goldies fed on insects, berries and other stuff like most bird species, they would have different nesting seasons.

But they don't.............

They are seed eating birds.

The same holds true for Cedar waxwings that are heavy berry feeding birds.

Waxwings nest later than most, as they require berries for the main part of their diet.

Strictly insect eating birds migrate long distances for the bugs.

They also leave early to follow the insect trail back to winter homes.

The same goes for hummers that feed on nectar and small insects.

They follow the food sources.

Supply and demand.

I Love Creation, it is so amazing how God put it all together, without missing a beat.

It is silly we we try to explain things any other way.

While most American Goldfinches have one clutch, there are some years and in some regions they will have a second clutch.

The last couple of years I've noticed well into fall several fledglings and that sound of feed me.

A nice way to extend the season for us, don't you think?

There you have it...........

Why do American goldfinches nest so late?

Thistle down for nests, or seed for seed eating birds.

You know where I stand on this topic, but your choice is up to you.

As habitat continues to shrink, your feeders and wildlife gardens play a key roll.

You can offer a wide variety of native plants that offer seed and nesting materials.

While natural habitats continue to shrink, Gardening For Wildlife plays a vital roll.

No matter where you live.

Well,, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

"Confidence on the outside begins by living with integrity on the inside".

Brian Tracy

Why is integrity so important?

Read on my friend.

"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity".

Proverbs 11:3 (EIV)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

Back to Back Issues Page