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American Goldfinch
August 17, 2009

Welcome new readers, please stick around.

Hopefully we will become friends.

For all of my long time (and recent) readers and friends..............

Thank you so very much for your support and encouragement and I hope that in some way, I have touched a heart and you too can move forward.

You are such a blessing to me.

Better late than never.

The month of August is saving summer for us in the Great Lakes Region.

Temperatures are above normal and the humidity is causing unstable air this week.

And that could mean Thunderstorms.

Many crops and flowers are still lagging, but the warmth has added a growth spurt and Lake Michigan.

Bird activity in my yard is really fluctuating now.

Fewer robins visit me as many of the adults have finished raising and fledging their young.

When robins are done nesting, families begin to form loose flocks as they head into the open woods and woods edge where small trees and shrubs are bearing fruits.

A robin's diet will change from worms to more fruits and insects this time of year.

Where will a robin find more ofthese menu favorites?

More often, in the wild.

Many other birds are switching eating habits as well.

This is one reason why I keep mentioning the importance of planting natives.

Yes, native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers.

They all offer something that most exotics cannot.

Natives offer what your wildlife needs.

Natives also make for a nice natural balance.

We spent some time with God and His nature this past week.

Yes, it is always good to get back home and sleep in your own bed.

It is also good to get out into His creations and I will share more of that with you next week.

For now, I am scrambling to get this letter out on time and that is no small feat.

Because of the lack of time, I am going to the main part of this letter now.

'American Goldfinch'


American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)

The state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.

These are active and acrobatic little finches that cling to weeds and seed socks, and sometimes mill about in large numbers at feeders or on the ground beneath them.

Goldfinches fly with a bouncy, undulating pattern and often call in flight, drawing attention to themselves.

And we take notice.

The American Goldfinch, or wild canary, is a delightful visitor to backyards where thistle seed or black oil sunflower seed is offered.

They are abundant over most of North America where there is suitable habitat, except in the Cascade and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

They are one of the world's 140 or so species of Cardueline finches (family Fringillidae) that include the House Finch, Pine Siskin, Lesser Goldfinch, Lawrence's Goldfinch, Common Redpoll and Hoary Redpoll.

For centuries, the bright colors and cheery songs of the world's finches have made them popular cage birds.

Thankfully, it is now unlawful to cage any of our native and migratory birds without special permits.

Their flight is expressive of their joyous nature, and as they bound through the air they hum a happy "per-chic-o-ree."

Happy birds that sow the air with music, giving us song throughout the year.

The slender beak is especially adapted to extract seeds from the seed head of plants such as the thistle, cosmos, coreopsis, birch, alder, cedar and elm and many, many others.

The intense yellow plumage of the male is produced by carotenoid pigments such as leutin, zeoxanthin, and beta-carotene derived from plant materials in the bird's diet.

It is important that these pigments be available in the spring diet when the birds are replacing their contour feathers.

Physical Description:

The average weight of an American goldfinche is around .50 ounces (14 grams).

the length from tip to tip is 4.5 to 5+ inches (11.4 - 12.8 cm).

The upper wing coverts of the adult male are jet black.

The shoulder is bright lemon yellow.

The black color of feathers, especially wing feathers, is from the pigment eumelanin.

The female is more drab than the male, and her plumage will blend in better with the surroundings when she is on the nest.

When incubating eggs, the female will develop a brood patch on her belly to efficiently transfer heat to the eggs.

There is a significant age and sex difference in the pattern of white on the tail feathers of the American Goldfinch.

Mature adult males have extensive bright white patches on their tail feathers.

The white on females and younger males is less extensive and more drab.

This characteristic is helpful to determine the age and sex of birds.

In the Cardueline finches, this spring molt is unique to the American Goldfinch .

In the fall, males loose their bright yellow plumage and become drab like the female.

Some observers, unfamiliar with this change to a winter wardrobe, might conclude that their Goldies have migrated for the winter.

The young males in their second year get some of the yellow coat of feathers, but will not turn bright yellow until their second and third summers.

Nesting Behavior:

Pair formation occurs in winter (they need something to do don't they).

One of the latest breeders of all temperate zone passerines, nesting begins in April in the southwestern USA, but birds in the east delay breeding until July and still later in the northern regions.

Because these birds are 99% seed eaters, nesting seems to depend on the availability of ripe seeds more than it does plant down.

A nest of plant fibers and plant down, built by the female, is located in a tree or shrub from 2 to 30 feet high.

The nest is woven so tightly that it will hold water, and there have been reports of young birds that have drown and eggs rotting in water retained in the nest following a rain storm when the parents did not protect the nest.

From 4 to 6 eggs, incubated by the female, hatch in about 12 to 14 days.

She does all the incubating while papa brings her food.

Both parents feed the young regurgitated seeds.

The young birds fledge by 17 days.

Up to three broods may be raised in a southwestern breeding season.

In the northern parts of the Goldfinches territory, about 15% of the time, the female will desert her mate and hook up with another male to nest twice in a season.

The male is left to raise the fledglings on his own.

I don't mind, it extends the time frame I have a yard full of noisy (I love it) feed me. feed me, goldfinches in my yard.


They are almost exclusively grainivorous (seed eaters), even when feeding young.

They consume many different types of seeds from grasses, annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees.

Analysis of the stomach contents of one goldfinch showed 50 different items, only 3 of which were insects.

3 insects?

That's a lot of insects.

A typical American goldfinch diet is 99% seeds.

The other items included a wide variety of seeds, such as seeds from grasses and trees (alder, birch, cedar, elm, etc.)

Goldfinches are well adapted to hanging on seed heads, and they prefer this to feeding on the ground.

I for one enjoy the antics of this little feather ball of energy, don't you?

Goldfinches drink by obtaining a mouthful of water and quickly tipping the head back to swallow.

If you are like me, you also enjoy the sounds of late summer as the fledglings fill our yards and feeders begging to be fed.

Geographic Range:

The breeding range reaches as far north as southern Canada and continues across the whole of North America, with the southern limits being North Carolina in the east and northern California in the west.

The wintering range extends across the entire continental United States, extending well into Mexico along the Gulf coast.


Range maps show that Goldfinches migrate, but not all of them are.

Banding studies show that flocks tend to move together.

Some populations are migratory, and there is regional movement in wintering populations (some years, more than others).

One individual banded in Ontario in March of 2000 was recovered 8 months later in Louisiana, a distance of 976 miles.

(Male goldfinch in winter colors) Not bad for birds that aren't supposed to migrate great distances.

Must've enjoyed the Cajun delights and decided to stay :-)

If the flock visiting your backyard suddenly disappears, they have moved on to another area, and will soon be replaced by another flock.

Soiled feeders, especially thistle feeders where birds must use the same perches and openings to grasp the seeds, can transmit diseases between birds.

Salmonella and Conjunctivitis are both deadly to birds, are spread through dirty feeders.


American goldfinches prefer weedy fields and flood plains in their breeding range.

These habitats include early successional growth, cultivated lands, roadsides, orchards, and gardens.

The habitat preference is maintained during the spring and fall.

Winter habitats vary more than summer habitats, with finches moving near to human feeders (if available) in the northern parts of their range.

(Female goldfinch pictured)

In the southern parts of their range, they tend to remain in habitats that closely approximate the weedy fields and flood plains of the north when possible.

Clearing of forests and creation of open weedy areas has benefited the American Goldfinch.

They provide an important service by consuming large numbers of weed seeds (they also disperse some seeds)

The increase in backyard feeding is believed to also benefited this species.

Goldfinches often flock with Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls during the winter months and can be quite dramatic when a flock descends into your yard.

Conservation Status:

Currently, American goldfinch populations are not decreasing, though they do have periods of fluctuation.

It is thought that their populations have increased since European settlement of North America.

The clearing of forests for agriculture has vastly expanded the preferred habitat of American goldfinches.

A patch of sunflowers like the one pictured in my yard is a sure way to attract late summer goldfinches and fledglings.

Now, if you don't mind, I think I will go outside and enjoy some sights and sounds of nature.

Well, It is time to fly for now.

However, before I go.................

Here is your positive thought for the week.

Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.

J. Andrews

Nothing special or heavy duty this week.

Just a simple reminder to keep on trying.

Rarely do we succeed the first time we try something.

From learning how to walk or ride a bike to learning a sport or skill.

If we gave up the first time we tried and failed, where would the world be?

Even something as simple as a garden has multiple failed attempts, yet we keep going (passions and love is key).

Failure is a learning process.

John Maxwell wrote a book several years ago titled "Failing Forward"

We are to learn from our failures and poor choices.


Learning, not failing.

A new concept???????????????

Not hardly, but in today's world, to fail is to............

Well, fail.

Giving up.

Not trying.

We are to persevere, even if it takes 20 times.

Can you imagine Thomas Edison trying 10,000 times to make the light bulb?

He looked at it as 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb, not as 10,000 failures.

He looked at life as a learning experience, something exciting and so should we.


Smile, knowing that you aren't failing, but learning.

Smile, knowing your 'Creator' does not fail and he didn't make a failure.

Life isn't always easy, but with God's help and your perseverance, possibilities are almost limitless.

Smile and share your experience and knowledge.

Share your smiles.

It can't get much easier than sharing a smile and you just might make some one's day too.

Until next time my friend.

"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.

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