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Those Busy Goldfinches, Why Now?
September 06, 2011

I hope you had a wonderful Labor Day Weekend.

I know we did.

For meteorologists, Labor Day marks the end of summer.

But that doesn't mean it is over.

In all the busyness, I forgot to remind you that on holiday weekends, the letter will come on Tuesday instead of the normal Monday.

Our prayers continue for the millions affected by the hurricane and for the folks of Texas as they deal with drought, and yet more wild fires.

Now, I'm busy trying to find who stole my summer.

Temperatures in the 90's on Thursday and Friday an down in the 60's by Monday.

If you snatched my summer, please return it and there will be no questions asked :-)

Okay, so I'm never ready for summer to leave.

For some reason, we men seem to get under foot every once in a while and our wives want us to get out as in leave for a while.

I can't imagine why :-)

This past Wednesday was one of those days.

I covered myself in mosquito repellent and headed off to a small wildlife preserve at one on the local colleges.

It's nothing fancy.

It has rather quaint with well defined walking trails.

Still, there are a few small ponds, a small creek and some open space.

There weren't a lot of great photo opportunities, but the quiet time is always worth it for me.

I did capture a picture of a Painted turtle sunning itself.

A chipmunk stopped and posed for me and the wildflowers offered a nice image too.

There was even the lone dragonfly that stopped for a photo opp.

In the distance you may see an out of focus, female Belted Kingfisher in the willows.

Belted Kingfishers are one of the few birds where the female is prettier, as she has rust colored markings (belt) along the breast, where as the male has the all white breast.

Even with repellent, the skeeters were still after me and cut my visit short.

I enjoyed my time in a bit of a natural setting.

However, I think I came home too soon.

We are already a few days into a new month.

If you haven't cleaned and sanitized your feeders and water supplies, now is a good time to get at it.

For me, the first of any month is a good reminder to do this.

Clean, fresh water is a good way to attract more birds to your yard, especially with migration season upon us.

Many migrating birds that typically wont visit a yard, will often stop for a fresh drink and bath.

Moving water is better yet.

A couple of days ago, I captured this male Ruby-throated hummer at a winder feeder.

As you can see, the image is toward dusk and not crisp, but if you look careful, you can see the tip of his tongue sticking out.

Male Rubies are usually gone by now, so I was pleased.

If you haven't by now, it is time to increase the octane in your hummer feeders.

Increase the sugar content from 4:1 to 3:1 and even a bit higher for short periods.

Hummingbirds need to add weight for the long migration south.

Indeed, they must double their weight.

To do this, they must feed more and the higher content helps.

Especially if your yard lacks nectar rich flowers.

Even Anna's hummingbird of the West coast region will migrate short distances to avoid winter (from the hills to the valleys you might say).

Migration is a God given instinct in hummers.

There is no teaching or following others.

No staging grounds like other species may have.

When it is time to migrate, they simply know when to leave and where to go.

Usually the last to leave are the juveniles and the weak.

I encourage you to read Migration South, and anything else you can fin on these marvelous birds.

(Cardinal enjoying the sprinkler.)

This time of year is busy for most of us.

There is a lot going on.

Getting kids off to school.

We are busy with yards and gardens and fall prep.

Even the Honey Do lists starts to grow once again.

In the natural world, many animals prepare for winter and so on.

This time of year there is so much I could write about.

Yet time doesn't allow me, so there are times I must pick and choose.

Today, I'm touching on another topic that I hope to clarify for some of you.

At least get you to think and ask some questions.

"Why American Goldfinches Nest so late in the Season."


It's late August and early September and a new generation of American goldfinches are now coming to our yards and feeders.

(One of the sounds of the season I enjoy so much.)

Yes, it is a reminder that summer is almost gone, but also brings happy sounds.

I enjoy it when the yard and feeders are inundated with scores of fledged goldfinches begging to be fed.

Goldfinches are one of the last species of birds to nest.

Often in mid to late summer.

Many experts want you to believe that 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."

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 experts and their publications to explain this to me, but I never had a response back.)

Next thing I know, they'll be telling my that hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese, when we all know that isn't true at all.

That Is Not The Case At All.

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

Are you ready?


Now remember, I'm a Naturalist.

I think like a 'Naturalist' (maybe it is my left handed, right brain thinking).

Sometimes I see things differently .

I'm also a '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.

Now ..............

Here is a Fact:

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' is an introduced species and on the invasive plant species list.

Most species of thistle came over with European settlers.

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

I digress......

Now if I remember my history, that means that these noxious thistle plants have been around for maybe 200 years.

Possibly 300 years along the east and much less time has passed for these plants to have spread across North America.

That doesn't leave much time.

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

So, what did Goldfinches do before thistles plants came along, if it is all about thistle down.

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

What about suburbia where thistle plants may be rare?

Anyone that lives near a female Cottonwood tree, knows there is more than enough plant down in the spring to line countless nests.

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.....................

It isn't the reason at all.

Pay attention, there may be a pop quiz later.

Look at the big picture

American goldfinches are 99.9 percent seed eating birds.

Virtually everything they eat is some kind of seed.

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 and Rudbeckia as well.

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 feast.

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

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

They are seed eating birds.

(Goldfinch nest.)

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.

While most 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.

Even native grasses have much to offer.

Yes, 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.

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

Norman MacFinan

When you give of yourself and with a glad heart, things happen.

"Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

"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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