Thursday, February 4, 2010

Seventy Goldfinches

Yesterday I counted 70 American goldfinches outside my window. They clung to the nyjer and sunflower seed feeders and were scattered across the ground. Their drab olive winter colors blend into the equally drab yard splattered with spent bird seed, making them hard to count. Seventy seems about right though, after they all flushed in unison several times.

Today only 40 are visiting. The goldfinches come for a few hours around midday. They seem to be late risers and leave before late afternoon. Goldfinches are nearly pure vegetarians, or granivores to more precise. They eat seeds, and lots of them given that I filled the tube feeders three times yesterday. Goldfinches are especially well-adapted to eating seeds with their short, conical beak and agile feet and body. They eat seeds by clinging to a plant or feeder right side up or upside down. Rarely do they eat insects. Even their breeding season is tied to the peak production of their wild foods -- particularly the seeds of thistle, but also birches, alders, conifers, and other shrubs, wildflowers and grasses.

Goldfinches molt twice a year, in fall and spring. Soon enough the spring molt will start, and the males will begin to sport more and more patches of bright, lemon-colored feathers. Actually the lemonfinch is probably a better name - gold-colored they are not. Now nyjer seed, that is gold given its cost.

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