Buds-n-Bugs: American goldfinch

Buds-n-Bugs: American goldfinch

Buds-n-Bugs: American goldfinch

Rod Gasche
Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 12:56 PM.

During the winter, the goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is frequently found at local bird feeders.

While their winter plumage is less showy than the bright yellow sported by males during breeding season, the males are attractive little birds and may migrate through the Panhandle in great numbers.

The American goldfinch is gregarious during the non-breeding season, when it is often found in large flocks, usually with other finches. Flocks generally fly in an undulating pattern, creating a wave-shaped path. 

The American goldfinch is not aggressive toward predators within its territory; its only reaction is alarm calling. Predators include snakes, squirrels, and blue jays, which may destroy eggs or kill young. Hawks and cats pose a threat to both young and adults. Goldfinches are occasionally victims of brood parasites, particularly brown-headed cowbirds. One study found that nine percent of nests had cowbird eggs in them. 

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the species is one of the strictest vegetarians in the bird world. Its main diet consists of the seeds from a wide variety of annual plants, often those of weeds grasses and trees, such as thistle, teasel, dandelion, ragweed, mullein, cosmos, sunflower and coneflower. However, it also consumes tree buds, maple sap, and berries. It will eat at bird feeders provided by humans, particularly in the winter months, preferring  Niger seed, sometimes called thistle. It will occasionally eat insects, which are also fed to its young to provide protein.

Unlike some finch species, the American goldfinch uses its feet extensively in feeding. It frequently hangs from seed heads while feeding in order to reach the seeds more easily.

The courtship rituals of the American goldfinch include aerial maneuvers and singing by males, who begin courtship in late July.

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