Larry CollinsWILD ABOUT BIRDSFree Press Birding Columnist

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August 30, 2012
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WILD ABOUT BIRDS: Goldfinches galore

These amazing, eye-catching birds are found across North America. There are three kinds of goldfinches: American, Lesser, and Lawrence's. The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means "thistle." All are very dependent on thistle for food as well as thistledown to line their nests. American Goldfinches can weave their nests so tightly that they will temporarily hold water. They attach their nest to supporting twigs with spider webs. Goldfinches are common feeder visitors and prefer Nyjer (thistle) and sunflower to other seed varieties. American Goldfinches will use almost any feeder, including ones that require them to hang upside down to eat.Goldfinches are occasionally referred to as "wild canaries," but are actually in the finch family as their name suggests. American Goldfinches have an interesting flight call that sounds like "po-ta-to-chip." Northern populations of American Goldfinches are mostly migratory; southern populations are mostly residential. Residential flocks roam widely between food supplies during the winter and have been recorded moving over 4 miles between multiple feeding stations in a single day. Other records show movements of over 30 miles in a single winter. Banding studies have revealed that some American Goldfinches in Ontario migrate more than 1,000 miles to Louisiana.Unlike many birds, American Goldfinches undergo a complete molt each spring. This requires a large amount of nutrients and energy which probably diminishes their ability to nest earlier in the season. During their fall feather molting, American Goldfinches grow a new set of feathers that are much denser than their summer plumage. These soft feathers provide an additional layer of insulation to help keep them warm throughout the winter. To stay warm on a cold winter night, American Goldfinches have been known to burrow under the snow to form a cozy sleeping cavity. They will also roost together in coniferous trees for warmth.The American Goldfinch is one of the latest breeding songbirds, waiting to nest until mid-to-late summer when thistle seeds and down are readily available. When breeding for the first time, young American Goldfinches will begin nesting at least two weeks later than experienced adults. American Goldfinches typically have only one brood per year, although veteran females may produce an additional brood by leaving her original mate to care for the first brood while she finds a new male for the second nesting. Female American Goldfinches choose the nest site, build the nest, and incubate the eggs all on their own. Males feed the female on the nest throughout incubation and take on an ever increasing role in feeding the nestlings as they grow. Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to and he'll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.

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The Post Independent Updated Aug 30, 2012 07:13PM Published Aug 30, 2012 05:22PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.