The Goldfinches of Fall

Fall American Goldfinch
Fall American Goldfinch

American Goldfinches like my yard. It took me awhile to entice them to visit, but once they came, they seemed to have liked the ambiance and have stayed, pretty much year round, only leaving for short periods every now and then when the local Coopers Hawk gets too carried away. They stay busy around the flowers in the warmer months, the seed heads in the fall and pinecones up at the top of the pines in the cooler months. They seem to check out everything, from the lilac bushes in the spring, to zinnias and strawflowers in the summer, to flowers and seeds on weeds in the fall.

American Goldfinches at the Nyjer Feeders
American Goldfinches at the Nyjer Feeders

In my yard, they also like the four tube feeders filled with nyjer seed and the two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders filled with sunflower hearts. During the bulk of the year they are mostly found on and around the nyjer feeders at one end of the house but come late summer and early fall, they are everywhere, checking into all the feeders, picking up seed scraps under various feeders and endlessly lining up around the edges of the birdbaths. They’ll even sip water from the ant moat on the hummingbird feeders.

An American Goldfinch in the Strawflowers
An American Goldfinch in the Strawflowers

American Goldfinches are completely vegetarian and don’t eat insects so they nest late, waiting until late summer or early fall when there are lots of seeds to eat. For the past several weeks, the air in my yard has been full of the almost constant be-peep sounds of little goldfinch fledglings constantly quivering their wings and demanding food from a hard-pressed parent. No wonder the feeders are so busy with goldfinches this time of year. I do think that we may be just a little past the real fledgling period now though. I think some of the young birds take a little while to drop the begging habit. Today I watched one sitting next to dad at the feeder, demanding food and then getting it for himself when dad didn’t comply.

The Young Bird Next to Right is Quivering Wings to Beg Food From the Bird at the Far Right
The Young Bird Next to Right is Quivering Wings and Peeping to Beg Food From the Bird at the Far Right.

Most of the year, the House Finches are more dominant at the feeders and the goldfinches give way to them. I don’t know if this is because they are a little bigger or a little more aggressive, but the House Finches typically dominate the Squirrel Buster feeders (although they mostly leave the nyjer feeders to the goldfinches.) But this time of year, probably due to sheer numbers and the demands of their young, the goldfinches seem to have pride of place, dominating every feeder that contains a type of seed they like (They don’t go for safflower, nuts or suet, so they tend to ignore those feeders.)

Fall American Goldfinches Picking up Sunflower Seed Scraps From the Feeder Above Them.
Fall American Goldfinches Picking up Sunflower Seed Scraps From the Feeder Above Them.

While some birds look pretty much the same regardless of time of year, American Goldfinches have seasonal differences, molting twice each year. During the breeding season, from late winter to mid-summer, the males display lovely bright yellow feathers with a crisp black cap and tail and black wings with white bars. The females’ yellow is never as bright, they don’t have the black cap and their wings are not as contrasty as the breeding males.

The Male American Goldfinch on the Right is Still Transitioning into Winter Feathers
The Male American Goldfinch on the Right is Still Transitioning into Winter Feathers

But in late summer and early fall, American Goldfinches begin to take on their winter non-breeding appearance, turning a more yellowish brown and their wing bars shift from white to light brown. This warm gold/brown outfit is less flashy but quite handsome. The males in particular switch over from their breeding to non-breeding plumage in a patchy kind of way and not all on exactly the same schedule, so there are still a few males in the yard sporting their bright gold colors and others that are mostly in their fall suit but with random lingering brighter feathers. I must admit that in the winter, when I typically have a flock of fifty or more living in the yard, I tend to just count them as “American Goldfinches” in eBird rather than try and keep track of the number of males and females, as they look so much more similar from a distance in the winter months than they do in the spring and summer.

American Goldfinches are fun little birds and it is not hard to see why they are so popular. Their bouncy flights across the yard, social behavior and general inquisitiveness make them fun to watch. For more on American Goldfinches, check out the All About Birds page on American Goldfinches.

Nancie

An American Goldfinch at the Birdbath
An American Goldfinch at the Birdbath

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2 thoughts on “The Goldfinches of Fall”

  1. I love this blog on the birds. You’ve really put a lot of work into sharing your bird watching experience with us. Links provided for more info also. Thank you so much!

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