Saturday, December 7, 2019

Mister Goldfinch

I’ve not been out much this last week, mainly because of the dreadful weather. A couple of trips out proved fruitless in the way of birding, ringing or photographs. Andy and Sandra have just returned from sunny Morocco. I'm hoping they brought back sunny weather and she'll let him out to play soon.  

I did manage a few sessions of garden ringing where I hoped to catch Goldfinches and perhaps the tiny male Sparrowhawk that appears intermittently and chases off the Goldfinches. Having said that, a recent kill was a Collared Dove where a large circle of feathers on the grass in the far corner of the garden proved testament to a Sparrowhawk’s deadly skill. 


Goldfinches get lots of mentions on Another Bird Blog. The reason is that our UK Goldfinch is now a very, very common bird in the countryside and in both towns and cities. It has quickly become the most common bird in gardens large & small and easily overtaken the once abundant House Sparrow. My own garden is a good example of where a glance outside on a typical day will see anything between two and twenty Goldfinches flitting between the tree tops and the eight bird feeders. 

Some days the Goldfinches go missing altogether. I suspect that there is now a fairly settled winter local population which splits up each morning as birds head off in various directions on well-known and trusted routes to sources of food. I know when they are around. Their contacts calls and tinkling winter song fills the air as one by one, two by two, they fly into the tree tops and descend to the branches and feeders below. 

Some individuals know my garden well. They are the ones that have a feed and then fly under or over the single mist net placed strategically east to west. And then there are the equally clever ones that fly alongside the net north or south without a right or left turn that would result in their being caught. The ones that blunder into the net may not have been here before. It’s a logical theory when taking into account how innocent fledglings of summer and autumn are more easily caught. By mid-winter even, many are yet to become familiar with the often illegitimate ways of man.      




Results from the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey show that Goldfinch numbers continue to boom in gardens. Garden bird foods and feeders have spread markedly over recent decades, enabling our UK Goldfinches to quickly exploit a niche that other birds failed to spot. 

An adult Goldfinch is unmistakable with its red, white and black head, gold wing-bars and black and white wings. Although males and females look similar, the red mask of the male extends back behind the eye, whereas that of the female doesn’t. Recently fledged birds do not acquire the red face until late in the summer or during early autumn. While the features to separate male and female is accepted as the norm it is thought not quite 100% reliable. 

Goldfinch - Svensson




Bird ringers who catch and then later recapture some individuals in the breeding season will confirm that the now revealed breeding characteristics may contradict the earlier sexing of the bird according to the literature in Svensson or elsewhere. 

This problem is not easily solvable since the recapture rate of Goldfinches seems quite low under normal circumstances, even less so when looking to capture adult Goldfinches during the breeding season. Many of these individuals may wander far and wide and also migrate outside of the summer months. 

Goldfinches favour small, oil-rich seeds, such as nyjer and sunflower hearts that householders buy in large quantities for garden feeding stations. Agricultural intensification has resulted in reduced availability of natural weed seeds as garden feeding stations become increasingly important for birds like the Goldfinch, so much so that the Goldfinch’s success has been a major factor in the species’ population explosion. Such seeds now appear more popular with buyers than the once ubiquitous peanut, probably because once outside the oily seeds remain attractive and do not deteriorate as quickly a peanut.  Many is the time I have put out peanuts to find that after a few days of our British weather the nuts turned to a rather unpleasant mush that had to be removed for safety reasons. 

With agricultural intensification resulting in reduced availability of weed seeds, garden feeding stations are increasingly important for birds like the Goldfinch. 

Feeding Station 

After this morning’s rain truncated effort of 7 Goldfinches ringed (and 15 or more adopting avoidance tactics), I checked my figures on the BTO's DeMon - 385 Goldfinches caught and of those, 379 new and just 6 subsequent recaptures. 

Goldfinch has overtaken Linnet as my “the most encountered bird”.  We really must get back to those Linnets soon. 

Most Encountered Bird 


Well at least I’m not Mr Blue Tit.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.


David M. Gascoigne, said...

Hello Phil:
It really is depressing when you get a run of dreadful weather such as you have been experiencing. Under such conditions it is at least some consolation that the Goldfinches are there to provide a regular source of diversion and entertainment. The situation you find in your garden mirrors the experience here, American Goldfinch is both numerous and a willing and regular patron at bird feeders. I am an early riser, always before daybreak, and nine days out of ten, Goldfinches are the first birds to arrive at the feeders. In similar fashion to your Sparrowhawk, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks have quickly learned to exploit this source of prey, and recently a Merlin has been reported in the neighbourhood, but I have not seen it. I have every digit on my body crossed for you in the hope that good weather is on its way.

Ludmiła Jabłońska said...

The male sparrowhawk is perfect! Today at the feeder there was female and hunted.
Pictures of goldfinch are excellent! I love these birds! They rarely look into my feeder. Congratulations!

Lowcarb team member said...

What a fantastic photograph of the Sparrowhawk, and so nice to see the Goldfinches.

All the best Jan

Lea said...

Beautiful photos!

italiafinlandia said...

Pretty birds. I see them both in Italy and in Finland.

Linda said...

You have quite a variety of finches!

Anni said...

Don't you just hate weather that doesn't cooperate with your planned outings? These goldfinches are extraordinary to me. Ours here are black & yellow. And even tho they're supposedly taking over other population, they're still good to see. So many species of wildlife are way too scarce because of human greed

I'm happy you decided to stop by I'd Rather B Birdin today and take time to share your link! Thanks.

Wally Jones said...

Thank you, Phil, for a great garden report! Although we don't have any Goldfinch visitors, we do have a resident Cooper's Hawk who appreciates our luring several dozen plump White-winged Dove into the yard each day. We are familiar with that "circle of feathers" left as evidence.

Our American Goldfinch is not as colorful as yours and here in Florida we only see them during migration when their non-breeding plumage is quite dull. It's a treat to hear a flock passing overhead as they are quite vocal in flight.

Gini and I hope your weather breaks in your favor soon!

Mike Attwood said...

Excellent report on the activities in your garden Phil. I wish I had as much to say about my country garden, I only get hedgehogs and foxes.

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

Great image of the Sparrowhawk Phil, I struggle to see the difference between male and female Goldfinch.

Rhodesia said...

Our weather is horrible as well and it looks like it is set in, certainly for the rest of the week, if the forecast is right. Cold, damp and grey!! We used to have masses of Goldfinches and Greenfinches at our feeder in winter but they have all vanished! Last year we had lots of Blue tits and Great tits but this year only the odd one or two. Meanwhile, the sparrows have multiplied and the sky turns dark when they arrive. Not sure what is happening, but as much as I love the sparrows they are now getting a bit boring! Keep well Diane

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Lovely photos as usual. I wish Goldfinches liked my yard but I just usually see a few sparrows.

Taken For Granted said...

Beautiful photos of the Sparrow Hawk and Goldfinches. Our Goldfinches look quite different than yours, and they are only around here in the warm, summer months. Thanks for sharing.

NCSue said...

Your goldfinches look nothing at all like ours!
Thanks for sharing at

Fun60 said...

It is good to hear of at least one garden bird thriving.

Elkes Lebensglück said...

that is fantastic photos!!!!Ilove birds!!!

Angie said...

Phil - I take it from your post that you support birdfeeders as they fill in a gap in the food system for some birds. A relief - some people criticize me for my bird feeders! Lovely photos, my friend!

Lady Fi said...

Fabulous shots!

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