Wildlife Wednesday: American Goldfinch

Wildlife Wednesday: American Goldfinch

At a recent presentation of live birds to nature day campers at the Chippewa Nature Center, Barb and Joe Rogers of the Wildlife Rescue Association asked kids to name their favorite bird.

A favorite was the goldfinch, a small bird shining like a patch of summer sun. If it were a rainforest bird, it would be extremely popular for its brilliant black and yellow colors and cheerful demeanor.

The American goldfinch is fairly common in Michigan. Males stand out as a beacon in bright yellow, accented with black wings and crown. The shiny hues act as a decoy for predators. The female has calmer colors, which help her hide while she broods her eggs or warms her nestlings. It is olive-gray yellow and may seem to disappear into the vegetation.

The American Goldfinch eats berries and insects, but its diet consists mainly of seeds; the adults even feed the nestlings regurgitated seeds. They are easily attracted to feeding stations, preferring sunflower seeds and thistle seeds. They also feed on many other seeds including those of goldenrod, aster, burdock, dandelion, chicory and the seed heads of garden flowers such as zinnias, coreopsis, cosmos and lettuce.

These bright little birds nest in late summer, usually August, when very few other birds are nesting and seeds are plentiful. The nest is a small cup-shaped structure that is lined with thistle down or other soft material. The nest is so well made that it can hold water; the adult who takes care of the nest must always be present on the nest in the event of a storm in order to keep the chicks dry. The fledglings, which look like a fuzzy yellow stuffed animal, leave the nest in September and follow the parents to learn the ways of the goldfinch.

Joe Rogers has observed how, if he walks quietly, a family of American goldfinches will allow him to come up close.

“Finding a nest of these little birds is a pleasure, but the more I looked at a goldfinch’s nest, the more I realized that I could never accomplish the high-quality engineering that went into creating this home,” said Joe.

In addition to its bright colors, the call of the American goldfinch is among many people’s favorite bird calls. They are known to chirp at people walking in forests or other birds, sounding like “per-chick-o-ree”.

Whole flocks of goldfinches, also known as wild canaries, will swoop down on fields, orchards and one of their favorite habitats, shrubby marshes. Flying in an undulating flight, these mixed flocks which often contain other small birds will then settle on favorite food plants.

As winter approaches, many brightly colored birds migrate to warmer climes. However, American goldfinches stay in Michigan all winter and continue to show up at feeders.

However, the males will moult to change their coat to a dull olive color with dark wings, thus looking more like female goldfinches. Goldfinches in winter can easily be confused with sparrows.

The goldfinch is considered a symbol of optimism, according to Barb Rogers, and has many other connections to representations of happiness, enthusiasm, energy, and joy.

“Like many birds, they certainly spark a moment of joy in our lives,” Barb said. “We thank the young CNC Nature Day campers for choosing such a beautiful bird for their favorite bird status.”

In Michigan, birders can see up to eight different types of finches; the American goldfinch may lead to learning about many other finches in the future.

Wildlife Recovery Association is a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to education, rehabilitation, and research to benefit wildlife, and to operate a sanctuary to protect rare and sensitive species. To donate to help these magnificent animals, visit WildlifeRecovery.org or write to Wildlife Recovery Association, 531 S. Coleman Road, Shepherd, MI 48883.

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