Enjoying the sight, sounds of the American goldfinch

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Photo by DON BARTLING The male American goldfinch is a perky yellow bird with a black patch on his forehead and a black tail. He is most often found in open fields, scrubby areas and woodlands. He is a feeder bird that enjoys nyjer thistle.

We are fortunate this summer that a pair of American goldfinch have found comfort with our finch feeder and our garden.

We enjoy the yellow goldfinch soaring through the warm summer air, its yellow feathers reflecting the sun. Often when communicating the finch opens its mouth and chirps a call that sounds like “po-ta-to-chip.” This flier isn’t looking for a salty snack. It’s using this vocalization to communicate with its flock. The bird flies on, continuing its delicious call.

The American goldfinch lives at the edges of forests and fields across North Idaho in areas filled with brush and thistle plants. They can also be found in backyards and parks. The American goldfinch — which is also known as the willow goldfinch — is the official bird of Washington state, Iowa and New Jersey.

These birds are about the length of a stick of butter and have cone-shaped beaks. Their wings are black and white, and some sport a black patch on top of their heads. During the winter, both males and females boast brownish feathers on their bodies. In warmer months the males’ feathers are bright yellow.

American goldfinches are granivores, which means they mainly eat seeds. Some of their favorites include sunflower, thistle and elm seeds.

The goldfinch is most active during the day. It has excellent flying skills, dipping and rising in a wavelike pattern as it soars. When it’s not airborne, or perched on plants, the bird hops along the ground searching for seeds to eat. These birds have six different vocalizations, including their “po-ta-to-chip” call.

During the bird’s breeding season in summer, male American goldfinches develop brighter feathers to attract mates. Newborn goldfinches can fly about two weeks after they hatch, but many return to their nests and stay with their parents for about another month before leaving for good.

The American goldfinch forages actively in weeds, shrubs, and trees, often climbing about acrobatically on plants such as thistles to reach the seeds. Except during breeding season, they usually forage in flocks. The goldfinch generally come to feeders for small seeds.

The American goldfinch lay 4-6 eggs usually, sometimes 2-7. The eggs color is pale bluish white, occasionally with light brown spots. The incubation is by the female only and about 12-14 days in duration. The male often times feeds the female during incubation.

Both parents team up to feed their nestlings. In the beginning of nesting the male brings food and the female gives it to young; then both parents feed; at this time the role of the female gradually declines, so that the male may provide the most food in the later stages of nesting. The young goldfinch leave the nest about 11-17 days after hatching.

The American finch begins nesting late in the summer in many areas, with most nesting activity during July and August perhaps to assure a peak supply of late-summer seeds for feeding its young. In courtship, the male performs a fluttering flight display while singing.

The nest is usually in deciduous shrubs or trees, sometimes in conifers or in dense weeds, usually less than 30’ above the ground and placed in a horizontal or upright fork. The nest (built by female) is a solid, compact cup of plant fibers, spider-webs, plant down (especially from thistles). The nest is so well-made that it may even hold water.

Enjoy summer and the birds of Boundary County.

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