Goldfinches in Spring
Gold in the backyard
by Bob & Jorja Feldman
From the May, 2014 issue
If you find gold, the precious yellow metal, in its native form in your backyard, please do let us know. We will certainly consider an Outside article about it. However, this article is about living gold that, in its own way, is as precious as a lump of inert metal. We're talking about the American goldfinch.
We photographed this bird last May; this May will show us birds in as fine a feather. They are spectacular now because they have lost their winter plumage and are all spruced up in their spring suits.
In the bird world, it is often the male who is the standout; the female is usually plainer. The male chases; the female chooses. And the female goldfinch is known to prefer the male with the brightest colors. So the guys have to look fantastic. Breeding male American goldfinches wear jaunty black caps and sport really grand lemon yellow feathers, with white bands accenting their jet-black wings. They're reasonably common around Ann Arbor, and their luminescence makes them easily identifiable. The female is duller and has no black cap--but she is still a very pretty bird.
Not everyone has the time or inclination to go searching for birds, even ones as pretty as this. But if you have a backyard, a bird feeder can bring them to you. To attract the bird in this photo, we put our two tube bird feeders near some dogwoods, filled them with black oil sunflower seeds, and waited for birds to come to feast. (We also offer water in a birdbath for drinking and bathing.) As goldfinches are known as late nesters, they may return well into summer in social multiples, rather than a single bird at a time.
Look for goldfinches around gardens and weedy woods. They are seed eaters and especially fond of sunflower and thistle. In addition to your own or neighbors' gardens, try the public gardens and the woods at the Arboretum, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, or County Farm Park.
If you don't see a goldfinch, perhaps you will see a different perching bird: a house finch, a titmouse, or a chickadee. And if you don't see a bird you like, you still will have spent some quality time: outside in Ann Arbor.
[Originally published in May, 2014.]
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