Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Bird Watch: October 5

American Goldfinch. Scientific Name: Spinus tristis

October 5, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Today, Brooklyn Bird Watch features Heather Wolf’s photo of the American Goldfinch, caught by her camera as it appears to have just finished eating the brilliant yellow petals of a flower about the same color as its striking plumage, giving the photo an abundance of bright yellows. During research I noticed that many Goldfinches are photographed clinging to the stems of sunflowers.

The American Gold Finch is a common species here in the states. In Kings County alone since January of 2020 (one year nine months) there have been over 10 million observations of the American Goldfinch reported.

The males in springtime are the ones who carry the classic image people keep in mind when they think of a “goldfinch”; that’s when they are brilliant yellow except for a black cap and black wings with beautiful white markings. The females (and the males during winter) are dull but still identifiable. When breeding, the white markings on the black wings of both the female and the male are distinctly artistic.

The Cornell Lab tells us that the American Goldfinch is the strictest vegetarian in the bird world, “selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.” With the exception of “swallowing an occasional insect” they sound like they are as single minded about eating as our version of a vegan, who, we hope, do not swallow “an occasional insect” although surely at some point have swallowed something non-vegan.

In fact, this strict vegetarian diet works to the bird’s advantage in an interesting way.  When a Cowbird slips an egg into the nest of an American Goldfinch, the Cowbird chick usually dies because, apparently, it’s system needs insects to survive, so the chicks that were smuggled as eggs into the nest eventually die because the Goldfinch will not feed its young any insects.

Another distinctive characteristic of the American Goldfinch is that the female can make a nest strong enough to hold water.  Usually built in a horizontal or upright fork, lower than 30 feet, the nest is a compact cup of plant fibers, spiderwebs, and plant down (especially the long white down from thistles);

While doing research I am regularly amused (and sometimes confused) when bird aficionados attempt to write down the different sounds birds make, whether it’s a song bird or a screeching predator, and the American Goldfinch is no exception. Here is the Cornell Lab describing the Goldfinch sound; “Goldfinches are usually easy to find throughout much of North America, except in deep forests.  Their po-ta-to-chip flight call draws attention to them in open country.” Onomatopoeia? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anything sounding like a potato chip.


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