Bird Identification – American Goldfinch – Black-winged Yellow-bird – Thistle Bird – Lettuce Bird – Wild Canary
Have you a garden gay with marigolds, sunflowers, coreopsis, zinnias, cornflowers, and gaillardias? If so, every goldfinch in your neighbourhood knows it and hastens there to feed on the seeds of these plants as fast as they form, so that you need expect to save none for next spring’s planting. Don’t you prefer the birds when flower seeds cost only five cents a packet? Clinging to the slender, swaying stems, the goldfinches themselves look so like yellow flowers that you do not suspect how many are feasting in the garden until they are startled into flight. Then away they go, bounding along through the air, now rising, now falling, in long aerial waves peculiar to them alone. You can always tell a goldfinch by its wavy course through the air. Often it accents the rise of each wave as it flies by a ripple of sweet, twittering notes. The yellow warbler is sometimes called a wild canary because he looks like a canary; the goldfinch has the same misleading name applied to him because he sings like one.
But goldfinches by no means depend upon our gardens for their daily fare. Wild lettuce, mullein, dandelion, ragweed and thistles are special favourites. Many weed stalks suddenly blossom forth into black and gold when a flock of finches alight for a feast in the summer fields, or, browned by winter frost, bend beneath the weight of the birds when they cling to them protruding through the snow.
Usually not until July, when the early thistles furnish plenty of fluff for nest lining, do pairs of goldfinches withdraw from flocks to begin the serious business of raising a family. A compact, cozy, cup-like structure of fine grass, vegetable fibre, and moss, is placed in the crotch of a bush or tree, or sometimes in a tall, branching thistle plant. Except the cedar wax wings, the goldfinches are the latest nesters of all our birds. As their love-making is prolonged through the entire summer, so is the deliciously sweet, tender, canary-like song of the male. Dear, dear, dearie, you may hear him sing to his dearest all day long.
In summer, throughout his long courtship, he wears a bright, lemon-yellow wedding suit with black cap, wings, and tail, while his sweetheart is dressed in a duller green or olive yellow. After the August moult, he emerges a dingy olive-brown, sparrowy bird, in perfect colour harmony with the wintry fields.