Now, it’s pretty commonplace, and goldfinches are a very familiar sight in our garden and in most gardens, sometimes in substantial numbers. They are beautiful birds, and continue to be quite a popular cage bird. They are a soft beige in colour with black on the wings and tail, a red face and white, then black behind it on the head, and of course that glorious golden streak all across the wings when spread. They are smallish finches, able delicately to pick out the seeds they love, moving in small flocks known as “charms”.
Goldfinches and Siskins at our garden feeders.
Just now there will still be some birds in juvenile plumage. They are much plainer, without the colourful head and the buff streaks in their beige-brown plumage - but still with that bright gold wing bar opening to a streak across the wings.
These are birds that really do twitter: briefly as a contact call when they’re moving about, and in an extended form as the song in Spring. They are not always charming to each other, though, and when two birds compete, a deeper, argumentative tone is used, and the birds really do seem to be swearing at each other!
Male and female birds are identical in plumage, and they are with us all year round, found pretty much throughout the UK, though absent from the very far north. Goldfinches may move south in Winter, but most of them don’t, especially now they’ve become accustomed to bird tables. I recall buying nyjer seed and placing seeds into old teasel heads as a ploy to attract goldfinches into my garden. There’s no need to do that now, and, though nyjer seed is recommended as a favourite food for goldfinches, in my experience they use it wastefully and on the whole prefer the sunflower kernels I put out.
Goldfinches are tree nesters, generally in the higher branches of smaller trees or grown-up hedges. The nest is neat and quite delicately constructed, and well hidden. Goldfinches love thistles, and quite often thistledown is included in the construction of the nest. They lay four to six eggs.
Many seed-eating birds have declined substantially in recent years, partly due to changes in farming practice. These include, for example, yellowhammers and corn buntings. But goldfinches, aided by their move into gardens, have increased in numbers in the UK by about 80% over the past twenty or so years, to become one of our top ten garden birds in the annual surveys. It’s good to see such an attractive bird doing well.