Goldfinch Fever

At the first hint of spring, I bought two bright yellow thistle feeders—one for the Explorers and one for me and my family.

photo by Joe Healey

In my twenties, I visited my friends Greg and Melinda, in Martha’s Vineyard. Their house had a long deck that overlooked a tree-filled yard. Attached to the railing of the deck were three thistle feeders. While we sat out on the deck, I noticed flashes of yellow. My eyes followed a flash to one of the feeders. On the long, thin feeder sat an exotic-looking bird. It was bright yellow, black, and white. “What kind of bird is that?” I asked, half expecting the answer to involve a pirate ship that brought these birds from a faraway land. My friend Melinda replied, “That’s a goldfinch. They like to eat thistle seed, which is in those feeders. Aren’t they beautiful!” I watched the bright, active birds all weekend, happy with my discovery.

Eleven years after my visit to Martha’s Vineyard, I bought my first thistle feeder. I mistakenly believed there was a secret to attracting those beautiful yellow gems. It turns out the “secret” is to put up a thistle feeder. If you feed them they will come.

photo by Joe Healey

This spring, I had goldfinches at home and at Schoolmates. I told the Explorers, “I am excited to teach you about a new bird. This bird turns bright yellow in the spring.” The Explorers all caught “goldfinch!” They learned to recognize the goldfinches right away and could identify the male from female.  At Schoolmates, the feeder is right outside our classroom window. All day long, I heard, “Ann, there’s a goldfinch at the feeder.” “I see a really yellow one!” “Look, look, a goldfinch!”

At home, I’m the one who calls out when there is a goldfinch at the feeder. “Goldfinch!” “Look, two goldfinches at the feeder.” Stephen, Aurora, and Dave dutifully look in the direction of the feeder, nod, and smile. It’s not the excitement of five-year-olds, but I’ll take it. Stephen now fills the feeder with thistle seed for me. Maybe they will catch Goldfinch fever at some point. We’ll have to see.

For you, dear readers, I suggested you put up a thistle feeder and invite these beautiful birds into your yard. Don’t wait eleven years like I did.

Here are some “cool facts” from All About Birds:

Goldfinch count from the Explorers’ bird counting worksheet.

  • American goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait to nest until June or July, when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds, which goldfinches incorporate into their nests and also feed their young.
  • Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.
  • Paired-up goldfinches make virtually identical flight calls; goldfinches may be able to distinguish members of various pairs by these calls.

Related links:

All about Birds

Birds & Blooms

If you would like to support Barking Frog Farm: click on the links below to buy feeders and birdseed at Amazon. 

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