I have been enjoying watching the goldfinches at our nyjer feeder as well gracing the fields and meadows of the Turtle Mountain area recently. They are always a treat to watch.
Noted ornithologist, naturalist, and bird guide author Roger Tory Peterson must have had a soft spot for goldfinches when he described them by saying “The responsibilities of life seem to rest lightly on the Goldfinch’s sunny shoulders.”
Arthur Cleveland Bent in his Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds also found them interesting, as he noted that the goldfinches are “always in the best of spirits. It has a definite personality exemplifying light-hearted cheerfulness, restlessness, sociability, and untiring activity… Its flight is deeply undulating; it flies along as if riding the waves of a stormy sea, giving, as it rises to each crest, its little phrase of four happy notes.” That flight call is often described as a soft potato chip… “po-ta-to-chip…po-ta-to-chip… po-ta-to-chip…po-ta-to-chip”
Goldfinches range throughout the United States, southern Canada, and parts of Mexico. Their habitat is largely open country, such as fields, meadows, open forests, and backyards, in both rural and urban areas, particularly where thistles and other members of the aster family are common.
It might surprise you, but while many young birds have already fledged, the goldfinches are approaching the middle of their nesting season. Robert Stewart in his Breeding Birds of North Dakota listed their breeding season as running from late June to mid-September. That is largely related to the seed production of thistles which are important food items as well as important material for their nests.
Goldfinches nest in small trees or tall shrubs between 4-7 feet above the ground. The females construct an open cup of plant material, lined with the down of thistles, milkweeds, and other fluffy seed material. If all goes well she will lay 4-6 pale bluish white eggs, with perhaps some small light brown spots on the larger end. Incubation time is 12-14 days. Goldfinches are known to produce 1 or perhaps two broods per year.
So if you happen to see a few goldfinches as you travel about, take the time to watch these cheerful wild canaries for a few minutes. They will undoubtedly make your day a little brighter, literally and figuratively.