A charm of goldfinches

As work on transforming the bare garden into a wildlife friendly haven continues, the addition of a bird feeding station is the latest project which has been keeping me occupied in recent weeks. There was one bird in particular I was especially keen to entice, my favourite of all our british birds the stunning goldfinch.

European goldfinch – Carduelis carduelis

This widespread and relatively common species of finch is unmistakable with bold yellow and black striped wings and a distinctive red face. Often travelling together in small flocks, they keep in almost constant contact with each other using a variety of trills and twitters in a delicate, twinkling melody. The sound of the goldfinch is a real treat for the ears.

Goldfinch tinkling sounds (apologies for the barking dog!)

To my delight they didn’t take much persuasion to visit the feeders and they have since become a daily occurrence, usually foraging in pairs or small flocks. The collective noun for a flock of goldfinches is a charm and I’m not sure there could be a more fitting description for these captivating little birds.

A charm of goldfinches in the garden

Most mornings when the sun is shining you’ll now find me in the garden, patiently waiting with camera in hand for these beauties to show up. The light in the garden is most flattering first thing in the morning so photographing the goldfinches requires an early start but some things are worth getting out of bed for!

Goldfinch pair
Posing goldfinch
Eyes on the sky
Camera shy?
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Showing off that dazzling red head

Male and female goldfinches are virtually identical in appearance, although there are a few subtle differences. In males the red face patch extends just beyond the eye whereas this is less intensive in the female, however definite ID is really left best to the experts!

Male and female?

Identifying the fledglings is much simpler, they are mottled buff colour and lack the distinctive red faces of the adults although they do share the same bold black and yellow wing markings (not quite visible here).

Fledgling goldfinch

I was delighted to see one of these youngsters join it’s parents in the garden a couple of weeks ago. Although it wasn’t brave enough to venture out onto the feeder, it did provide a few minutes of entertainment as it fluttered it’s wings and begged for food from the fence and later from the mealworm tray. Unlike most young birds, the goldfinch rarely feed it’s young on insects, instead a mix of regurgitated seed, yum!

Juvenile begging behaviour
A young goldfinch waiting to be fed
Fledgling goldfinch begging calls – adorable!

The goldfinch is a seed specialist and eats almost nothing else. Their natural diet mainly consists of dandelion, teasel and thistle seeds but in the absence of these, niger seeds are a particular favourite. These seeds are dispensed from a purpose built feeder with tiny ports which are perfect for the goldfinches’ delicates beaks and which most other birds can’t access. (Don’t worry, there is plenty for them to eat too with a variety of different seeds, nuts and fat balls on offer)

Goldfinch feeding on niger seed
Using their beaks to manipulate the tiny seeds

One of the few other birds who can access the tasty niger seeds are the delicate siskins and they often accompany the goldfinches on their foraging trips. Beside the goldfinch, hardly a bulky bird itself, the siskin looks absolutely tiny!

Delicate siskin
Goldfinch (left) and siskin (right)
Goldfinch & siskin on my niger feeder
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Unlike the goldfinches, siskins are sexually dimorphic meaning males and females differ in appearance. The male siskins are vibrant yellow in colour with a striking black cap whereas the female is more muted with a streaky colouration but equally beautiful in her own right.

Siskin pair showing the sexual dimorphism
Male siskin
Female siskin
Juvenile male (left) and adult male (right)
A trio of adult males
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With both the siskins and goldfinches now frequenting the feeders, there have been plenty of opportunities to photograph them in action. Such small, fast moving birds require equally quick reactions and a high shutter speed to keep up with their antics.

Incoming!
A speedy getaway
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Siskin highway
One of the less successful shots…
Landing on the niger feeder
Room for one more?
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Landing gear down
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Where there is food there is inevitably competition and even these sociable finches aren’t always too keen on sharing and squabbles occasionally break out. Fortunately such disputes are soon settled with a flash of those bright yellow wings and a quick peck before calm descends once more.

Goldfinch squabble
Mid aid collision narrowly avoided
A pair defending the feeder from a rival
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Ouch!
After losing a few feathers, this goldfinch was soon sent packing!


Photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2022
www.greyfeatherphotography.com

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