The bright canary-yellow and black plumage of the breeding male American Goldfinch has earned this species the nickname “wild canary.”  Breeding adult male is bright yellow with black cap; black wings have white bars, yellow shoulder patch with a black and white tail.  Female goldfinch is duller overall, olive above; lacks black cap and yellow shoulder patch.  However, American Goldfinches appear very different in summer and winter.  The male’s brilliant yellow body and black cap in summer give way to a drab olive-brown plumage in winter.  Female goldfinches, though never bright yellow, also lose most of their color.  Both sexes retain their black wings and tail year-round.

While goldfinches are found here in the HNG area year round, their drab winter colors make them difficult to spot then.  But as Spring returns, so too their bright colors return.

While the female is not always easy to spot in general, the flyby sight of the bright yellow breeding male tends to stand out.  And don’t forget to “see” the birds with your ears too.  Listen for the sweet, high-pitched, warbling song of the male given in early spring just as these small (5 inches long) birds are beginning to show their first bright yellow feathers.  The song to listen for is a lively series of trills, twitters, and swee notes.  Their distinctive flight call is per-chik-o-ree.

I photographed this male in the early part of May this year at a hanging birdseed feeder.

Goldfinches are seedeaters in all seasons, consuming a variety of weed, grass, and plant seeds as well as tree buds.  At bird feeders, goldfinches especially like thistle seeds, sunflower seeds and bits, and peanut bits.  Goldfinches are agile birds too, able to exploit seed sources that other finches cannot, by hanging upside down from seedheads, plant stalks, and bird feeders….so expect a possible circus show when the goldfinches come to visit your feeder.

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