Goldfinches known as ‘wild canaries’

There are many yellow birds which are referred to as wild canaries. But there is only one here, to which this name can be realistically applied, and that is the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis).
The male bird in summer is quite distinctive. Its body is bright canary yellow, with jet black cap, wings, and tail. No other bird in Canada comes really close to this colouration.
The female is much duller—a yellowish brown body and dusky brown wings. It resembles a yellowish sparrow. Young birds also are quite dull and brownish, with only a hint of yellow.
The male, like most birds, changes colour for the winter. He, too, becomes quite drab. His gold becomes olive brown, his black cap disappears, and he looks like a yellowish sparrow as well.
We always have a tendency to give birds and animals human characteristics—always wrongly, it seems. Anyway, almost anyone who is interested in birds would describe the summer goldfinch as being happy.
It has a very cherry little song, usually written as “per-chic-o-ree.” When it flies, it has an undulating motion, as though it were riding waves in the air.
Quite often, it sings its little song at the crest of each “wave.” The result gives a mental image of a bouncy, cheerful, enthusiastic bird.
Goldfinches are late nester—never building their nests until well after most other birds. This seems to be directly related to the growth of thistles.
Thistle seeds are one of this birds’ favourite foods, and goldfinch nests invariably are lined with a thick, soft layer of thistledown.
Studies of the nesting habits of the Goldfinch show that, even though everything else may seem to provide a perfect habitat, they will nest only in places where they are close to a good growth of thistles.
Dandelion seeds are another favourite food; in fact, seeds of all kinds are a major item of diet. But Goldfinches do, at times, eat very large numbers of small caterpillars and insect eggs.
As far as the economic status of Goldfinches is concerned, they seem to be just about 100 percent beneficial. They live on weed seeds and insects, and do almost no harm at all to crops or gardens.
In the fall, Goldfinches change colour. Most of the brilliant yellow will be moulted away—to be replaced with rather dull brownish feathers. The males look a great deal like females.
Add to this the fact that juvenile birds look much the same and you end up with a whole flock of birds which look like yellowish sparrows.
The brownish parts may be of different shades, but unless you are really keen about it, you likely will not notice the difference.
Goldfinches don’t really migrate in the true sense of the word. They tend to drift south to southern Ontario and the New England states, but quite a lot of them will stay here in the north—especially if the feeders are kept full.
In the late spring, they moult again and our brilliant little black and gold finch will be with us again with his bubbly song and his wavy flight.

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