What is a Goldfinch?

Goldfinch bird is any of many species of the genus Carduelis (a few formerly in Spinus) of the songbird family Fringillidae; they have notched, short tails and much yellow in the plumage. All have rather delicate sharp-pointed bills for the finches. Flocks of goldfinches feed on the weeds in gardens and fields. They have high lisping calls, often given in the flight.


About Goldfinch

The only finch in its subfamily to undergo a complete molt, the American goldfinch displays sexual dichromatism: the female is defined as a dull yellow-brown shade that brightens only slightly during summer, while the male is defined as a vibrant yellow during summer and an olive color in winter. The male displays a brightly colored plumage in the breeding season to attract a mate.


The American goldfinch is described as a granivore and is adapted for the consumption of seedheads, including a conical beak to remove the seeds and agile feet to grip the seed head stems while feeding. Also, this finch has been known to eat garden vegetation and is specifically fond of beet greens. It is a social bird and will gather in large flocks while migrating and feeding. It can behave territorially in the nest construction, but this aggression is very short-lived. Its breeding season is tied to the peak of food supply, beginning in late July that is relatively late in the year for a finch. Generally, this species is monogamous and produces one brood every year.


Properties

Let us look at American goldfinch physical characteristics and some properties.

The 14 cm (or 5.5 inches) European goldfinch (C. Carduelis) of western Eurasia has been introduced into New Zealand, Australia, Bermuda, and the United States (where it has not become established). It is black and brownish, with a red–white–blackhead pattern and gold in the wings (alike sexes). The 13 cm (5 inches) American goldfinch (called C. Tristis), also known as the wild canary, is found across North America; the male is bright yellow, with wings, black cap, and tail. The 10 cm (4 inches) dark-backed goldfinch (which is C. psaltria) ranges from the western U.S. (where it is known as lesser goldfinch) to Peru.

The Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is represented below:

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An American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is represented as follows:

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Taxonomy

The American goldfinch was majestic of the several species originally defined by Carl Linnaeus in the landmark 1758 10th edition of his work Systema Naturae. Initially, it was included in the genus Spinus, which is a group containing siskins and New World goldfinches, but in 1976, Spinus was merged into genus Carduelis as a subgenus. And, recent studies have resurrected the genus Spinus that its closest relatives are Lawrence's goldfinch (which is S. lawrencei), lesser goldfinch (which is S. psaltria), and the siskins.


Although it shares the name with the European goldfinch, the two are in separate genera and not closely related. Carduelis is derived from the carduus, which is the Latin word for 'thistle'; the species name tristis is Latin for 'sorrowful.' There exist four recognized subspecies of the American goldfinch:

  • The eastern goldfinch (S. t. tristis) is common in the subspecies. Its summer range is given as from east to the Carolinas and southern Canada to Colorado. Its winter range is central Mexico and from southern Canada south to Florida.

  • The pale goldfinch (which is the S. t. pallidus) is differentiated from the other subspecies by its paler body color, stronger white markings and, in males, larger black cap. It is a bit larger compared to C. t. tristis. The summer range is from the south to Colorado and west to Oregon, British Columbia to western Ontario. In winter, this range will extend from northern California and southern Canada, south to Mexico.

  • The northwestern goldfinch (which is S. t. Jewetti) is darker and smaller compared to the other subspecies. It takes place on the coastal slope of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia to central California by overlapping with a range of C. t. pallidus.

  • The willow goldfinch (which is S. t. salicamans) takes place in the central and southern Baja California Peninsula to the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert in the winter and west of the Sierra Nevada range in the summer. The plumage of both sexes is browner than other subspecies in winter, and in summer, the black cap of males is smaller than that of the other subspecies.

This seems to be the ancient extant species of Meso-American Spinus or Carduelis evolutive radiation, whose parental species is given as Lawrence's goldfinch (Spinus lawrencei).


Description

The American goldfinch is defined as a small finch, 11 to 14 cm (4.3 to 5.5 inches) long, with a wingspan of 19 to 22 cm (7.5 to 8.7 inches). It weighs between 11 to 20 gms (or 0.39 to 0.71 oz). Among the standard measurements, the wing chord is given as 6.5 - 7.8 cm (2.6 - 3.1 in), and the tail is from 4.2 - 5.1 cm (1.7 - 2.0 in), the tarsus is 1.2 - 1.4 cm (0.47 - 0.55 in) and the culmen is from 0.9 - 1.1 cm (0.35 - 0.43 in). The beak is conical, small, and pink for most of the year, but it turns bright orange with the spring molt in both of the sexes. The size and shape of the beak aid in the seed extraction from the seed heads of sunflowers, thistles, and other plants.


The American goldfinch undergoes a molt in both autumn and spring and is the only cardueline finch to undergo a molt twice in a single year. It sheds all its feathers during the winter molt; in the spring, it sheds all but the wing and tail feathers, which are black in the male and dark brown in the female.


The markings present on these feathers remain through each molt, with bars on the wings, white under and at the edges of the short, with a notched tail. The sexual dimorphism, which is displayed in the plumage coloration, is especially pronounced after the spring molt when the bright color of the summer plumage of the male is needed to attract a mate.


Once the spring molt gets completed, the body of the male is a brilliant lemon yellow, which is a color produced by carotenoid pigments from the plant materials in its diet, with a white rump and striking jet black cap that is visible during flight. The female is mostly brown and lighter on the underside with a yellow bib. The bright summer feathers are replaced by duller plumage after the autumn molt, becoming olive-brown above and buff below, with a bib and pale yellow face.


The autumn plumage is almost identical in both sexes, whereas the male has yellow shoulder patches. In a few winter ranges, the goldfinches lose all the yellow traces, becoming a predominantly medium tan-gray color with an olive tinge evident only on the close view.


The immature American goldfinch contains a dull brown back, and the underside is pale yellow. The tail and shoulders are dull blacks with the buff-colored, rather than white, markings on rump and wings. This coloration is similar in both sexes.


The American goldfinch song is a series of twitters and musical warbles, often with a long note. Often, a tsee-tsi-tsi-tsit call is given in the flight; it can also be defined as per-chic-o-ree. While the females incubate eggs, she calls to her returning mate with a soft continuous tee-tee-tee-tee-tee sound.


The young ones begin to use the call (American goldfinch call) of chick-kee or chick-wee shortly prior to fledging, which they use until they leave the nest completely. There exist two defense calls made by the adults during the nesting process; a sweet call made to rally the other goldfinches to the nest and distract predators, and a bearbee that is used to signal to the nestlings to quiet them and then to get them to crouch down in the nest to become less conspicuous.


Distribution

The American goldfinch usually prefers open country where the weeds thrive, such as meadows, flood plains, fields, and orchards, roadsides, gardens as well. It can also be found in the riparian woodlands, open deciduous, and areas of secondary growth. This habitat preference continues during the autumn and spring migrations.

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The summer breeding range stretches across the North American region from coast to coast. It is bounded on the north by Saskatchewan and it stretches south across North America to the North Carolina region on the east coast and northern California on the west coast regions. The American goldfinch is defined as a short-distance migrant, moving south in response to the lessened food supply and colder weather. The migration is completed in the compact flocks that travel in an erratic, wavelike flight pattern.


Habitat

Its winter range includes southern Canada and it stretches south through the U.S. to parts of Mexico. And, in winter, in the northern part of its range, the finch can move nearer to feeders if they are available. Whereas, in southern ranges, during winter, they remain in areas the same as the flood plains and fields where they live during the summer months.


In the 19th century and Tahiti in 1938, many attempts were made to introduce the American goldfinch into Bermuda, but the species failed to become established in any of the places.


Did you know?

Generally, human activity has benefited the American goldfinch. Often, it is found in the residential areas, attracted to bird feeders that increase its survival rate in these particular areas. Also, deforestation creates open meadow areas, which are its preferred habitat.


Conclusion

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FAQs on Goldfinch

1. Give the Behavior of Goldfinches.

Answer: The American goldfinch is the one, which flies in a distinctive undulating pattern by creating a wave-shaped path. Normally, this consists of a series of wing beats to lift the goldfinch bird and then folding in the wings and gliding in an arc prior to repeating the pattern. Often, goldfinch birds vocalize during the flapping phase of the pattern and then they go silent during the coasting phase.


The call made during the flight is "ti-di-di-di" or "per-twee-twee-twee," punctuated by the silent periods. The American goldfinch communicates with many distinct vocalizations, including one that sounds as "po-ta-to-chip" to the listener.

2. Explain the Sociality of Goldfinches.

Answer: The American goldfinches are gregarious during the non-breeding season, when it is found often in the large flocks, generally with other finches. The social hierarchy, which is measured by the number of aggressive encounters won by each individual, tends towards the male being dominant in the non-breeding season. But, during the breeding season, this finch usually lives in loose colonies.


While the nest is being constructed, the male ones will act aggressively toward the other males who intrude into his territory, driving them away. The female reacts in a similar way toward the other females. This type of aggressiveness subsides once the eggs have been laid.

3. What is a Goldfinch Relationship with Humans?

Answer: The American goldfinch can be found in the residential areas throughout its range. The backyard birders attract it with the feeders containing niger seed or by planting the perennial plants and grasses, such as cosmos, zinnias, globe thistle, or bee balm, which produce seed heads favored by the finches.


The American goldfinch is not threatened by the activities of humans and is widespread throughout its range. Forest clearing by humans, though harmful to several species, has benefited the American goldfinch. Woodlands clearing causes declines in the numbers of neotropical migrants while favoring the permanent residents and short-distance migrants.

4. Explain the Feeding of the American Goldfinch.

Answer: The American goldfinch is defined as a diurnal feeder. Cornell Lab of Ornithology said that the species is one of the strictest vegetarians in the world of birds. It is primarily granivorous but occasionally will eat insects that are also fed to its young to provide protein. Its diet consists of seeds from a variety of annual plants, often those of grasses, weeds, and trees, such as teasel, thistle, ragweed, dandelion, cosmos, mullein, sunflower, goatsbeard, and alder.

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