The American Goldfinch

Carduelis tristis (Linnaeus)
by Carolyn Gritzmaker

A delightful little bird you will probably see this winter is the American Goldfinch.  Although sometimes called the “Wild Canary” for his bright yellow coloring in the spring and summer, the goldfinch is generally in its winter plumage by the time it arrives in Texas in the fall.

In winter, the male and female birds resemble one another; the male is grayish-brown with a tinge of yellow, black wings with white wing bars and a yellow shoulder patch, and a short black and white notched tail.  The female is duller overall and does not have the yellow shoulder patch. The birds are quite small, just five inches long.

Goldfinches flock together in winter, sometimes from ten to more than one hundred birds.  They are commonly found in weedy fields and roadsides where they feed largely on weed seeds such as thistle, sunflower and dandelion.  They will come to your bird feeders for thistle and sunflower seeds.

In winter, the calls most often given by the goldfinch are the flight song: “per chi cor ree,” almost always heard during their bouncy flight; and the “sweeeet” call, which is a short ascending whistle.  This is usually given in moments of stress, such as a minor conflict with another goldfinch, and is frequently heard when large groups are feeding.  Sometimes you might hear the male sing a very sweet, high-pitched song full of trills, twitters and “sweeeet” notes.

The American Goldfinch is an uncommon to abundant winter resident in Ellis County; the number of birds present can vary considerably from year to year.  They are usually more numerous in late winter and early spring than during the fall.  Look for goldfinches from mid-September through mid-May.  However, it is not uncommon for the goldfinch to be seen in our area later in the spring, and sometimes even into early June.  In late spring the male’s appearance will change considerably.  After a partial molt of all but the wing and tail feathers, he will assume his bright yellow body and a little black cap.  It is for this coloring and cheery song that he is called the wild canary.

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