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Monday, November 21, 2011


During my weekend bird observations, I heard a familiar flight song in the skies over my yard, albeit one that I hadn't heard in about eight months, and I looked up to see two small birds passing overhead.  It's a little early, but I can definitely confirm that the American Goldfinches have arrived in our area.

American Goldfinch in drab winter dress.

Goldfinches, of course, are the iconic winter bird for bird-lovers here who put out food in winter. During the coldest parts of winter, hordes of the little birds can descend on a bird feeder and empty it in a few hours.

They are fond of thistle (or nyger) seed and that is the food that is most advertised for finches, but, in my yard, I find that they are just as fond of the black oil sunflower seed and that they take both kinds of seeds in just about equal measure.  Typically though, they do not start visiting my feeders until a little later. They tend to exhaust the wild food supply before they start depending on the feeders.

One of their favorite wild foods in Southeast Texas is the seed of the crape myrtle. That's a crape myrtle tree in which the goldfinch in the picture above is sitting. Flocks of the little birds will sit in the crape myrtle trees all day long picking out the tiny seeds and trilling their winter songs.That's a fun event for backyard birders to observe. Those who make the mistake of pruning their crape myrtle trees or shrubs before the seeds have a chance to mature miss out on this spectacle. 

In some years, goldfinches are accompanied in their migration to our area by the slightly smaller and much more argumentative finches, the Pine Siskins. These feisty little birds always create a lot of commotion and excitement at the feeders. They have often been present in my yard in recent winters.

 Pine Siskin shelling a seed at the feeder.

It'll be interesting see whether the Pine Siskins turn up again this year, but one thing is certain: There will be goldfinches!


  1. How neat. I have tons of lesser goldfinches thanks to a never ending supply of food and water, but I would love to see an American Goldfinch. The Pine Siskin looks similar to the red house finches we have in the backyard.

  2. And I would love to have a Lesser Goldfinch, Rambling Wren! I guess we always wish for what we don't have. The Lesser Goldfinches are neat little birds though. I always enjoy seeing them on our trips through West Texas.

    You're right - the siskins do look very similar to the female House Finches, although they are smaller, as well as much more vociferous and active at the feeders. They are all in the same family, of course, so it's not surprising that there are similarities.

  3. Are there any distinguishing features between the Lesser Goldfinches and the American Goldfinches? I saw a finch at the feeder today and I thought it might be a female American goldfinch. It was dull in color, but slightly larger than the Lesser Goldfinches.

  4. In their winter dress, which both species are in by now, their coloring is very similar, Rambling Wren, but American Goldfinches are in fact the larger of the two. They are about five inches in length with a nine inch wingspan, whereas the Lesser Goldfinches are 4.5 inches with an eight inch wingspan. That half-inch doesn't sound like much but when you are talking about something that small, it does make a noticeable difference. It sounds likely that you do have an American Goldfinch. Could be either male or female as they are both dull-colored in late fall and winter.

  5. Thank you for the info. I might have had an American Goldfinch at my feeder all along and just didn't know it:)

  6. Saw my first Pine Siskin EVER today at my finch feeder. I was so excited and thanks to you was able to identify the bird:) Thanks!!

  7. Congratulations, Rambling Wren! Isn't it exciting to see and be able to identify a new bird? And what a bird! Pine Siskins are great fun at the feeders. I always hope they will turn up here in winter but they don't always make it this far south. Maybe this is one year that they will.