(Cross-posted from The Nature of Things.)
The most recent book that I finished reading, just a few days ago, was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The MacGuffin of that book is a small painting of a pet European Goldfinch that was painted in 1654 by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. It seems coincidental and somehow appropriate then that the stars of my backyard these days are the American Goldfinches that visit us in the late fall and winter.
The goldfinches arrived in my yard several weeks ago, around the end of November. As soon as I saw the first ones in the area, I filled my nyger seed feeders and hung them in the backyard. They continued to hang there unutilized until this week.
Finally, this week as the extreme cold hit our area along with most of the rest of the country and as the wild food for the birds began to be depleted, the goldfinches have started visiting my feeders.
Even though the nyger seed feeders were waiting for them, the first feeders the finches visited were those filled with black oil sunflower seed. This is their pattern every year - they always go for the sunflower seeds first.
But, finally, yesterday they began visiting the feeders that had been hung just for them.
The number of goldfinches in my yard has been down quite a bit this winter over recent years. Last winter, for example, by this time, I was seeing flocks of more than fifty of the little birds around my feeders and those numbers were swelled even more by the addition of their cousins, the boisterous little Pine Siskins.
We have no siskins this year, though, which in fact had been predicted by the Winter Finch Forecast. Some years they don't make it this far south, and, indeed, fewer goldfinches also seem to have come south this year. What I'm seeing now are flocks of 10 to 20 birds.
I suppose the flocks could still grow as more of the wild food is exhausted farther north and the cold weather may continue to push them southward, but so far it has been a very lightly populated winter on the finch front.
Though we have no Pine Siskins and fewer American Goldfinches than in some years, we do still have our resident House Finches to help the goldfinches in brightening our winter days.
A House Finch and an American Goldfinch share a feeder in the backyard.
As a family, the finches are certainly among the most beautiful and the most interesting of our backyard birds.