A Pretty American Granivore Bird
Which is this Granivore bird?
Which bird is the state bird of three US states - Iowa, New Jersey and Washington? It is a small, light bird with a small head and a conical beak that it puts to good use for prying out seeds from the thistle, asters, sunflowers, and other flowers. The bird has slender feet that can cling, and comfortably perch on swinging flower stems or weeds while eating the seeds from the flowers. I have witnessed these birds hold on to the flower stalks in my backyard, even in high velocity winds.
Relative to its body, it has large wings and is a very active bird that is seen flying in an undulating “roller coaster” pattern. Dr. Leon Augustus Hausman, the great New Jersey ornithologist, has very beautifully described the flight of the bird in the following sentence: "……. fly with a bouncing or undulating flight, folding their wings and dropping regularly, then turning upwards, and at each dip call in a clear sweet tone, "te tee' dee dee"." A recorded sound of the bird is given below.
It is the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) – a small bird that is about 4.3 in (11 cm) in body length and weighs about 0.5 oz (14 g).
They are migratory birds, breeding in northern parts of their range and spending the winter wandering in the southern reaches. Their migration pattern is shown in the map below.
The American goldfinch molts its feathers twice a year. Once in the spring season, when the adult males stand out during the breeding season with bright yellow feathers on its body with a black forehead, black wings with white markings, and patches of white feathers both above and below the v-shaped tail. The adult female continues to be olive brown coloured with a dull yellow bottom and with black wings. The male loses its bright yellow coloured feathers after the breeding season and is not so brightly coloured thereafter although the wings continue to remain black coloured. The young ones are olive yellow, with darker wings. During molts, they look patchy. The commencement of the molt can be seen in this photograph taken of a bird in the second week of August, 2013.
The American goldfinch breeding pattern is believed to be related to the maturation of the seeds of the dandelions, thistles, asters and some other early flowering plants. These seeds are a major source of food for the young ones of this granivore species. Thus this species does not breed until about mid-July. However, in more southerly locations, breeding may begin much earlier and continue through July and even till much later. Most pairs probably rear only one brood per year; the clutch size being 2 - 7 eggs. The eggs are laid in a cup-shaped nest that is woven of grasses and other plant fibers. It may be placed in a large thistle or other tall weed, or in a shrub or tree. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The finished nest is about 3 inches across on the outside and 2 - 4.5 inches high. The eggs are coloured pale blue. Incubation of the eggs takes about 12 - 14 days by the female. Both male and female feed the nestlings and the fledging stage happens in 11 - 17 days.
Being granivore, these birds prefer habitats with open fields/ flood plains and other over grown areas containing plenty of thistle, asters or sunflowers for food; shallow bird baths for their drinking and bathing requirements; and some shrubs and trees for nesting. Goldfinches are also common in suburbs, parks, and backyards.
Creating the desired habitat for these birds that looks after their food, water and nesting requirements would attract these birds to your backyard and would in turn give you hours of fun watching these lively and attractive birds.