American GoldfinchCarduelis tristis (Linnaeus)
Status Fairly common resident. Breeds. Goldfinches are widely distributed in summer, perhaps more often seen in agricultural areas than in areas remote from human habitation. In winter their numbers vary from common to rather rare, perhaps according to the availability of the many kinds of seeds they depend on during the lean months. Flocks range about the countryside in search of these seeds, usually gleaned from weeds and other low-growing plants. At other times they may be seen busily extracting seeds from the cones of scrub spruces, and in recent years they have become regular at bird feeders in winter. Goldfinches normally appear on Christmas Bird Counts, on which estimates of 100 or more have been made throughout the province. A record high count of 989 was made on the Halifax East Count in 1982.
Description Length: 13-14 cm. Adult male: Crown and tail black; wings black with white bar and yellow lesser coverts; uppertail coverts white; rest of plumage bright canary-yellow. Adult female: Upperparts buff with yellowish tinge; no black crown patch; wings and tail lighter than summer male's; underparts buff washed with pale yellow; two white wing bars.
Breeding Nest: Composed of grass, plant down, strips of pliable bark and other materials, neatly and compactly interwoven and usually lined with dandelion "fuzz" or thistledown. It is placed in trees, sometimes bushes, of deciduous varieties; apple trees in orchards are favoured sites. The nests are usually at fairly low heights.
Eggs: 4-7, usually 5; pale bluish white, rarely with a few specks of brown scattered irregularly over the surface. The American Goldfinch is a late nester the birds usually begin to lay about mid-July and continue as late as early September, but occasionally nest construction is under way in early June. A female was gathering cotton wool, from a supply placed in my garden for the convenience of various species at nesting time, on 8 June 1955; on 14 July 1960 a young male, able to flutter only a short distance, was brought to me by children; the nest from which it had flown was obviously of early June construction. Some late nesting records: On 13 August 1960 a female was seen carrying nesting material. A nest in an apple tree in a Wolfville orchard contained four eggs on 6 September 1948, and the last fledglings left on 24 September. Another nest at Blomidon, Kings County, contained half-grown young on 3 September 1952. On 16 September a young bird just out of a nest was calling lustily and incessantly for food near Wolfville.
Range Breeds from southern British Columbia, the middle parts of the prairie provinces, central Ontario, southern Quebec and southwestern Newfoundland, south to northern Georgia, southern Colorado and Baja California. Winters from southern Canada to Mexico.
Remarks It is widely known as "thistle-bird" and "wild canary," both names not inappropriate because it is often seen feeding on thistle seeds in late summer and its bright colours and general appearance resemble those of the cagebird.
In late summer the male loses his brilliant plumage and, until early the following April, closely resembles his drab mate, whose plumage changes little from season to season. Because the male's plumage is so dull in winter, many people do not recognize the bird at that season.
The goldfinch's flight is notably undulating and often, if not usually, accompanied by a vocal per-chick-o-ree, repeated at every dip as it swings over the countryside. The male's song is a sweet, spirited melody he pours forth usually while perched but sometimes while flying on outstretched, slowly flapping wings high overhead.
The male bears no marked similarity to any other species that occurs in Nova Scotia. The Yellow Warbler, which approximates it in size, is yellow all over and lacks the black wings and cap of the goldfinch; the bill of the warbler is slender, that of the goldfinch is short and stubby.
Questions? Comments? E-mail us at: Museumfirstname.lastname@example.org
Credits and copyright information. Last updated February 20, 1998
Best viewed with Netscape 3.0 or Internet Explorer 3.0 or later.
For further information contact Webmaster, Nova Scotia Museum.