A friend of mine had a flock of small birds at her feeders that she could not identify. She had looked in books but the dull yellowish grey birds were a mystery. I asked her could they be Pine Warblers or Yellow-rumped Warblers and she said “No they did not look like any of those birds.” It dawned on me that she had a flock of Goldfinches at her feeders but the small bird field guide she had only showed birds in their summer plumage. Many birds have such different seasonal plumages that they look like completely different birds. It is important to purchase a bird field guide or smart phone app that has all a bird’s plumages. Some smart phone apps also come with bird songs and calls and this feature can help correctly identify some birds. The flight call of the American Goldfinch sounds like they are chirping “potato chip, potato chip, potato chip”. While most birds fly in beautifully synchronized flocks, a goldfinch flock looks like chaos. A goldfinches flight pattern looks they are on a roller coaster, as one bird swoops up another swoops down. I have often wondered why they don’t collide.
Like other finches, the goldfinch has a short conical bill that is ideal for opening and consuming seeds. At the feeder, they can quickly clean you out. They prefer oil sunflower and nyjer seeds at the feeders and will eat on the feeders or on the ground. In the wild, they seek out seeds of any member of the aster family with thistle and dandelion being some of their favorites. They also eat grass and other weed seeds. Unlike other song birds which consume some insects, the goldfinch has a pure vegetarian diet.
Goldfinches live in central Virginia year round. They change their plumage twice a year. In late summer, they transform from sunny yellow to dull little birds. In the late winter, they shed their dull winter feathers for bold summer colors.
Goldfinches are our smallest finch; they are about the size of a chickadee. They are often seen feeding with House finches in the winter. Keep your feeders full this winter and when spring comes, maybe you will be able to see them change into their colorful summer feathers.