BTO Garden Bird of the Month – February: Goldfinch

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27th February 2013
By Tim Harrison

The view from a kitchen window has gained some sparkle over recent years thanks to a gold rush in gardens.

BTO Garden Bird of the Month – February: Goldfinch

The view from a kitchen window has gained some sparkle over recent years thanks to a gold rush in gardens.

It takes only a glance at a goldfinch to understand why this species was once commonly kept as a caged bird. It is also pretty easy to imagine why the collective noun for these birds is a ‘charm’.

With their crimson faces, golden wing bars and bubbling twitters, goldfinches are a visual and auditory delight. During late winter, when such vibrancy remains a scarce commodity in gardens, goldfinches bring welcome glamour and excitement.

At this time of year they often move in flocks alongside other finches, such as siskins and lesser redpolls, so look out for big numbers of these birds moving through. What’s more, for fans of goldfinches, the great news is that their numbers are on the up.

Huge increase

Every week since 1995, thousands of householders have been telling the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) about the birds that they see in their gardens through Garden BirdWatch.

In the early years of the survey, goldfinches were less frequent visitors than they are today. During a typical week in 1995, around one in eight Garden BirdWatch participants hosted this bird.

By 2012, however, this figure had rocketed to around three in five.

© BTO

Percentage of gardens visited by goldfinch (data from BTO Garden BirdWatch; photo by Edmund Fellowes.)

Late winter sees numbers of goldfinches in gardens rise as natural seeds in the countryside become scarce.

Goldfinches peak in their use of gardens in April, with a secondary peak around the time that they lay their eggs in June. So, if you don’t have one visiting at the moment, don’t give up hope yet. 

Attracting goldfinches to your garden

At garden feeding stations, goldfinches are particularly partial to small, oil-rich seeds, like nyger seed and sunflower hearts. These foods have become much more widespread in gardens over recent decades, attracting goldfinches in from the surrounding countryside.

Feeder designs have also changed, with larger (ring or triangle-shaped) perches helping goldfinches and many other seed-eaters to get more of a foothold in gardens.

Remember, nyger seed is very fine and will pour out of a conventional seed feeder, so you will need to buy a specialist nyger feeder.

Gardeners can also help goldfinches by fostering a number of plant species, mostly in the family Asteraceae, such as groundsels, which provide alternative ‘natural’ foods.

Teasels are another favourite – goldfinches are the only UK finch with a long enough beak to be able to extract its seeds.

Like other common finches, goldfinches appear to favour gardens that have large trees nearby, which help them to survey an area before dropping down onto feeders.

How to spot a goldfinch

Goldfinches are unmistakable. Adults have red, clown-like faces with buff breast and shoulders. Their wings are mainly black, with white spots but are characterised by a broad, gold wing-bar on each wing.

Sexes look alike, although the red mask of the male, not the female, extends slightly past the eye towards the back of the head.

Recently fledged birds do not have a red face, which moults through during late summer and autumn.

Goldfinches are bigger than siskins, but are slightly smaller than chaffinches and greenfinches.

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

Among the surveys that we coordinate is our popular Garden BirdWatch, the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world.

Each month we highlight a bird for you to look out for in your garden.

For more information about Garden BirdWatch or to speak to the Garden Ecology Team please email gbw@bto.org

 

For more information about goldfinches, download our free guide.

Read previous BTO Garden Bird of the Month blogs.