american goldfinch

American Goldfinch

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Quiz time: How many birds on our Goose Pond Bird List begin with their common name “American”? Answer at the end.

Every September, we look forward to seeing flocks of American goldfinches at Goose Pond Sanctuary. This year is no exception. We noticed the first flocks the first week of September.

Goldfinches nest throughout Wisconsin and are found in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin year around. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 42 million, with 91% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 33% in Canada, and 6% wintering in Mexico. The North American Breeding Bird Survey found a small decline between 1966 and 2014 in their numbers.

American goldfinches are the latest nesting species nest in Wisconsin. Goldfinch nests with eggs have been found from June 26 to August 30, while young have been found in nests from July 1 to September 25. They nest after the peak of nesting of brown-headed cowbirds and so their nests are rarely parasitized by cowbirds.

American goldfinch nests are perfect bundles of promise. Photo by Carolyn Byers. More information in the Into the Nest series,    madisonaudubon.org/into-the-nest   .

American goldfinch nests are perfect bundles of promise. Photo by Carolyn Byers. More information in the Into the Nest series, madisonaudubon.org/into-the-nest.

They like to nest in a variety of habitats from rural to urban areas, especially where there are low shrubs to place their nest. According to researchers the nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, often woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female lashes the foundation to supporting branches using spider silk, and makes a downy lining often using the fluffy “pappus” material taken from the same types of seed heads that goldfinches so commonly feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The female usually has a clutch of 2-7 eggs, an incubation period of 14 days, and 17 days to fledging.

In September, we found a nest at Goose Pond with two eggs which appeared to be a nest that fledged young but two eggs did not hatch.

Photo by Rich Hoeg

Photo by Rich Hoeg

Goldfinches are active, acrobatic finches that balance on the seed heads of thistles, dandelions, and other plants to pluck seeds. They have a bouncy flight during which they frequently make their “po-ta-to-chip" calls. By being late nesters, they can take advantage of many plant species with tasty seeds that are ripe for the flocks of goldfinches.

Saw-toothed sunflowers are a favorite among lots of species — American goldfinch and grasshoppers included! Photo by Mark Martin

Saw-toothed sunflowers are a favorite among lots of species — American goldfinch and grasshoppers included! Photo by Mark Martin

In September, flocks of goldfinches are first seen feeding on saw-tooth sunflower that has small seeds. After they have cleaned up the sunflowers they concentrate feeding efforts on prairie dock that has a larger “sunflower” seed. We collect prairie dock seed in large quantities for our restorations and it have to collect prairie dock just before the seeds are fully ripe to avoid losing them all to goldfinches. (Don’t worry, we leave plenty for the birds!)

Prairie dock flowers will soon turn to seeds and will be nutritious food for goldfinches. Photo by Mark Martin

Prairie dock flowers will soon turn to seeds and will be nutritious food for goldfinches. Photo by Mark Martin

After all the prairie dock seed has been eaten, collected, or fallen on the ground, goldfinches head for our food plot and spend the winter feeding on black oil sunflower seeds.

The bobolinks have been feasting on the ripe sunflowers in our food plot. Goldfinches will be feeding on the sunflowers next. Photo by Mark Martin

The bobolinks have been feasting on the ripe sunflowers in our food plot. Goldfinches will be feeding on the sunflowers next. Photo by Mark Martin

Written by Mark and Susan Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary resident managers

Quiz Answer: 13 species. American wigeon, American coot, American avocet, American golden-plover, American woodcock, American bittern, American kestrel, American crow, American robin, American pipit, American goldfinch, American redstart, and American tree sparrow

Cover photo by Eric Begin

American Goldfinch

American goldfinches are one of the latest nesting birds and young fledge in late summer when there is an abundance of seeds. This summer and fall at Goose Pond Sanctuary, goldfinches have been feasting in our prairie restorations on ox-eye sunflower, sawtooth sunflower, prairie dock and pasture thistle. 

The seeds of the first three species are members of the sunflower family and have a seed in quality like the commercial sunflowers. Sometimes it is a race to collect prairie dock seed for future restorations before the goldfinches devour all of it!

Goldfinch_by_Kelly_Colgan_Azar_550_365.jpg

Most of the prairie seeds have been eaten or dropped at this point, and now the goldfinches have set their sights on our bird feeders that contain sunflower fines. We're grateful to customers from Mounds Pet Food Warehouse stores that have provided bird seed for our feeders through the “Buy a bag of birdseed for Goose Pond Sanctuary” program - next time you visit Mounds, be sure to inquire!

Goldfinches are numerous at Goose Pond due to our prairie restorations, shrub and tree cover units that provide nesting and roosting cover, and bird feeders. Goldfinches are usually the second most numerous birds at our feeders with the mourning dove being most numerous. If you have a yard with good shrub and tree cover, consider adding a bird feeder with sunflower seeds to attract winter finches to your space. Of course, planting native sunflowers will also bring more birds to your yard as well!

On previous Christmas Bird Counts we observed hundreds of goldfinches on DNR sunflower food plots on state wildlife areas. Next spring we plan to plant eight acres north of Goose Pond to a “large” wildlife food plot, including three to four acres of black oil sunflowers! 

We are gearing up for Christmas Bird Counts and look forward to counting flocks of American goldfinches and to seeing them at our feeders this winter. We will also be looking closely for pine siskins that feed with goldfinches - keep your eye out for these tiny birds as well, which can be identified by their striped breast!

Written by Mark Martin & Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond resident sanctuary managers

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar, Flickr Creative Commons

American Goldfinch

Great horned owls initiated the nesting season in southern Wisconsin in February, and the American goldfinch is ending the region's nesting season late this August.  Almost everyone is familiar with this cheery species - a favorite feeder bird that likes to feed on sunflower chips.

On August 27th, we found a female goldfinch incubating eggs in a nest in a willow sapling about four feet high.  We have been seeing many goldfinches this summer and were not surprised to find a nest in late August.

Goldfinches are late nesters and they like to use thistle down to line their nest.  By nesting late they also avoid parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds.  Another benefit of nesting late is that newly-fledged young will be able to find seeds that are ripening.  

At Goose Pond Sanctuary goldfinches like to feed on prairie dock and sawtooth sunflower seeds. We usually pick the prairie dock seeds just before they are ripe, or we risk losing them to the goldfinches. If we see large flocks of goldfinches in the prairie, it is a phenological signal that it is time to collect the seed of these two species!

This week, we observed young barn swallows and mourning doves in nests and the goldfinch nest will probably be the last active nest we will find for the first year of the bird atlas project.  However, we are still looking for families/broods of some species such as wild turkeys.  We enjoyed working on the bird atlas project this year and are now busy entering our data.  If you find a bird species that you would like to submit atlas records for, please contact your atlas coordinator found in the link provided here. http://wsobirds.org/atlas-county-coordinators

Written by Mark Martin & Sue Foote-Martin

Photo by Chad Horwedel