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November 16, 2013 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: Goldfinch Plumage

American GoldfinchThe American Goldfinch is a familiar sight across much of North America. They are year-round residents in most of the Midwest and Eastern US, are friendly, don’t mind people, love backyard gardens and readily come to feeders and birdbaths.

The males are bright yellow and black in the summer with the females a more subdued color. In the winter they are both a drab, dull, grayish brown.

I’ve often wondered why some birds molt into brilliant breeding plumage and other do not. Turns out there isn’t a simple answer and it varies by species. The goldfinch, though, is an exception to its own species rule. They are the only finch that molts, or completely replaces its feathers, twice a year. Other finches, such as the House Finch and Purple Finch, only molt once a year and retain the same coloring year round.


American Goldfinch

I have noticed that their change in plumage often matches their natural food source. In autumn, the flowers turn brown and so do the goldfinches. A few weeks ago a flock of about 50 goldfinches filled the prairie, flitting among the dying Coneflower and Goldenrod, munching on seeds.

An interesting note, goldfinches are vegetarians and only eat seeds. If they do eat an insect it’s probably by accident. A sure way to attract goldfinches to your backyard is to put up a thistle feeder.


American Goldfinch

The photo above is Yellow Coneflower growing in my backyard. There is a male goldfinch in there eating seeds. I saw him fly in but if I wasn’t watching I may not have noticed him. I’m sure there is an evolutionary reason more complex than just camouflage, but it is convenient for them that they can hide in plain sight.


Saturday Snapshot was originated by Alyce at At Home With Books. For the summer it will be hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy. Visit her blog to see more great photos or add your own.

© 2013 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Brona / Nov 16 2013 2:53 am

    Between you and Louise I learn so much about birds on Saturday Snapshot each week 🙂

    I had no idea that some birds had completely different plumage depending on the time of the year.
    I love the story you told with this week’s photos – fascinating.


  2. Paulita / Nov 16 2013 6:26 am

    Great photos. I love the way they are camouflaged in the photos. I have also noticed the goldfinches are one of the few birds that I sometimes see squished in the road. They must be a little slower than other birds. Here’s Mine


  3. brokencookiesdontcount / Nov 16 2013 6:29 am

    How Beautiful!! I love bird and flower photos! Have a great weekend!


  4. Louise / Nov 16 2013 7:00 am

    Isn’t he gorgeous! I’ve put that on my wish list. I love the camouflage.


  5. BermudaOnion / Nov 16 2013 8:54 am

    I had no idea that birds molted to change colors like that. Thanks for the wonderful photos and the education.


  6. Juli D. Revezzo / Nov 16 2013 9:36 am

    Beautiful pictures! I may have to consider putting a thistle feeder up! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your lovely photos. Here’s my week’s photos: if you’d like to see them.


  7. Sheila (Book Journey) / Nov 16 2013 10:01 am

    Incredible pictures as always!


  8. Beth Hoffman / Nov 16 2013 10:12 am

    Oh my gosh, Leslie … all of those photos are wonderful captures!


  9. Arti / Nov 16 2013 10:22 am

    I’d consider it a rare delight if I got the pic of a goldfinch, which I did only twice this summer, having had to hunt for them. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos.


  10. Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post / Nov 16 2013 10:24 am

    Great snapshots! I enjoy watching these birds too!


  11. joyweesemoll / Nov 16 2013 11:29 am

    Fun photos — spotting the bird among the flowers and foliage is an interesting game.


  12. Esme Cococroissants / Nov 16 2013 12:40 pm

    that is a lovely photo with the finch set against the yellow backdrop.


  13. Judy B / Nov 16 2013 12:52 pm

    I love watching goldfinches. I am attracted to their bright yellow color. So happy!


  14. Sue / Nov 16 2013 2:00 pm

    Those are some gorgeous goldfinch photos! Brilliant gold color.


  15. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Nov 16 2013 5:54 pm

    It is amazing how well they blend. I always loved the “goldfinch” and the book by Tartt is awesome as well:0


  16. Ginny / Nov 16 2013 6:23 pm

    Took me quite a while to spot the goldfinch in the cone flowers. I do love cone flowers. I think it must be my bed time.


  17. Suko / Nov 16 2013 7:09 pm

    Your snapshots are extraordinary! So beautiful!! 🙂


  18. Susan / Nov 16 2013 8:47 pm

    Cool comment on physical adaptations …


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