american goldfinch

Where are the Goldfinches?

We field this question a lot this time of year. Goldfinches are quite different than many of our other feeder birds in that they are frequently on the move. Goldfinches you see for a few days or a week may be miles away tomorrow only to be replaced by a new group shortly thereafter. These movements are even more prominent in the spring. We tend to see more Goldfinches concentrated at feeders in winter as northern populations move south. With migration all but over here in mid-TN we should begin to see good numbers of Goldfinches settling back in to bird feeding stations. So, don’t think that you’ve done something wrong, or think the seed in your feeder is bad, it is normal for Goldfinches to be on the move. Here are a few tips to improve your success with Goldfinches.

Ø Keep your feeders full. Goldfinches prefer to feed as a group and will not find a feeder attractive if it only has one feeder port available to feed from. Top them off regularly.

Ø Check your seed for dampness particularly after rain showers. Simply shake your feeder up and down to see if the seed is dry and loose, or gotten wet and clumped together. Remove only the wet seed. The Aspects brand Quick Clean feeders are a great choice of finch feeders for easy maintenance and cleaning.

Ø Keep feeders clean. Mold is a bad thing to have on your feeders and seed. Really dirty feeders can be detrimental to the birds and be a source for spreading disease. Not to mention making them less desirable. Keep in mind Goldfinches are totally vegetarian. They do not eat insects. So with lots of seed choices available in nature the seed at your feeder better be in tip top condition to compete.

Ø If you have multiple finch feeders we recommend grouping them. Again, they prefer to feed as a group, so it pays to give them that opportunity. The more the merrier.

Goldfinches love sunflower whether in shell or out. Check out our Finch Blend which is Nyjer seed and Fine Sunflower Chips, and the Fine Sunflower Chips which can be used in any finch feeder.Be advised, if using the Finch Blend or Fine Sunflower it is recommended you present the feeder in a squirrel proof manner, like a baffled pole system, for example.

Ornithology Vocabulary Lesson.

Since we are in the breeding season for birds here are a couple of ornithology words to expand your knowledge. They may even help you with the next NY Times Crossword.

Altricial and Precocial

Almost all of us have seen baby songbirds in a nest.We know they are completely dependent on the adults to keep them warm as they are featherless for the first few days and to bring them food while in the nest developing.They are completely helpless and mostly immobile.The adults continue to feed them for weeks even after they have fledged. This is referred to as altricial. Altricial birds include herons, hawks, owls, and most songbirds.

Eastern Blue bird babies just hatched. No feathers and eyes still closed.

Around day 5 eyes will open and feathers start to be seen.

Day 12 birds are fully feathered and still being fed. They will leave the nest any day.

Precocial means young are capable of a high degree of independent activity immediately after hatching. Precocial young typically can move about, have their eyes open and will be covered in down at hatching. They are generally able to walk away from the nest as soon as they have dried off. They will also begin searching for their own food. Examples of precocial birds include most duck species, Wild Turkey, Quail, and Killdeer. Video of Baby Killdeer

Fall Wood Thrush Shop Notes

Right on schedule we are beginning to see birds returning to feeders. Yesterday, I had a nice group of Goldfinches appear at a feeder with Wood Thrush Shop Finch Blend. Of course they were in their drab winter plumage. Be on the lookout for Pine Siskins mixing in with Goldfinch flocks. Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers were visiting the suet, and Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches were busily making repeated trips to the black-oil sunflower feeders. Cardinals are showing up, too, but usually very early and very late, before first light of day and just before night. If it wasn’t for their “chipping” calls indicating their presence they could easily be missed.

Goldfinch in winter plumage.

Goldfinch in winter plumage.

Pine Siskin can mix with goldfinch through the winter months.

Pine Siskin can mix with goldfinch through the winter months.

We mentioned a couple of weeks ago to be on the lookout for some of our winter visitors. Sure enough we are seeing and getting reports of White-throated sparrows, Juncos, Purple Finch, Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Brown Creeper. Wood Thrush employee Eli got this great shot of a Brown Creeper in his yard. Brown Creepers are most likely to visit suet feeders. Suet is a great addition to your seed feeders and can attract some very interesting birds, particularly in winter.

You can follow Eli on instagram at  lightorflight_photography

You can follow Eli on instagram at lightorflight_photography

If you haven’t given your feeders a good cleaning in a while now would be a good time. And if your feeders need a little maintenance keep in mind we stock parts for quite a few of our feeders and can usually make repairs on the spot, or in a day or two. If you’ve had seed stored in a container for a few months a word of caution. Open it outside because it may be full of Indian Mealmoths and you don’t want them getting loose in the house. They don’t go after your clothes but prefer things like dry dogfood, flour, crackers, cereal, etc.

And speaking of seed we have been getting questions about a seed sale. Typically we wait until the harvest is in full swing and new crop begins to appear. This will give us a chance to see if seed prices are going to increase, or decrease. Seed is a commodity and prices are subject to change based on supply and demand. At some point we will announce a “Seed Sale “and you will be able to buy multiple bags at a discount and to be stored here.

The holidays are right around the corner which means The Wood Thrush Shop is gearing up with new merchandise as well as some of the old popular standbys. As always we will be stocking the very popular

Mr. Bird Birdseed Ornaments and a variety of bird and wildlife ornaments. A new feeder or a Heartwood birdhouse always makes a great gift.

And look for weekly special through the coming months. Between Friday Nov. 2 and Thursday Nov. 8 all Droll Yankee and Aspects products will be 20% Off. That includes seed feeders, hummingbird feeders, baffles, weather guards, trays, and accessories.

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Goldfinches Beginning to Nest

While many of our most familiar backyard birds are near the end, or have already concluded, their breeding season, for the American Goldfinch it is just beginning.  Many of you have already seen a reduction in goldfinch numbers at your feeders as they begin to move away from feeders toward nesting areas. Goldfinches typically nest in June and July when certain nest materials, and more of their food sources, become available. 

The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common.  So, if you live close to one of these types of areas you may continue to see good numbers of goldfinches at your feeders.  If you live in a more forested area you will likely see far less goldfinches until they finish nesting.  So, don’t be concerned that something has happened to “your” goldfinches or you’ve done something wrong. They are simply transitioning into their nesting phase and will return to feeders in due time. 

The male and female locate a suitable nest site together. Nests are often near water.  At Hidden Lakes Park on McCrory Ln, which borders the Harpeth River, goldfinch nests are common to see.

The male may bring nest materials but the female builds the nest, usually in a shrub or sapling in a fairly open setting rather than in forest interior. The nest is often built high in a shrub, where two or three vertical branches join; usually shaded by clusters of leaves from above, but often open and visible from below. 

The nest is an open cup of rootlets and plant fibers lined with plant down, woven so tightly that it can hold water. The female bonds 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 seedheads that goldfinches feed on. It takes the female about 6 days to build the nest. The finished nest is about 3 inches across on the outside and 2-4.5 inches high.

The female incubates about 95% of the time and takes 10-12 days. The male brings food to the female while she incubates.  The young leave the nest after 11-17 days. Both sexes tend to the young and are fed a regurgitated milky seed pulp.  Insects are rarely part of their diet.

Goldfinches are monogamous per year but commonly change mates between years.  

Finches with Eye Disease

We’ve been seeing some reports on TN birding sites of House Finches and Goldfinches with an eye disease known as Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, or House Finch eye disease.  And just yesterday a customer inquired about a bird that seemed sick.  It did not move away as she approached, as if it was not really aware of her presence.  The bird turned out to be a sick House Finch.  We hear reports and see evidence of this every year that range from sparse to wide-spread. 

Birds infected with House Finch eye disease have red, swollen, runny, or crusty eyes. In extreme cases the eyes become swollen shut and the bird becomes blind. House Finch eye disease is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma gallisepticum. This bacterium has long been known as a pathogen of domestic turkeys and chickens, but it has been observed in House Finches since 1994. The disease has affected several other species, including American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak, and Purple Finch

You might observe an infected bird sitting quietly in your yard, clumsily scratching an eye against its foot or a perch. While some infected birds recover, many die from starvation, exposure, or predation.

The House Finch eye disease has affected mainly the eastern House Finch population, which is largely separated from the western House Finch population by the Rocky Mountains. Until the 1940s, House Finches were found only in western North America. They were released to the wild in the East after pet stores stopped illegal sales of “Hollywood Finches,” as they were commonly known to the pet bird trade. The released birds successfully bred and spread rapidly throughout eastern North America. In 2006, however, the disease was found west of the Rocky Mountains, and researchers are using FeederWatch data to monitor the spread west.

Whenever birds are concentrated in a small area, the risk of a disease spreading within that population increases. Research suggests that House Finches that spend large amounts of time at feeders spread the disease more effectively.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, House Finch Disease Survey data tell us that the disease has decreased from epidemic proportions and is now restricted to a smaller percentage of the population. It’s estimated that 5% to 10% of the eastern House Finch population has this disease and that the dramatic spread that occurred a few years ago has subsided. This means that it is still an important and harmful disease, but that House Finch populations are not currently at extreme risk of wide-spread population declines.

What To Do

If you detect a sick finch at your feeders the standard procedure is to take down your feeders for a few days to a week and give them a very thorough cleaning.  Cleaning your feeders is always a good idea and is recommended it be done on a regular basis.  Clorox wipes are very handy to give your feeder a quick clean particularly around the feeding ports.

Spring Migration

Spring migration is in full swing which means there will be a lot of great birds to see if you spend a little time looking in any of our wonderful parks, on area greenways, and even in your own backyard. Get your binoculars out and your ears ready because the neo-tropical migrants will be passing through middle Tennessee on the way to their summer breeding areas.  Warblers, vireos, tanagers, flycatchers, swallows, hummingbirds, and many other species are there for the viewing if you invest some time.  Early in the morning, between 6 am and 10 am are typically best because many of these species travel at night then settle down in the mornings to feed and rest.  For daily sightings reports you may want to subscribe to TN bird.org, or visit Tennessee Birding’s Facebook page.  There are links to these sights on our website.

We are only days or a week or so away from the first Ruby-throated hummingbirds to arrive, or pass through the area. Don’t get too eager with putting out several hummingbird feeders, though.  While you may see one or two early hummingbirds they are not usually very interested in the feeders.  One feeder with a small amount of nectar is sufficient.  For up to date information of migrating hummingbirds you may visit www.hummingbirds.net/map. Also a great site for hummingbird information is www.hummingbirdresearch.net

At your seed feeders, around mid-April, expect to see the always popular Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo buntings.  Most years the Grosbeaks can be seen for about a month before they move on to their breeding grounds, usually well north of us.  Of course American goldfinches are here in abundance year round but the males are beginning to put on their bright yellow spring plumage. Your feeders may have gotten a little slow of late as many of our local resident birds are spending much of their time courting and finding nest-sites. So now is a great time to give your feeders a little cleaning. Soon, though, feeders will explode with activity. As the breeding season progresses, many birds will take great advantage of feeders for a quick and easy food source.  It is during this time birds expend a tremendous amount of energy so the feeders become very important to them.  In my yard I will see suet consumption double during the spring months.

Noting the size and shape of the bird, primary colors, stripes, streaks, spots, and anything particularly unique is key to identification.

So, get out there and see some birds you haven’t seen before.

A Few Bird Watching ID tips:

Ø  Binoculars are essential.  You cannot see real detail on a bird without the magnification of a binocular. 

Ø  Initially, spend less time looking in your field guide and more time looking at the bird.  Committing to memory, or jotting down details should be first priority.  Noting the size and shape of the bird, primary colors, stripes, streaks, spots, and anything particularly unique is key; beak shape, wing shape, and behaviors too.  The type of habitat the bird is seen in is often overlooked by novices.  The type of habitat can sometimes confirm or deny the type of bird being seen.

Ø  After that is when the field guide comes in handy. Instead of going through page by page, narrow down what family the bird is likely in based on the information from initial observation.

So, get out there and see some birds you haven’t seen before.  It’s fun, interesting, and it gets you moving outdoors.  If you’re stumped by a bird you’ve seen come in and we’ll be glad to help you figure it out.