i May 31, 2023 1 Comment by

Authored by Phil Doerr.

June, and the distractions of our exciting and often very colorful spring migrants arriving and passing by in waves overnight is mostly over, so now we can concentrate on our nesting or soon to be nesting locals. “” has completed the spring 2023 run with, often stunning, nightly radar displays of the millions of birds that pass over us on their way to northern nesting habitats. Not to be outdone, our Bird of the Year (BOTY) the American Goldfinch is arguably the most colorful of our local breeding birds. (Northern Cardinals may beg to differ!)

American Goldfinch male, breeding plumage. Photo by Bob Oberfelder

With summer truly here, American Goldfinches are now focused on nesting and the number of courtship chases we began to observe in May is increasing. Pairs are getting serious about locating nest sites, and females will soon begin nest construction, requiring 6-7 days. They’ll look for dense shrubby thickets, and wooded edges in which to work their magic of twig placement and weaving of spiderweb into a sturdy yet soft but strong cup lined with some of the same downy material collected from thistles and milkweeds. Another few days for egg laying follows with about 2 weeks of incubation before synchronous hatching takes place. Then it’s all high intensity seed collection to stuff the always open mouths demanding to be filled with thistle and other seeds. After 2 weeks as nestling the youngsters “fledge” (leave the nest). They remain in the care of dear old dad another few days while they perfect flying abilities and learn how to locate seeds! With fledging, Mom, sometimes moves on to another partner and another nesting cycle which increases her annual and lifetime productivity, and that in part compensates for the fact goldfinch females are out-numbered by males in the population.

Goldfinches are among the latest nesting of our locals, because they are almost exclusively seed eaters, and hold off the energy sapping breeding effort until summer, when native annual and perennial plants are mature, producing lots of nutritious seeds. Goldfinch beaks and their acrobatic ability to dangle on vegetation render them especially adapted to extracting thistle, teasel and other small seeds from mature seed heads. Native asters and sunflowers are seed favorites as well.

To help American Goldfinches we are reminded of the importance of pollinator gardens with native asters, coneflowers, and that we can replace part (or all!) of our lawn with natives! Pollen, seed  producing wildflowers, plus native trees (esp. oaks!) make for a healthy wildlife friendly habitat around our homes.

As with many small songbirds, goldfinches are occasionally parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds, which leave their eggs in the nests of a “host” species to raise their chicks. The victimized birds don’t seem to recognize the intrusion and feed cowbirds chicks rather than their own. Furthermore, host species chicks are typically booted from the nest by cowbird chicks, and they die. Unlike for many parasitized songbirds, however the “just outcome” here favors the goldfinches. Because goldfinches are adapted to bring only seed to their chicks the cowbird chicks which require animal protein in the form of “bugs” and spiders to thrive, soon starve.

During June, Keep an eye for goldfinch behaviors such courtship  chases and males singing from conspicuous perches suggesting nesting is imminent.


May 31 ended our 2023 Lights Out Wake! Campaign, but September will initiate the return south flight beginning for many birds and when we will again need to think about dimming the outdoor lights and encouraging building managers to do the same 11pm-6am ‘til November30!

Thanks for what you do to conserve birds and all wildlife! It is the way…

Phil Doerr, Wake Audubon Board ([email protected])


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