Goldfinches are like little, brightly coloured jewels in the garden and they are becoming more common, which is good news for them and for us. Flocks of goldfinches flitting through the air with a pleasant chattering sound is a pleasure to see.
They are a delicate bird, with unmistakeable plumage in rich colours of black , red and yellow with a recognisable babbling song cheerful and almost liquid in nature. A group is aptly named a ‘charm’, from the Middle English for ‘charme’ from the Latin ‘Carmen’ or magic song/ spell, describing the twittering like blended voices. Goldfinches sound so excited as they almost bounce through the sky, flitting from place to place.
Latin name for Goldfinches is Carduelis cardualis, from the latin Carduus the genus name for thistle, reflecting its love of thistle seeds.
Goldfinches like a variety of seeds, including thistle. They will take tree seeds, particularly alder and birch, eat insects and particularly like nyjer seeds.
At Giddy Gate Farm we find their favourites are sunflower hearts. They are regularly eating from the bird table or hanging bird feeder. They appear to be a social bird, often a pair can be seen sitting at a feeder full of sunflower hearts busily eating and seemingly watching the world go by.
It is no wonder that the goldfinch has captivated and charmed humans through the centuries.
Did You Know?
- Goldfinches have been kept as pets for centuries before the introduction of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is now illegal to capture or possess a wild finch.
- Victorians contributed to a population decline due to their enthusiastic trapping of goldfinches to keep in cages. They would use bird lime, and spring loaded cages with decoys, catching 132,000 goldfinches in Sussex in 1860 alone.
- Crossing goldfinches with canaries was common in the Victorian era. This produced an attractive songbird, known as a mule due to it being sterile and unable to breed.
- Pet goldfinches were taught simple tricks. They could open their own feeding boxes and it was fashionable in the 17th Century to train them to draw water from a bowl with a miniature bucket on a chain. This lead to the dutch nickname ‘puttertje’ meaning to ‘draw water’ from a well.
- ‘The goldfinch’ is a strangely odd and haunting painting by Carel Fabritius in 1654. It depicts a goldfinch chained by its foot to its perch on a feeding box.
- In Anglo Saxon times goldfinches were known as ‘thistle tweaker’ or ‘Thisteltuige‘ due to their love of thistle and teasels.
- Poet John Keats in his poem ‘Goldfinches’ wrote of they beauty of these small birds and described their flitting behaviour.
How to attract Goldfinches to your garden.
Planting teasels or leaving areas of thistle to go to seed in your garden will be a real draw for goldfinches.
Teasels flowers will also attract bees, butterflies and the seed heads look lovely dried in flower arrangements.
Ornamental plants such as the striking thistle artichoke or cardoon is a fantastic plant to attract plenty of wildlife and goldfinches will feed on the seeds throughout the winter months. However it does need a bit of space and is a lover of sun.
At Giddy Gate Farm goldfinches feed from our giant cardoon (artichoke thistle) seed heads in the garden. We leave the seed heads standing at over 7 foot tall overwinter as food and they are especially attractive in frosty weather.
Leaving the seed heads of any flowering plants over winter provides food for roaming flocks of winter feeding birds, and is a great way of attracting all sorts of species.
Goldfinches regularly feed from our moss covered rooves, taking the tiny seeds that stick up from clumps of moss.
Don’t forget, provision of fresh water throughout the year. Especially hot summer months and frozen winter months when water can be sparse.
A water drinker, bird bath or pond can be of real benefit to these little birds.