The Avant-Garden Shop: Your Garden & Bird Store

Garden Tips: All that Glitters is Gold(finches)

photo: Ian Crawford

The Peterborough area is blessed with an abundance of American Goldfinches, which some people call Wild Canaries. Male Goldfinches are a rich lemon-yellow, with black wings, a black tail, and a black “toupee.” Females are a paler yellow and lack the toupee (perhaps the males struggle with male pattern baldness?). Goldfinches alternate between flapping their wings and gliding when they fly, so they have an up-and-down flight pattern. Their flight song – a rich, sweet, “po-ta-to chip” – matches the timing of their flight pattern.

If you have Goldfinches at your feeders, you might have noticed that their yellow gets brighter as the summer progresses. That’s because Goldfinches breed later in the summer than other local songbirds. As most of our local breeders are now actively feeding their young, the goldfinches are just building their nests. I saw a female gathering cattail fluff to line her nest just last week.

You might recall from a previous blog post that Blue Jays aren’t actually blue, that their colouration is the result of light refracting through the structure of their feathers. In that post, I also described that the reds, yellows, and oranges in birds are actually pigments in their feathers that come from carotenoids in the food they eat. A healthy male Goldfinch whose territory has high-quality food will be a brighter yellow than an unhealthy male or one with a territory containing lower-quality food. As such, the brightness of the colours in a male’s plumage is considered an “honest signal” to females about his “quality” as a mate.

It’s always important to clean your feeders regularly, especially in the humidity of the summer. Moist food will get mouldy and carry other pathogens that can make birds sick. Trichomonosis is a parasite that affects finches and has become such a problem in Nova Scotia that they are asking people to remove their feeders. The waste seed on the ground under your feeder can also get mouldy and make ground-feeding birds and mammals sick, so be sure to clean it up regularly, as well. These simple steps will help you support, rather than harm, our local finch population.

We carry a variety of quality finch feeders that are guaranteed for life and won’t yellow or crack. Their bottoms come off very easily, making them super-easy to clean. And if you need any repairs, we can do them in the store… just bring in your cleaned feeder, and we’ll take care of it for you.

Check out Garden Gate Episode 125 to learn more about finches.

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