by Dave Hanks
Why do goldfinch nest so late, when other birds are finishing up the raising of their broods? Goldfinch are thistle dependant birds and must wait until the thistle blooms. The plant matures in July, and the bird builds its nest out of the fibers and down of the thistle’s flower. The nest is usually built in the fork of a tree branch at 4 to 15 feet above the ground. The female does the work, and she does it so well that the cup will hold water.
Four to six pale bluish-white eggs require two weeks to incubate. The male will feed the female as she sits on the nest. When the eggs hatch, thistles have gone to seed. The parents eat those seeds and the partially digested seeds are milk-like (similar to dove’s milk) – and the chicks are nourished on this semi-liquid fare. Goldfinch are granivorous (grain or seed eaters), but they will feed insects to their young. They are not aggressive toward predators, but will give an alarm call. Snakes, hawks, weasels, squirrels, magpies, and feral cats all pose a threat to both the young and the adults.
Goldfinches are gregarious during the fall and winter, and gather in large flocks. At this time they have also lost their brilliant breeding colors – no longer the bright yellow that distinguishes their species.