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365 Urban Species. #051: American Goldfinch


photo by cottonmanifesto

Urban species #051: American goldfinch Carduelis tristis

During the spring and summer, the male American goldfinch is bright lemon yellow, with a black cap on the front of its head. The rest of the year, the male and female look similar: dull olive with black wings marked with white wing bars.

The goldfinch lives almost entirely on seeds. Seeds of plants that gardeners consider weeds provide most of its diet. The large plant family Asteraceae contains many important weeds that goldfinches and other birds feed on, including common urban plants such as dandelion and thistle. Because these seeds are most abundant in the late summer and fall, the goldfinch has adapted to have the latest breeding season of our songbirds. As for winter food, Cities landscaped with the right plants can provide it for them: birch and alder seeds do the trick. Of course, humans feed goldfinches as well, buying feeders specially designed for them. These are filled with the sterilized seed from a Ethiopian plant (in the Asteraceae family) called niger, but often sold as "thistle." American goldfinches are the among the five most common birds reported to the Massachusetts Audubon Society's eBird program.

The American goldfinch is the state bird of the most densely populated state, New Jersey, and also Iowa and Washington. There are at least five other species of Cardeulis finches in North America, including the lesser goldfinch (C. psaltria) of the southwest, and the common redpoll.

Photo by urbpan. Male American goldfinch in breeding plumage (this entry edited to add it), in May.


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