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Something Wild: Goldfinches, The Late Nesters

The bird world quiets down by late summer - but not the American goldfinch, one of the most common backyard birds. September brings the chatter of young goldfinches as they follow their male parent. They beg noisily, perched with head thrown back and trembling wings.

Something Wild 9.12.14: Goldfinches, The Late NestersMost songbirds switch their diet to high-protein insects when feeding their young, and they nest earlier when insects are most bountiful. For example, chickadees that keep bird-feeders busy in winter disappear in summer as they forage for insects not birdseed.

Goldfinches never make the switch. They're year-round seed and grain eaters, and delay nesting to ensure seed availability. In fact, the appearance of seed-rich composite flowers very likely stimulates nesting, along with the shifting day length of late summer.

Goldfinches appear to be especially linked with thistles. They often line their nests with soft thistle down, and feed on thistle seeds. As for young goldfinches noisily following their male parent, the female does the nest-building, egg-brooding and tends the nestling for a week or so, but then she's done. The male takes over. Some females that nest early enough find another mate and produce another brood.

All too soon, goldfinches, too, will quiet down, in sound and in looks. Feather molt follows breeding, and the male's bright yellow summer plumage soon will be replaced by feathers that match the muted palette of winter.


Copyright 2015 New Hampshire Public Radio

Chris Martin has worked with New Hampshire Audubon for more than 19 years as a Senior Biologist in the organization's Conservation Department. His work has focused primarily on monitoring and management of New Hampshire's endangered or threatened birds, especially birds of prey such as bald eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons. A wildlife biologist with almost 30 years of diverse experience, Martin has climbed to bald eagle nests in Alaska's Katmai National Park, counted seabirds near the Aleutian Islands, coordinated peregrine falcon restoration at Isle Royale in Lake Superior, helped research a wildlife habitat field guide in Minnesota, and studied how a southern Indiana forest responded after a devastating tornado. Since moving to New Hampshire in 1990, Martin has worked frequently with colleagues at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies to recruit, train, and deploy volunteer wildlife observers when and where they are needed. He has advised electric utiliies on how to establish safe nesting sites for ospreys, partnered with rock climbers to collect peregrine falcon egg samples to check for environmental contaminants, and documented New Hampshire's only known breeding population of American pipits in the alpine zone on Mt. Washington. In 2006, Martin received an Environmental Merit Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston for his outstanding efforts in preserving New England's environment. “I view my role as one of documenting what's going on with wildlife populations in the Granite State, and also providing folks with the knowledge and training they need to make meaningful wildlife observations out there on their own. That's one of the reasons I find contributing to Something Wild to be so enjoyable.”