Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: American goldfinches are late nesters

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 3:15 PM

Widespread and numerous summer residents throughout most of Minnesota, American goldfinches are also with us in winter flocks. Their natural range is large, extending from coast to coast and from northern Mexico to southern Canada. They add liveliness to open country with their yellow and black coloring, their roller-coaster flights and their sweet songs of “just-look-at-me! just-look-at-me!”

This familiar “wild canary” is mostly a seedeater. They come to our feeding stations for sunflower and thistle seeds. For a number of years up to 1964, the American goldfinch was Minnesota’s state bird.

The American goldfinch waits for nesting until late summer, when most other songbirds have finished raising their young and some species have begun their southward migrations. That’s when a good supply of wild seeds, especially thistle seeds, can be counted on. Nearly all seed-eating birds feed their nestlings insects, but these goldfinches nourish their four to six young with seeds that have been shelled and partly predigested. Both parents fill their crops with seeds and maybe a few insects. After a while they regurgitate them into the open mouths of their hungry babies.

The female selects the nest site, usually bordering on or in the middle of a field. She builds a nest of woven plant fibers anywhere from one to 60 feet off the ground, usually in a shrub or tree, always lined with thistledown or milkweed down. Some nests have been found close to the ground in thistle plants. The female incubates the eggs for about 13 days and the young leave the nest 11 to 16 days after hatching.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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