Monday, 4 December 2017

Irish Garden Birds - 'Charming' Goldfinches

This blog was originally published in December 2017.


Species Profile: Goldfinch

As Gaeilge: 'Lasair choille' - meaning 'flash' or 'flame' of the forest/woods.

Irish Garden Bird Survey Ranking 2016/17: 11th place

Conservation status: Green-listed in Ireland and 'secure' at European level. Ongoing agricultural intensification is a constant threat, and illegal trapping impacted their numbers in the past.

Goldfinch. Photo by D. Coombes

Did You know?
  1. Goldfinches live in open countryside and farmland, where they nest in the trees and shrubs in hedgerows. They can have 2-3 broods per year, so their numbers can get a valuable boost after a decent summer!
  2. They split up into pairs in spring and summer, but gather in flocks after the breeding season. The collect noun for a flock is 'a charm of Goldfinches'.
  3. The best way to tell the difference between a male and a female Goldfinch is the amount of red on their head - for males, the red extends behind the eye, but for females it doesn't!
  4. Poet John Keats wrote the following about Goldfinches:
"Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
From low hung branches; little space they stop;

But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
Then off at once, as in a wanton freak:

Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings,
Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.

Were I in such a place, I sure should pray
That nought less sweet, might call my thoughts away.”

Goldfinch. Photo by B. Burke

How long do they live?

The oldest known Goldfinch in Britain and Ireland was 10 years and 2 days old - caught in the exact same place as it was ringed. On average though, they live to around two years old.

What do they feed on? 

Goldfinches prefer to feed on fine seeds. In the wider countryside that means the seeds from grasses, dandelions, ragwort, teasels and thistles - so that rough un-mowed patch at the back of your garden or side of your field is really valuable for them! In gardens they're famously attracted to nyger seed, but will happily avail of sunflower seeds too. Believe it or not, it's only in the last 30 years they've started coming to birdfeeders -before that they were very rare in gardens!

Goldfinch. Photo by D. Coombes

Irish Garden Bird Survey Trends:
The graph below shows the average number of goldfinches per garden during each year of the Irish garden bird survey since it was revamped in 1994. It shows how unlikely you were to see a Goldfinch in your garden during the survey back in the mid-1990's, but in more recent years you're probably seeing 5 or 6 per week on average (though some gardens get more, and an unfortunate few get less!)

Over the 23 years of the garden bird survey, Goldfinch have climbed up the ranks from being present in less than 4% of gardens in 1994/95 (26th place) to >85% gardens in five of the last six years (peaking at 8th place overall)! Similar increases have been noticed in the UK, and it's widely accepted that they've benefited from food in gardens over this period.

They're quite common across the full 13 weeks of the garden bird survey (i.e. Dec-Feb), though numbers increase slightly as the winter goes on. 

Movements and Migration:

Goldfinches from Britain & Ireland caught elsewhere.
Goldfinches are partial migrants - some stay in Ireland for the winter, and others fly abroad. Their movements vary year-to-year depending on conditions - so if it’s cold in the UK we might get some of their birds over here, and some of the Goldfinches from the colder parts of Ireland and the UK might move south to Spain and France. So that Goldfinch on your feeder this winter might be from the hedgerow in the field at the back of the house, but it might be from much further away too! Similarly, those young pale-faced Goldfinches you saw down the road in July and August could be flying over a French vineyard as you read this!

See the map above for locations that ringed Goldfinches from Britain and Ireland have been re-caught.

How Can I Help Goldfinches? 

Kew Sunflower Hearts, 2kg

Goldfinches nest in small open-cup nests in trees, so they won't use nestboxes.

Winter feeding in gardens has been a big help to them over the last 20 years though, increasing their survival - particularly in colder winters.

See our selection of bird foods and feeders at this link, or visit our shop in our Wicklow HQ. Goldfinches particularly like sunflower hearts and nyger seed! 

This year we also have the very popular singing Goldfinch soft toy! They're soft and cuddly and play a Goldfinch call when you squeeze them! Get them at our shop at the link below, while stocks last.

We have a huge variety of pin badges in our shop, including Goldfinch - the suggested donation for a pin badge is €2 each, plus €1 p&p - or 3 for €5. They make a great stocking-filler!

Lastly, to help Goldfinches and your other garden birds you can become a member of BirdWatch Ireland. 

Our membership pack makes an ideal gift - you'll get a special free gift to help you get the most out of birdwatching, posters of Irish Birds, a Greenland White-fronted Goose pin badge, loads of leaflets on how to attract birds to your garden, and our famous Wings magazine will be delivered to your door four times per year - so it's a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year!

Under 18's and family memberships will also receive our 'Bird Detectives' magazine twice a year, filled with fun and educational activities!

I hope you've learned something new about Goldfinches through this species profile - if there's a species you'd like us to cover later in the winter please let us know on facebook or twitter!

1 comment:

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