A Goldfinch in Winter is a bird that may be one to give a second look. Cornell wrote an article in their quarterly guide All About Birds, on the American Goldfinch. In it they ask, “Which three birds are these? An American Goldfinch, a Snow Bunting and a Pine Siskin?”
It was a trick question because all three were Goldfinches, all just in a different winter attire. And yes, it is still winter here with an added foot of snow this week. I guess the little birds might want to still keep on their warm coats.
The American Goldfinch wears a few different winter coats too. They vary in plumage from pale olive, to whitish like you might see in a Snow Bunting. I am not sure with the lack of breast streaking, dabs of yellow of the face and throat on the Goldfinch how they resemble a Pine Siskin though? The Snow Bunting also seems distinctive to me, being what I think a prettier bird in winter since they don’t moult to an alternate or duller plumage, plus they have that soft-as-driven-snow coloring.
Cornell’s article explains the winter plumage variance of the Goldfinch quite well. It is due to age and sex of the bird. Males are likely to be a bit more colorful than females, even when dressed in the drab yellow plumage.
Over the winter season, the birds might wear down the feathers or the feathers may get bleached from the sun, giving them a whiter appearance. Goldfinches also get darker beaks in fall and winter.
I take notice of these things and it perks my curiosity. I do like how the males get a makeover come Spring. Wow, do they become a brilliant yellow. I did try to find out why goldfinches molt to drab yellow, but could not find a good reason. After all, Cardinals molt to flashy red and become more vivid. So this intrigued me. All I could find out was it was to protect the goldfinch from becoming prey, but I think there must be another reason these guys cross-dress like the ladies.
In my research, I came across a site that shows these birds up close in all seasons. If you are as inquisitive as me, check this out. My post only shows birds visiting my feeder in winter. I have summer shots also, but most people recognize a goldfinch because of the very bright yellow plumage.
Ever notice that nearly all of the birds that hang around in the winter do so in flocks?
Being in a flock makes it less likely that something will eat you, yes, by one of these.
Other birds let you know the best seed locations too. Mixed flock behavior has many benefits for small songbirds such as these Goldfinch.
The Goldfinch in my yard came in a small flock to mix in with dove, cardinals, sparrows, Black-eyed Juncos, chickadee and nuthatch.
When the feeders are free of Starlings and Sparrows, the Goldfinch fly in and eat as much as they can, as fast as they can.