The sociable Goldfinch is a small, highly-coloured bird with a bright red face, yellow wing patch and delightful, liquid, twittering song and call. Juvenile birds are distinctly less showy, their buff colour and lack of face markings helping them to avoid the attention of predators.
The Goldfinch's long, fine beak allows it to extract seeds from plants that most birds find inaccessible. In summer it feeds on small plants like dandelion and groundsel along with insects. For the rest of the year it is a
specialist teasel and thistle feeder, the males accessing the teasels with their slightly longer beaks, leaving the females to monopolise the thistles. One
of the Goldfinch's earliest recorded names is ‘Thisteltuige’, an Anglo-Saxon word of the eighth century meaning 'thistle-tweaker'. If you can get close to a goldfinch feeding on a teasel you might hear the vibration as the finch shakes its beak in the seed hole to widen the gap or loosen the seed. It has to be deft with its feet and wings to hold tight as the wind blows the teasels around. The increasing popularity of nyger seeds is attracting more Goldfinches to bird-feeders.
Being predominantly seed-eaters, Goldfinches need to drink more than most other species and a reliable water-source is vital to their survival. In summer they will often drink from garden ponds.
Some Goldfinches overwinter in the UK, whilst others migrate to France, Spain and Belgium.
Goldfinches leave nesting until later in the season than most other garden birds. Their first brood hatches around June and subsequent broods hatch as late as September. They choose this strategy so that the birth of their young coincides with plentiful supplies of their preferred foods.
Goldfinches often nest in loose colonies and for security attach their nests to the high, flexible, outer branches of trees and bushes. The nest is made from grass and mud, lined with wool and camouflaged with lichen. The female lays five or six white, finely spotted eggs and the male feeds her during incubation.
The Goldfinch’s bright colours and tunefulness led to it being a popular caged bird in the 18th and 19th centuries. So many birds were taken from the wild that the species became endangered. One of the first battles the newly-founded RSPB fought was against this business but it wasn’t until 1933 that the law was changed to make the sale of wild birds illegal.