NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

March 1, 2008

Words on birds: Goldfinches need food, water and habitat

Some of my customers have started seeing goldfinches again and wondered where the birds had gone. They were surprised to learn that the goldfinches never left — they merely had changed into their drab olive winter apparel. Now, a few of the males are starting to show a little more yellow in the face. As spring approaches (and it will, despite the weather) male goldfinches will slowly turn back to their yellow and black breeding or alternate plumage. Even the females will appear more yellow in the months ahead.

The best way to attract goldfinches is to be aware of their feeding habits and preferences, habitat, nesting and water needs. Their favorite foods are hulled sunflower, black-oil sunflower and nyger thistle. There are also finch mixes that combine thistle with fine hulled sunflower.

Goldfinches travel and feed in flocks. It is, therefore, important to have several places for them to feed so that there isn't too much "waiting in line" to get food. They also don't like competition from other species as they will often give up and fly away when crowded out by other birds.

Fortunately, most of their desired seed can be offered in a feeder that won't encourage much competition. Thistle feeders or finch feeders have tiny openings that will allow goldfinches to extract the tiny thistle seed and minimize the waste associated with lightweight thistle blowing out of standard feeders. Hulled sunflower can be offered in feeders that allow only small birds to perch or cling, as goldfinches do, eliminating competition from larger birds.

Many thistle feeders have multiple ports so more birds can feed at once. Some even have spiral perches that accommodate more birds. Other designs have several tubes to feed even more finches. If too much competition comes from house finches (which are also pretty), there are "upside down" finch feeders with the port hole below the perch. Goldfinches are acrobatic and can feed upside down, whereas, the heavier house finches have a hard time with clinging and inverted feeding.

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