Goldfinches and Niger



I have been thoroughly enjoying watching the goldfinches at our bird feeders recently. There are so many that they are going through about a feeder of sunflower seeds a day.

Male goldfinches of course are bright yellow with black wings, and a black cap.  The females look like small yellowish sparrows.  Their habitat varies from fields to open woods and orchards.  However, they also seem to do well in urban areas, no doubt influenced by the abundance of bird feeders.

Goldfinches feed almost entirely on seeds, and they are particularly fond of seeds of plants in the aster family.  That group would include wild asters of course, as well as dandelions, sunflowers and thistles.  They are particularly well known for their fondness for nyjer (niger) seed.

Nyjer is the seed from a type of thistle.  It is grown commercially, mostly for the bird seed business.  It is our desire to watch goldfinches that drives the demand for nyjer seed.  I like to keep a couple tube feeders with sunflowers and nyjer for the goldfinches.  If you do not have a tube feeder filled with sunflower seed or nyjer you are missing out on some great bird watching.  An added bonus is that sparrows do not have much of a taste for these seeds or feeding from tube feeders.

Goldfinches will not start nesting until late June or early July.  That is because of thistles!  Goldfinches construct their nests about 4-7 feet above the ground in small trees and tall shrubs.  The nest will be constructed from various kinds of plant materials.  That is not unusual.  What is rather unusual is that they line the inside of the nest with plant down, and that is typically thistle down because thistles are setting seed about that same time.

Females will lay between four and six pale blue eggs that occasionally have small brown spots.  The seed crop of thistles and other members of the aster family is usually quite high when the young hatch, so the timing works well not only for nest building, but also rearing their young. As they say, “timing is everything!”

If you do not have a hanging bird feeder with sunflowers or nyjer, go buy one and set it out (full of seed of course).  If you have one, make sure it is full. Then sit back and enjoy these “wild canaries.”

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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