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Hunter: Those Goldfinch

05/04/10 5:55PM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST) Commentator Edith Hunter has been watching spring arrive - at her bird feeder.

(HUNTER) I have a thistle feeder and a sunflower feeder. The traffic to and fro from these feeders is constant, especially this year with the goldfinch population.

Graham has two of each of these feeders - one pair in front of his house and one pair outside his nearby shop. Will has one of each outside his house in Cavendish. My daughter has the same outside her home in Bandana, North Carolina, and Ann Butterfield Coleman, once of Perkinsville, has the same in Witchita Falls, Texas.

From each of these people I hear constantly of the crowds and crowds of goldfinch that are at their feeders this year. This number could probably be multiplied by thousands if not millions of other bird watchers around the United States.
 
The behavior of the goldfinch at the feeders is so predictable. They arrive in a flock, and settle in for a long-time feed. There are eight little roosts on my feeder, and when the thistle feeder is full (which is not for long), every roost may be occupied, with another bird very often positioned on top of the feeder, waiting for an opening.
 
This is so different from the behavior of the chickadees on the nearby sunflower seed feeder. They bounce in, one by one, extract one sunflower seed, and then are off. The same is true of the titmice and the nuthatch.
 
When the thistle feeder is only about half full, the goldfinch will fly over and make-do with sunflower seeds. Again, they will settle in and eat seeds, while on the other side of the feeder, a chickadee may arrive, take one seed, and depart.

And, just as the goldfinch arrive in a great flock, so do they depart in the same way. In his wonderful poem, "Ornithography," Billy Collins asks, "what just frightened them into flight/ a dog's bark, a hawk overhead?" Whatever it is, off they go, in one great swoop.

But the real wonder of the goldfinch, especially as winter turns to spring, is the miraculous change in the coloring of the males. From the dull greenish brown of winter, suddenly we notice the patches of yellow, and finally the full change that so delights the eye.

I heard of it first from my Texas friend, then from Elizabeth in North Carolina, and finally the good news reached Cavendish and Weathersfield.

So, feed on little goldfinch, because we know, here in Weathersfield, in Cavendish, in North Carolinas, in Witchita Falls, Texas, and all over the United States, that you hold on your tiny backs, the glad news of the arrival of spring.
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