Meet the model – Gazza the Goldfinch
The goldfinch is a highly coloured finch with a bright red face and yellow wing patch. Sociable, often breeding in loose colonies, they have a delightful liquid twittering song and call. Their long fine beaks allow them to extract otherwise inaccessible seeds from thistles and teasels. Increasingly they are visiting bird tables and feeders. In winter many UK goldfinches migrate as far south as Spain.
The average goldfinch is 12–13 cm (4.7–5.1 in) long with a wingspan of 21–25 cm (8.3–9.8 in) and a weight of 14 to 19 g (0.49 to 0.67 oz). The sexes are broadly similar, with a red face, black and white head, warm brown upper parts, white underparts with buff flanks and breast patches, and black and yellow wings.
Male goldfinches can often be distinguished by a larger, darker red mask that extends just behind the eye. The shoulder feathers are black, whereas they are brown on the female. In females, the red face does not extend past the eye. The ivory-coloured bill is long and pointed, and the tail is forked. Goldfinches in breeding condition have a white bill, with a greyish or blackish mark at the tip for the rest of the year. Juveniles have a plain head and a greyer back but are unmistakable due to the yellow wing stripe. Adults moult after the breeding season, with some individuals beginning in July and others not completing their moult until November. After moult birds appear less colourful, until the tips of the newly grown feathers wear away.
The nest is built by the female and is generally completed within a week. The male accompanies the female, but does not contribute. The nest is neat and compact and is nearly always located several meters above the ground, hidden by leaves in the twigs at the end of small branchs . It is constructed of mosses and lichens and lined with plant down such as that from thistles. It is attached to the twigs of the tree with spider silk. A deep cup prevents the loss of eggs in windy weather. The eggs are laid at daily intervals with a typically clutch of 4-6 eggs, which are whitish with reddish-brown speckles. The eggs are incubated for 11–13 days by the female, who is fed by the male. The chicks are fed by both parents. Initially they receive a mixture of seeds and insects, but as they grow the proportion of insect material decreases. The nestlings fledge 13–18 days after hatching. The young birds are fed by both parents for a further 7–9 days. The parents typically raise two broods each year.
The goldfinch’s preferred food is small seeds and insects. It also regularly visits bird feeders in winter. In the winter, Goldfinches group together to form flocks of up to 40,.
UK breeding: 1.2 million pairs