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Shnay: Long may goldfinches soar

Two goldfinches take break bird feeder. | Supplied Photo

Two goldfinches take a break on a bird feeder. | Supplied Photo

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Updated: August 9, 2012 6:13AM



Shortly after we put our bird feeders in the back yard, the goldfinches arrived to feast on the sumptuous banquet.

There are at least four or five brightly colored goldfinches that come by to nip at the feeder throughout the day. We acknowledge that their search for food is a primal concern, but we don’t know if these are the same daily visitors or that somehow word spreads in goldfinch parlance from nest to nest that dinner can be found adjacent to our shack on Shabbona.

Searches in books tell us that the average goldfinch is quite small, some weighing less than an ounce. They are not much bigger than the length of a long forefinger from nail to knuckle. Their diet is simple. Seeds satisfy their daily hunger, and bird feeders must be an avian version of a fast food take-out. No fries, please, with my sunflower seeds.

Before the recent rains, our lawn had become dormant, turning from good-enough green to a dismal shade somewhere between washed-out yellow and dirty brown. Thanks to some timely watering the purple and white petunias in the front yard were, if not thriving, at least living. Then we saw the goldfinches zipping along like little butter-colored comets, adding a flashing measure of brightness to our space.

The male goldfinch has a brilliant yellow body with rich black edges on his wings.

The first day we saw it, it was alone. The following day perhaps three or four of these bright yellow beams of life took turns at the feeders.

Not being conversant with bird psychology, we do not know if they are as cheerful as they look. Many a human has masked his annoyance behind a smile and a handshake but those splotches of color darting, swooping and honing in on food seem to be a vital if tiny life force.

We also learn from the books that goldfinches are so popular that they are the official bird of three states — Iowa, New Jersey and Washington. These perky fliers range from northern Canada in the summer to part of Mexico in the winter. The goldfinch breeding season starts in late July, and the female produces a brood only once a year.

Goldfinches seem to get along with other birds. Common finches and sparrows are not adversaries. Two young cardinals from a nearby nest and a large male cardinal also come to the feeder. There does not seem to be (please forgive me, dear reader) a pecking order. Other birds are accepted as hungry equals by the goldfinch.

Even grackles, those large pesky creatures with jet black bodies and shimmering royal blue collars work in some kind of food harmony with the goldfinches who have small beaks and often seem to bite off more than they can chew. What falls to the ground is pounced upon by the scavenging grackles. It is the same thing your dog does when a scrap of food falls from the supper table.

Birds have a long multi-million year history. It is thought that they evolved from feathered dinosaurs. Yet some say that after man disappears from this planet, roaches, who predate the dinosaurs by some 70 million years, will reign over the earth. We won’t be around to see that result, but if we could vote for a successor to humankind we would cast an absentee ballot for the common goldfinch.

Somehow, in some mysterious way, those bright blonde birds seem to uplift the soul and we can almost fly in spirit with those marvelous creatures.

Long may we both soar!



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