European Goldfinch

The European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), or just Goldfinch, is a passerine bird of the finch family. It breeds across Europe, North Africa, and western and central Asia, in open, partially wooded lowlands. It is resident in the milder west of its range, but migrates from colder regions. It will also make local movements, even in the west, to escape bad weather. It has been introduced to many areas of the world.

The average Goldfinch is 5 inches long with a wingspan of 9 inches and a weight up to 0.7 ounces. The sexes are broadly similar, with a red face, black and white head, warm brown upperparts, white underparts with buff flanks and breast patches, and black and yellow wings. On closer inspection male Goldfinches can often be distinguished by a larger, darker red mask that extends just behind the eye. In females, the red face does not reach 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 grayish or blackish mark at the tip for the rest of the year. Juveniles have a plain head and a grayer back but are unmistakable due to the yellow wing stripe. Birds in central Asia have a plain gray head behind the red face, lacking the black and white head pattern of European and western Asian birds.

The food is small seeds such as thistles and teasels, but insects are also taken when feeding young. It also regularly visits bird feeders in winter. Goldfinches are attracted to back gardens in Europe and North America with specially designed birdfeeders containing niger seed. This seed of an annual from South Asia is small and black, and it seems irresistible to goldfinches. It is high in oils. Small oval slits are introduced into a polycarbonate cylinder, and at these apertures, goldfinches feed while perching on small perches perpendicular to the vertical axis of the birdfeeder. They nest in the outer twigs of tall leafy trees, laying four to six eggs which hatch in 11-14 days. In the winter they group together to form flocks of up to about 40 birds, occasionally more.

Goldfinches are commonly kept and bred in captivity around the world because of their distinctive appearance and pleasant song. The Goldfinch males are commonly crossed with Canary females with the intention to produce male mules with beautiful singing voices, that often capture the best singing attributes of both breeds.

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