I am always interested to find out if my beloved garden birds practice the same ’til death us do part’ vows that humans do.
I know there are only a few birds that remain with the same partner for their entire life span, which made me wonder, do goldfinches mate for life?
Mating for life and monogamy are surprisingly different things in the bird kingdom.
Like many other bird species, the goldfinch chooses a mate and remains faithful until their chicks have fledged and flown the nest.
The pair then go their separate ways until spring rolls around and it is time to look for a new mate.
How the goldfinch chooses a mate
The goldfinch is a gregarious bird that likes to socialise. They gather in loose colonies and might often be seen in open woodland in groups of 40 or more.
It is whilst in these colonies that a mate is found. The male has an impressive courtship display, he sits on a branch alongside his chosen female and sways side to side as he serenades her. He then dips and opens his wings to show off the bright yellow banding beneath.
Once the pair have copulated they begin to prepare for their family.
The female builds a neat and tidy nest, usually cleverly balanced on the outer branches of a tree. It will have plenty of leafy cover but its high positioning keeps it secure from most predators. The male is always close by, protecting her and their small territory.
She makes the nest of grasses, moss, lichen, and any part of the thistle and teasel plant that they pull off whilst searching for food. She lines the nest with hair, wool, and other soft materials.
The goldfinch family
The mated pair choose to breed slightly later in the year than most other UK garden birds. This is thought to be so that food becomes most abundant just when there are extra mouths to feed. Clever goldfinches!
The female lays 3-7 eggs and incubates them for 10-14 days as the male feeds her and attends to her every whim. Once the chicks hatch it is a further 3 weeks until they are ready to fledge. Both parent birds care for them, even continuing to source food for them for an extra few days once they have learnt to fly.
This same breeding pair will often breed at least one more time that season, sometimes twice more. They remain monogamous to each other throughout until the final brood has left the nest.
American goldfinches don’t behave quite so well, least not the female. In each breeding season, she might mate with one or two other birds and expect the original male to raise any occurring brood as his own!
Goldfinches go their separate ways once all of their young have successfully flown.
Some head south for warmer climates, France, Belgium, even as far as Spain. Most goldfinches stay to winter relatively near to their nesting site. They flock together with many other goldfinches as there is safety and warmth in numbers.
It would seem that no, although goldfinches don’t mate for life, they do, however, form long-lasting pair bonds.
The couple gets together in early March and it is often September or October before they go their separate ways. Even then they may remain part of the same colony.
The life expectancy of the goldfinch is as great as 10-years, that is a lot of family units each bird is a part of.