I was lucky enough to have a goldfinch in my garden, and then he must have brought his friends along because I regularly had 5 or 6 guests, occasionally more. One of my feeding areas seemed to have become their hangout, the one with 2 feeders, sunflower hearts and nyger seeds. As time passed, they seemed comfortable staying for longer periods, I’d see them sat at the top of the neighbour’s tree, ready to swoop down when the coast was clear.

They were quite robust little fellows who weren’t easily intimidated by the tits or sparrows!

For the last couple of weeks they have been conspicuous by their absence, originally I thought I might have missed them, as much as I would love to, I don’t spend all of my day watching the birds, but sadly, they have definitely gone.

Have they found a new food source, might they have been frightened away or could they have migrated?

I need to delve deeper..

Migration

This simply means movement from one place to another, the process of moving from one region or country to another.

In the case of the goldfinch, we could also tag ‘usually in search of more favourable conditions for feeding’, to the end.

The goldfinch is a partial migrant.

Some of the birds do and some don’t, it is unsure why some choose to, but of those that do, the majority are female. One train of thought is that it is dependent on the severity of the winter.

It is recognised that the female migrates more readily and travels greater distances than the male.

Their search for warmer climes happens in September or October and takes the birds to southwest Europe; France, Spain and sometimes Belgium. Although, as the definition of migration suggests, not all necessarily travel abroad, some will seek out warmer regions in the U.K., usually heading down south.

I hear Clacton is nice at this time of year!

Interestingly, because the bird migrates one year, this doesn’t dictate that they will the following year. They are irregular migrators.

They begin their journey home in early spring, just in time for the breeding season to begin.

Hola amigo!

The goldfinches that opt for migration will start to prepare themselves for the arduous journey ahead by stocking their fat reserves. They will eat copious amounts of berries, seed and insects, anything that has a high fat content as this will be stored and used as energy and warmth.

They usually begin their journey at night; daytime is for feeding and resting.

The cooler night air is much better for the goldfinch to fly in, there is less risk of dehydration, they expend less energy and they experience less turbulence. The warm air thermals that rise from the ground can push them off course.

It never ceases to amaze me how one small flock of birds can navigate their way hundreds of miles and make it look so simple.

Scientists think that the goldfinch may use its keen sense of smell and follow odours, while others are assured that the bird uses its remarkable eyesight to navigate using the sun, stars and even landmarks. The earth’s magnetic field is another method they could use but it is definite that the bird uses the wind for both direction and flight power.

The goldfinch’s that do migrate feel there will be a more plentiful supply of food in a better climate.

By February, they are ready to make their incredible journey home, just in time for breeding season.

Wow!

British gardens are seeing a phenomenal incline in the number of goldfinch visitors they have. Whilst many garden bird species numbers are steadily decreasing, a BTO investigation found that the goldfinch saw an 80% increase in their population between 2002 and 2012.

Numbers continue to rise, The Great British Birdwatch saw an 11% increase in this year’s goldfinch results too.

This is probably down to all of the supplementary feeding that we offer our garden birds…

Home birds

By keeping our garden feeding stations well stocked, we are helping the bird community compliment their diets. When we provide food year round, even when trudging into the garden through the rain and snow seems hellish, we are helping our birds survive cruel conditions.

By maintaining that our feeders are full year round, sunflower hearts and nyger seed in particular, possibly influences the goldfinch’s decision not to migrate while also providing him with enough energy to endure the cold months. 

If there is a constant source of food and a safe place to nest then he has no reason to leave.

Wild life

In the wild, the goldfinch is predominantly a seedeater but they will eat insects during breeding season, this is what they feed their young on too.

The teasel is the absolute mainstay of the goldfinch’s diet. The tall brown spiky plant that will root itself in most locations, from grassland to waste ground, provides nourishment to the bird virtually all year long. Around July and August the small purple flowers die, leaving behind brown oval, spiky seed heads.

The male goldfinch is an absolute expert at using his long, narrow beak to easily tweezer the seeds from the pod.

The teasel supplies sustenance for the goldfinch from January to December and is probably a major factor in the decision of some goldfinches not to migrate.

Thistles and lavender seeds are also amongst his favourites.

He also loves dandelion seeds; I thought they were just fairies for telling the time with!

Shelter

The goldfinch is a sociable bird who likes communal living. Therefore, throughout the night, instead of heading to the comfort of a bird box, they prefer to roost in groups. I suppose there is warmth and safety in numbers.

They like to nestle together within the inner branches of a tree; oak and beech are their favourites.

There can be hundreds of birds in one group, though around forty is the usual amount found. Often mixed communities roost together, greenfinch, chaffinch and linnets all keep each other warm in perfect harmony.

The goldfinch roosts several miles from his regular feeding place so will only feed until the light begins to fade; he has a long journey ahead of him.

The chosen roosting spot might be different each night or they can revisit the same one repeatedly.

They leave once the sun is up, spending the day eating and resting.

The tiny black nyger seeds and sunflower hearts from our tables provide him with much of the protein and fats that he needs to ensure he survives a harsh winter’s night and returns to our gardens another day.

So, as you can see, some of our goldfinches are  ‘fair-weathered feathered friends’ prepared to fly hundreds of miles for sunnier climes, others are strong and tough enough to brave whatever a typical British winter can throw at it.