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Garden Talk

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"GardenTalk", a regular feature for The Gazette, brings to you the combined experience and expertise of Holly Lake's dedicated gardeners and others. A continuing focus will be subjects of interest to anyone who has ever bought a packet of seeds or dug a hole in the ground for a plant, as well as the dedicated and sharp-eyed observers of nature. "GardenTalk" will not only inform you each issue but solicits your ideas and personal gardening experiences which you may wish to pass on to others. The hope is that "GardenTalk" will enrich us all as well as help make Holly Lake even more beautiful.
My winter visitors are here. Oh, no, I do not have company - my favorite bird, the American Goldfinch, has graced my feeders. Besides the Cardinal, few birds bring me more enjoyment during the dreary days of winter than the goldfinch.
Goldfinches are highly social creatures that travel in bouncy flocks. They appear just after sunrise and remain until late afternoon filling all the perches of all the feeders which are filled with Niger thistle and BOS (black oiled sunflower). Fueling themselves for long, chilly nights, members of the flock occasionally jockey for position in a flurry of wings but there are few disagreements. They actually seem to be amiable birds.
Goldfinches breed across southern Canada and in all but the most southerly portions of the U.S. and spend winter months from the northern tier of states to Mexico. The goldfinch remains to breed only sparingly in the far northeastern corner of Texas. Dubbed the "wild canary," the male has bright golden yellow breeding plumage with a small back cap. The wings are black with white wing bars and the black tail has white feathered edgings. As is the case with most female birds, the female Goldfinch sports a "coat" with an olive-green back and pale yellow front. Alas, she did not visit the local haberdashery and thus has no black cap. They molt twice a year - in late winter and in late summer.
These birds arrive here in November and often linger until late spring before they move northward to nest later in the season. They actually nest later than most birds. Only when the thistle and aster go to seed do they pair off. This assures a steady supply of food for their growing young. Changing mates between breeding seasons, the female only shows fidelity to her nest site often returning to her old territory every year. The nest is a compact, cuplike and can be found in a fork of a tree or shrub. It is carefully constructed of milkweed down and other plant fibers and is so tightly woven that it can hold water. The female builds the nest and has 4-6 pale bluish white eggs as her attentive mate continues to collect nesting material. Both parents feed their young regurgitated thistle and other seeds.
Primarily seed eaters, adult goldfinches on occasions consume insects and berries. This makes these birds very popular at backyard feeders. So well liked, the goldfinch has been chosen the state bird of Iowa, New Jersey and Washington.
Goldfinches appear to be plump little birds but actually are surprisingly small beneath their fluffy plumage. Weight studies in the Houston area revealed that finches lose an average of 15% of their weight overnight and gain it back by gorging on seeds throughout the day. One bird netted at 5:00 p.m. and again at 8:00 a.m. had lost 22% of its body weight. Everyday survival can be short-lived.
Just as the anticipation of the holidays excites me so does the arrival of the goldfinches and I regret seeing them leave in the spring. But while they are here, I will enjoy their cheerful chick-o-ree and flittering activity at the feeders. Yes, I do think the American Goldfinch is my favorite bird.
Ann Reynolds
Certified Master Naturalist