A welcome splash of colour
THERE are a few flocks of colourful goldfinches flying around Teesside at the moment.
Soon these small finches, with their distinctive red, black and white heads, will be splitting into pairs in order to raise families.
Currently they can be seen in large groups, flitting around open areas where there are low plants which may still have surviving winter seeds.
If you want to see goldfinches in your garden then it may be useful to hang a feeder full of nyjer seeds. However this can be hit and miss.
One of my neighbours receives regular visits from goldfinches on his nyjer feeders and is forever buying refill seed. On the other hand I never saw a single goldfinch on my nyjer feeder before it blew down and smashed during a gale.
The shape of the goldfinch’s bill allows it to extract seeds from nyjer feeders where other birds would fail, though surprisingly the male and female goldfinches have different sized beaks.
Only the male bird can extract the seeds from teasel heads, because the its beak is longer and penetrates further.
Goldfinches are widespread in Britain, though this wasn’t always the case. In Victorian times they were very popular as cage-birds. So hundreds of thousands were trapped to satisfy the demand, which led to the species being in danger of extinction.
There is an amazing record which claims 132,000 goldfinches were trapped in Worthing in Sussex alone in 1860.
The goldfinch cause was eventually championed by the forerunner organisation to the RSPB, which set the bird on the road to recovery.
The benefits are there for all to see. There has been a flock of goldfinches on the feeders outside the RSPB Saltholme centre all winter.
This fine picture of a goldfinch was taken by Maurice Benson.
Goldfinches are often seen in mixed finch flocks during the winter, notably with greenfinches. I’ve also spotted a few greenfinches lately, which is good news because the population has been decimated by the disease trichomonosis during the past ten years.
Several species are affected by trichomonosis, but greenfinches and chaffinches have suffered more than most. The disease affects the birds’ throats and prevents them from swallowing food.
It is believed to come from infected food and water which is why we are asked to regularly scrub and disinfect our garden bird feeders.
Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org