A wel­come splash of colour

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

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 eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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