Ian’s Bird of the Week – European Goldfinch

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Female by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – European Goldfinch ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 1/21/15

Last week I mentioned that the Zebra Finch was an Estrildid or Grass Finch (family Estrildidae) without exploring the significance of this, so here is a taxonomically quite different finch, the European Goldfinch (family Fringillidae), to continue the subject. Choosing it was prompted by an email from some English friends of mine currently in New Zealand who expressed disappointment that most of the birds seemed to be ones introduced from the British Isles, naming in particular the Goldfinch. So here is a photo of one that I took in its native habitat, when staying with these friends in 2001 on Alderney one of the smaller inhabited Channel Islands off the coast of France.

It was introduced to Australia as well in the 1860s and is quite widespread in the southeastern mainland and on Tasmania. It’s an attractive bird with a canary-like song and like the Zebra Finch a popular cage bird. So it’s not surprising that homesick settlers introduced it. It does well in farmland, parks and gardens but not in native vegetation.

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Male by IanThe sex of adult Goldfinches can be told from their plumage, even though they are very similar and most field guides don’t make the distinction. It’s a bit like those Spot the Difference puzzles, so here, second photo, is an Irish male to compare with the female in the first. The pale cheeks on the female are buff, those on the male white. The red bib on the female is rounded, on the male more rectangular. The female usually has a complete buff breast band; the male just has buff breast patches separate by white. The male is also whiter underneath. There are other subtle differences not apparent in these photos such as the amount of white on the tail.

PAS-Frin European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Juvenile by IanYou can tell from their stout conical bills that they are seed-eaters, and any such vaguely sparrow-like bird is likely to be called a ‘finch’. In temperate zones seeds are available mainly in spring and autumn, so dietary versatility is needed. The male is chomping its way through the buds and flowers of Hawthorn and Goldfinches will also feed on invertebrates. Their favourite food is the seeds of thistles and their, by finch standards, relatively pointed bills are adapted to picking out seeds from among thorns, like the juvenile bird in the third photo in autumn. Its plumage, apart from the black and yellow wings, is mainly brown and streaked with no red or black on the head, and almost pipit-like.

The juveniles acquire the adult plumage during the first autumn moult, and the rather scruffy individual in the fourth photo is in mid-transition. This photo shows the very pointed bill, even if the owner is looking a bit doubtful about the even scruffier thistle head.

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Juvenile by IanGetting around to the taxonomy at last, the various groups of finch-like birds have caused and still cause avian taxonomists many headaches, and I don’t want to trigger any more here. It is sufficient to say that the approximately 700 global species of finch-like birds belong to several separate lineages, currently separated at the level of family.

The Fringillidae to which the Goldfinch belongs, sometimes called the ‘true’ finches (by the Europeans of course) have an almost global distribution but are completely absent, naturally, from Australasia. The Estrildidae, which include all the native Australian grass finches, occur only in Africa, southern and southeast Asia and Australasia (but not New Zealand).

The African members belong to a group called Waxbills, the Asian ones are mainly Munias or Mannikins and the grass finches are predominantly Australian. The Estrildids occur mainly in tropical or sub-tropical regions, and only in Australia have some Firetails ventured into cooler areas: notably the Red-eared Firetail in SW Western Australia and the Beautiful Firetail in the SE mainland and Tasmania.

I’m in danger of getting carried away here, so I’ll stop. Here are some links if you want to explore their photos further: FringillidaeEstrildidae and I haven’t even mentioned the other finch-like birds such as the Sparrows  Buntings and New World SparrowsNew World OriolesWeaversTanagersCardinals


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland: iTunes; Google Play Kobo Books
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Lee’s Addition:

they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. (Genesis 7:14-15 NKJV)

More beautiful birds to check out from Ian. Thanks, Ian. If you check out his links, you will find some very nice photos.


Ian’s Bird of the Week


The Gorgeous Goldfinch – from The Curious Book of Birds

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) on Thistle by Fenton

American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) on Thistle by Fenton

The Gorgeous Goldfinch ~ from The Curious Book of Birds


Cur Book of Birds letter-tHE Goldfinch who lives in Europe is one of the gaudiest of the little feathered brothers. He is a very Joseph of birds in his coat of many colors, and folk often wonder how he came to have feathers so much more gorgeous than his kindred. But after you have read this tale you will wonder no longer.

You must know that when the Father first made all the birds they were dressed alike in plumage of sober gray. But this dull uniform pleased Him no more than it did the birds themselves, who begged that they might wear each the particular style which was most becoming, and by which they could be recognized afar.

So the Father called the birds to Him, one by one, as they stood in line, and dipping His brush in the rainbow color-box painted each appropriately in the colors which it wears to-day. (Except, indeed, that some had later adventures which altered their original hues, as you shall hear in due season.)

But the Goldfinch did not come with the other birds. That tardy little fellow was busy elsewhere on his own affairs and heeded not the Father’s command to fall in line and wait his turn for being made beautiful.

So it happened that not until the painting was finished and all the birds had flown away to admire themselves in the water-mirrors of the earth, did the Goldfinch present himself at the Father’s feet out of breath.

“O Father!” he panted, “I am late. But I was so busy! Pray forgive me and permit me to have a pretty coat like the others.”

“You are late indeed,” said the Father reproachfully, “and all the coloring has been done. You should have come when I bade you. Do you not know that it is the prompt bird who fares best? My rainbow color-box has been generously used, and I have but little of each tint left. Yet I will paint you with the colors that I have, and if the result be ill you have only yourself to blame.”

The Father smiled gently as He took up the brush which He had laid down, and dipped it in the first color which came to hand. This He used until there was no more, when He began with another shade, and so continued until the Goldfinch was completely colored from head to foot. Such a gorgeous coat! His forehead and throat were of the most brilliant crimson. His cap and sailor collar were black. His back was brown and yellow, his breast white, his wings golden set off with velvet black, and his tail was black with white-tipped feathers. Certainly there was no danger of his being mistaken for any other bird.

When the Goldfinch looked down into a pool and saw the reflection of his gorgeous coat, he burst out into a song of joy. “I like it, oh, I like it!” he warbled, and his song was very sweet. “Oh, I am glad that I was late, indeed I am, dear Father!”

But the kind Father sighed and shook His head as He put away the brush, exclaiming, “Poor little Goldfinch! You are indeed a beautiful bird. But I fear that the gorgeous coat which you wear, and which is the best that I could give you, because you came so late, will cause you more sorrow than joy. Because of it you will be chased and captured and kept in captivity; and your life will be spent in mourning for the days when you were a plain gray bird.”

And so it happened. For to this day the Goldfinch is persecuted by human folk who admire his wonderful plumage and his beautiful song. He is kept captive in a cage, while his less gorgeous brothers fly freely in the beautiful world out of doors.

Cur Book of Birds img4-full

Such a gorgeous coat!

Such a gorgeous coat!

Lee’s Addition:

Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23 NKJV)

This is the first story to be published here from the Curious Book of Birds by Abbie Farwell Brown. This was published in 1903 and is in the public domain. The stories are cute and enjoyable to read. They will be under “From the Past” authors.

They are good stories, but not all the facts are right. 
Just enjoy them anyway. 
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) by W Kwong

European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) by W Kwong


European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) by W Kwong



   Fringillidae – Finches Family




Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) ©©Flickr



  Bird Tales




Curious Book of Birds - Cover



  The Curious Book of Birds



Spanish Sparrow (Passer Hispaniolensis) female ©WikiC




  Wordless Birds