Golden Days of Summer - The Late Breeders
By Sam Nunes, Environmental Educator
At the end of summer, while humans are thinking about heading to school and cooler weather, many species of birds are beginning to think about their southern migrations. This is an important time of year for one of our common feathered friends, the American Goldfinch. Starting in late July and going until early September is when the American Goldfinch breeds.
About the American Goldfinch
Although the American Goldfinch is considered to be a migrating species, they are seen year round across most of the continental United States.
They are noticed more during the late summer months because that is when the males have their bright vibrant yellow plumage to attract females. You can also hear their songs and chatter as sometimes multiple males chase around a female in efforts to win her affection.
Interestingly, American Goldfinches are some of the only songbirds that sing in flight. This is not common probably because the two behaviors are energy taxing.
During the colder months, the males have a duller color and look closer to the females.
Why do goldfinches make their nests and lay their eggs so late in the summer?
Most birds nest in the spring when the weather is just warming up and there are plenty of food resources. This is timed to go along with the insect larvae also emerging. Insects are an important food source for songbirds such as the Bluebird, Sparrows, and Chickadees. The American Goldfinch however relies on the soft seeds from plants such as milkweed and thistle to create their nests and support their vegetarian diet. The nesting period for them is timed to begin just as these seeds are beginning to arrive in the fields and meadows.
How can you help the American Goldfinch?
These birds are not very picky about the type of feeder, and can tolerate feeders swaying in the wind. They tend to prefer the sunflower and nyjer seed the most and can be found scavenging the seeds that spill over on the ground. But you can and should also make sure that you have thistle and or milkweed available nearby for them to eat and make their nests with. Providing these plants will also attract other species such as the monarch butterfly, which is dependent on the presence of milkweed for their offspring. The presence of these other insects will bring in more bird species like mentioned before. It is all connected!
The American Goldfinch is a sign of the end of summer. They tell us what habitat and plant species are around us such as milkweed, which is also an indicator of the beloved monarch butterfly. Since goldfinches are nesting at the end of the summer, when we start to notice them more, we can also expect to see monarch butterflies, who have gone through their metamorphosis and are preparing themselves for a migration. So keep your eyes and ears open for these natural signs!