The songbird nesting season is winding down and many have stopped singing, but yesterday one bird caught my attention. Singing loudly and flying high, American goldfinches are ready to nest.
Goldfinches are confirmed seed eaters. Unlike other songbirds, they don't feed insects to their young. Instead they wait for the seeds to ripen, then they assess the crop to choose a site where food is plentiful. This means they nest in July in Pittsburgh.
After they've paired up, the male claims his territory with a beautiful canary-like song while he slowly flutters in a wide circle above the trees. He also sings "perchicoree" in an exaggerated roller-coaster flight.
Meanwhile the female builds her nest in a secret hiding place. After she lays her eggs she spends 95% of her time incubating. She doesn't even stop to eat. Instead, her mate collects and swallows seeds, then flies his display above her. If she's hungry, she calls to him from the nest with a soft "teeteeteeteeteeteetee" sound. He then flies down and feeds her the partially digested seed.
Last summer Karen Lang and I discovered a goldfinch nest near Heinz Chapel on Pitt's campus. We saw all the displays I mentioned above - right down to the male feeding his mate - but I didn't know what I was seeing. This year I know what to look for. How happy it made me to see Mr. Goldfinch warbling above the trees at home.
It's Goldfinch Time!
(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)