After being a drab olive for six months, my male goldfinches are beginning to put on the Ritz, molting into a new suit of bright gold feathers.
I always thought the birds’ feathers changed colors, but they don’t. The birds grow new and entirely differently colored feathers. The goldfinch is the only one in its family to undergo a complete, not a partial molt. Even the females get a touch of yellow with their new molt. In recent days, I have seen some of the old gray feathers mixed in with the newer gold ones on the male finches at the feeder.
My little flock of finches has stayed in our backyard all year. They never left. Some flocks migrate, but since I maintain plenty of food and water, my yellow friends hang around. They relish the thistles in the wire feeder, but they dearly love sunflower hearts and chips.
Goldfinches are widespread through Virginia, preferring overgrown patches of thistles and weeds along roads and wooded edges. Their populations have declined somewhat, probably due to the loss of thistle and scrub land.
Goldfinches are one of the last local species to nest, often waiting until July. A nest typically has 4 to 6 eggs and both male and female birds share chick-rearing duties.
A male goldfinch in full summer plumage is a spectacular sight. Soon, I will have an army of bright yellow warriors.