November 4th – The Ubiquitous Goldfinch

The black and gold American Goldfinch is one of our commonest birds. All Winter flocks of them attend our feeders or are seen foraging in weedy fields and edges for seeds. They are vocal and communal….and I really like them. I used to think that the birds we saw here in the Winter were “local” birds. That is, they nested and lived out their lives in this immediate area. And some of them do. But banding has shown that some of “our” birds move extensively. One was recovered on Long Island, east of New York City; another was found in West Virginia; and yet another – a real long-distance flyer – was recovered just north of New Orleans, over 1,000 km away. So there’s a lot more to their story. Like many species of birds there seem to be at least two types of goldfinches: those that are pretty well sedentary spending their lives in one focused area and those that migrate or at least shift between a breeding and wintering range. There are advantages to both depending on the weather conditions in Winter. In a cold, snowy Winter those that have a sedentary life history may be in trouble. On the other hand, in mild Winters they won’t have subjected themselves to the stress of long-distance flights into areas that they’re unfamiliar with – both in terms of food sources and possible predators. It’s a trade-off.

Right now we’re banding a lot of goldfinches – 245 in the last week alone, including 31 today. We’re also getting a lot of “older” birds that we’ve banded in previous years. Some of these we’ve retrapped multiple times, indicating that they’re likely birds that stay around, whereas some are being recaught for the first time. For example on November 1st we retrapped a female goldfinch that we had banded exactly 2 years ago, in 2008. We have not encountered that bird since then. Where has it been? Is it a local bird that simply has foraged in the vicinity but has escaped recapture or is it a migrant passing through that remembered there’s an abundant food source here that she can fatten up on. So many questions, so little time.

We had another interesting retrap: an American Tree Sparrow that was initially banded in early April 2009. It may have spent the Winter in the Ruthven vicinity or may have been just passing through. Either way, it liked what it saw as it returned last Winter and we recaught it in February. It’s now back again for another Winter.

We had a pretty interesting day with an influx of sparrows and a “hit” from a mixed flock of blackbirds and starlings. I think the poor weather conditions (light drizzle and cloud early in the morning) grounded the migrants that were around and kept them close to the ground, at net height.

Banded 83:
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 European Starling
1 Myrtle Warbler
15 American Tree Sparrows
1 Fox Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
4 White-throated Sparrows
11 Dark-eyed Juncos
7 Red-winged Blackbirds
6 Rusty Blackbirds
2 House Finches
31 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 38:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
6 Black-capped Chickadees
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Brown Creeper
2 Hermit Thrushes
1 American Tree Sparrow
1 Fox Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
1 White-throated Sparrow
12 Dark-eyed Juncos
9 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 34 spp.


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