the sweet, ordinary sound of a bird is of goldfinch moving through the air. These little birds are so busy yelling at each other that they often forget to flap their wings, so their flight pattern is particularly bouncy. Your calls have a sparkling sound. It is the bird equivalent to the happy sound of children in a school playground during recess.
They gather on chimneys, antennas and the top branches of the trees, where they clap among themselves. Goldfinches were birds in the countryside, but they have learned to thrive in city gardens and regularly visit feeding grounds. Their ability to adjust feeding habits from the seed heads of farmland weeds to the hanging sunflower hearts and other forages of back gardens has enabled goldfinches to enjoy a boom. Unlike many other small British birds, their numbers have doubled in the past 50 years and we now have more than a million pairs here.
When you first see them up close, you can spot their red faces in front of the gold wing feathers that give them their name. These bright colors are almost too exotic and don’t look right in a London garden. Only in flight do you notice how much gold they are wearing: a thick ribbon around their wings. This is what the males show when they try to attract a mate in spring. The young birds develop gold first and later their red faces. They often escort the adults to dining places and watch them and shout what appears to be instructions.
A particularly beautiful sight at this time of year is the charm of the goldfinches, which descend on thistles, their natural source of food. Whenever you pass wasteland, listen to the happy chatter of these birds as they make their way through the silky thistle down to reach the seeds. The creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense, is often viewed as the criminal of a plant, but its honey-scented flowers give way to thick heads filled with goldfinch forage. If you see them growing anywhere, you’ve probably found a goldfinch playground.
Isabel Hardman is Associate Editor of The Spectator and author of The Natural Health Service
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