Monday, February 14, 2011

Goldfinches Showing Signs of Spring

Someone said to me yesterday that days like these are why we love Minnesota. These glorious teaser days that promise spring will really return.

Today, when I looked out at our feeders, I noticed that goldfinches are starting to show signs of spring, too: they're undergoing their winter molt, changing over to their bright yellow plumage.

Look at those bright yellow feathers!

Goldfinches are the only cardueline finch to undergo two annual molts: one in the late winter and one in the fall. The Carduelis genus includes redpolls, crossbills and siskins.  Note that Purple Finches and House Finches are not part of the Carduelis genus.

The molt will continue through the spring, with the heaviest molt occurring in May. Birds will continue to molt all the way into June when the males finally become decked out in all their bright mating colors.  Watch for the males' caps to begin appearing in the next few weeks.

Researchers have long pondered the relationship between the goldfinches' late breeding cycle and their prolonged molt. Many believe that since goldfinches' diet is more heavily seed-based than other finches, their molt takes longer to bring out these vibrant colors. For science geeks, here's a pretty cool research article.

Take a close look at your finches, breath in the warm spring air and celebrate the fact that spring is quickly approaching!

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