If I wanted to learn to fly, I would not take lessons from a Goldfinch. Not that they're poor fliers. They are actually very quick and nimble, able to turn on a dime and disappear into a thicket or a treetop before you can figure out where they went.


But the problem with a Goldfinch flight instructor is that for a Goldfinch there is no such thing as a straight line. Even when they get it in their minds to make tracks--say from one end of a field to the other--and set off with their sights on some distant tree, they take the longest route possible between two lines, bouncing through the air like they're riding an invisible roller-coaster. A quick flutter of their wings and they rise high, then they tuck in their wings and drop in a flash. Then at the bottom of the dive they open their wings, and up they go again, and down again. At the bottom of each node, they sound out a melodious tittering that says they are clearly having fun.

And then by the time they get half way across the field, they often change their minds and decide to head right back where they started, bouncing back on the same invisible rails.

I don't like roller-coasters. If I tried to keep up with a Goldfinch in flight, I'd be a “Greenfinch” before the second drop. It wouldn't be pretty.


Flight habits aside, the American Goldfinch is a common bird that is uncommonly beautiful. They build their nests much later than other birds, so August is a great time of year to find them very active gathering nesting material or thistle and other seeds to feed their brood. Then all through September, you can hear the song of the young ones who have left the nest. They constantly pester their parents for food, calling out “two-eee, two-eee,” which sounds an awful lot like “feed me, feed me” if you want it to.


During these beautiful days of autumn, if  you hear tittering overhead, look up and you will likely spot some roller-coaster-riding bundles of gold.

Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.