Bird Watcher's General Store

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Dull Goldfinches

Dear Bird Folks,

I seem to have lost all of my male goldfinches. My feeders are full of dull looking females. What’s happened to all the males?”
– Martha, Harwich


Martha, My Dear,

Your male goldfinches are not lost; in fact, they haven’t even left your yard. Male goldfinches are still coming to your feeder, except recently they have started dressing up like females. Yes, even birds have some intriguing habits.

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, fall is a time of molting for most birds. Some birds look the same from the first day they fly until they die. Even through they molt, chickadees know that gray is a hot color and stick with it day in and day out, all year long. Other birds have different looking plumages depending on the time of year.

Male American goldfinches shine all summer long in their brilliant yellow and black colors, but in the fall, they molt into an olive drab, much like the females. Why they change colors at all is subject to much debate. The reason that we hear most has to do with camouflage. A full-colored bird can hide more easily from its enemies. That does seem to make some sense, but it doesn’t explain the year-round flashy colors of blue jays and the male northern cardinals.

So don’t worry, when next spring comes around, all your male goldfinches will switch back into their stodgy, male-mating colors just as they have for thousands of years.