Not the most sullen sky nor the bitterest cold seems to discourage Goldfinches. They are always cheerful and affectionate, keeping together for the greater part of the year in larger or smaller flocks, which call to each other, if separated, by notes as sweet as those of a Canary. In summer, Goldfinches find an abundance of food in the seeds of many species of plants, but in winter also many remain even in the Northern States, searching cheerfully among the dry weeds and grasses, and uttering their sweet notes. Many people, however, do not notice them at this season, for when winter comes the head and body of the males of this species, as of many others, lose the bright black and yellow which marks them so distinctly in summer, and are clothed in dull brownish shades. About the first of April, one notices here and there in a flock a male that shows a few bright yellow feathers, and by another month, they have moulted their winter dress and are as gay as ever.
In the spring and early summer, the Goldfinches are extremely musical, spending hours in uttering a simple but pleasing song. Several males now engage in what seems to be a musical contest, flying out from a tree and circling about with set wings, all the time keeping up a continual strain. When flying through the air at a considerable height, they go in long curves, and utter during each undulation three or four simple notes. As they seem constantly to have business in one part or other of the country, the wave-like flight and characteristic notes become a common feature of the summer landscape.
Though the Goldfinches are here all winter, they delay nesting till very much later than the other resident birds; the Chickadees have their first brood already out in the world by the time the Goldfinches determine on building. The female is a modest-colored little body, as is often the case where the male is bright. The pair generally builds in July, and chooses some thick leafy tree, often a maple or poplar, and there, on a limb at a considerable height from the ground, construct a very neat nest, deep and cup-shaped, built of fine materials and lined with down from plants like the thistle. Here five or six bluish white eggs are laid, and when in another month the young Goldfinches begin to fly, it is at once evident from their sharp, insistent crying. As the calling of the young Orioles is a mark of late June, so the notes of the young Goldfinches become associated with August.
Goldfinches are very fond of the seeds of many kinds of composite flowers; they bite holes in unripe dandelion heads and take out the seeds; thistles are another favorite food, and a row of sunflowers planted in the garden will not fail to attract them. In winter, besides the seeds of weeds, they feed on birch seeds, scattering the scales over the snow, and they even pull out the seeds of the pitch pine, when the scales begin to loosen toward spring.
No bird has livelier, more cheerful ways than our Goldfinch, and none becomes a greater favorite. People are often at considerable pains to remove the dandelion plants from their lawns; if the gay flowers themselves do not repay one for their presence, many would certainly allow them to remain in order to have the pleasant spectacle, in summer, of a flock of yellow Goldfinches scattered about the grass and feeding on the seeds.