Where Have All the Goldfinches Gone?

Lesser Goldfinches (Spinus psaltria) Decline

1-B0000254These fussy little birds have been common around my Lesser Goldfinchhouse for years.  I feed them thistle seeds, let Barnyard Grass (usually considered a weed) grow in patches, and I plant lots of native sunflowers. Through summer the finches switch between pecking thistle-seeds and nibbling sunflower leaves, and later they add Barnyard Grass and sunflower seeds. Dozens of birds were always present most of the year, but they have almost disappeared over the past two years.

Photo above:  (December, 2004) I fed goldfinches with this thistle seed feeder (on the left) for several years, but it was so hard to clean I switched to a bag made by my friend Sheila.

In winter the five-pound bag of thistle seeds would last three days.

In winter the birds would empty a five-pound bag of thistle seeds in three days (March, 2007)

Last year (2014), birds visited the thistle bag, but they never emptied it. They pecked only a few sunflower leaves.  No birds came during fall and winter.  This year (2015), I saw goldfinches on the thistle bag only once, and they pecked no leaves.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department ranks Lesser Goldfinches as “common, widespread, and abundant.”  However, this might be changing.  The birds prefer disturbed weedy areas, but the deluge of herbicides sprayed on pastures, crops, yards, and roadsides has wiped out much of this habitat.  Like Monarch Butterflies, the Goldfinches may turn out to be unintended victims of Monsanto’s war on nature.

The editor of my hometown newsletter agreed to run a short note asking if anyone else had noticed a Lesser Goldfinch decline.  The town staff must have considered the note inappropriate.  They removed it, leaving an empty space in its place.

I washed the thistle-seed bag and filled it with fresh seeds. I hope the Goldfinches return and fill the empty spaces on my feeders and sunflowers.

If you have noticed changes in your goldfinch population, please add a comment.

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