Plumage colors of American Goldfinch

The Secret of an Invisible American Goldfinch & How Nature Hides Wonders in Plain Sight

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The most gratifying moments for me standing in front of my refrigerator are – when I am making check marks on some sheets of paper on its door. The local bird supplies store where I buy my backyard birds’ food send promotional flyers in snail mail, often accompanied by delightful, informative content about birds. To my utter relish, I once received a three pages leaflet – with pictures of about forty-five birds commonly found in the state, along with their names.

Even though I keep other great help for bird identification handy, I trust and use these simple pages quite religiously for the purpose. The tangible experience of actually flipping through papers, running a finger over the pictures and stopping abruptly at the one revealing an unknown wonder of a bird – is special, and irreplaceable. Whenever I spot a different bird in my backyard, I make it a point to check mark it on the list. Each of those times, I feel a tad bit more rich, as much as a child putting a new coin in her piggy bank.

There are approximately ten thousand living and recorded bird species in the world today. So much awe-inspiring, soul enriching, serendipitous beauty on wings – for no one else but us to behold! Among the magnificent array of the Earth’s millions of life forms, aren’t we, Homo sapiens, the only ones gifted with this singular capability to actually “see” and “feel” that beauty?

The rest – animals, birds, insects, even though can see one another (and perhaps can also see many more things that we can’t,) can not, conceivably, perceive the “beauty” in other animals, birds, butterflies or trees. It’s baffling to grasp, that everything in the natural world is just for us to discover and marvel at, and yet, to do so is seldom in our priority list for a day, or sometimes, even for a whole lifetime.

Nature’s generosity knows no bounds though. Even a passing attention to her world will not go unrewarded. Sometimes you may even stumble upon an exhilarating little secret – a tiny piece of the grand puzzle called Nature.

For a long time, I have remained confused about who is who among Goldfinches, Vireos, Pine Siskins and all Yellow colored Warblers, and males and females of these all. However, for last couple of years, I started to clearly recognize at least the most distinguishable one among these similar looking birds – the American Goldfinch.



Now I knew what an American Goldfinch looked like. The male has this show-stopping, striking, bright yellow plumage on body, back, and face. There’s a black cap on his head, his beak is short, sharp and orange. The female has almost the same appearance as the male but has a much duller color. Their body color range from grayish-white to a brighter yellow, and her back looks olive – all facts clearly shown by pictures in my trusted bird directory on the fridge door.

Whenever Goldfinches visit my feeder, I would recognize them distinctly. The gorgeous pair show up spring through summer. But as soon as fall starts, I only see the females, the dazzling yellow male is not there. I look for him hard, but the male, that impossible to miss, shining little sun on wings simply won’t come anymore. For months together, he just disappears. Until the next spring when he is visible again, as if by some magic.

Maybe in colder months the males go away somewhere, or they don’t prefer to visit feeders – gazing at the all female group of Goldfinches at the feeder one autumn morning, the layperson in me had lazily concluded. Though I was well aware that my this inference about why the male Goldfinch was not coming, would be insincere, unsophisticated and therefore wrong, I was absolutely sure about this – The male Goldfinch was not coming.

But then, If something doesn’t catch you by a totally unexpected surprise, it is not nature. If it does not outwit you, it is not nature. After all, nature hides the infinite in plain sight, as if behind an invisible curtain, one which we never bother to attempt to lift even a tiny corner of, because we think there is none.

Well, it turns out that the male Goldfinch never disappears in the first place. He is right before my eyes. All year. Even in fall and winter. I just don’t see him.

The secret behind this disappearing male Goldfinch quietly unraveled itself to me one day when I accidentally stumbled upon this great post explaining molting – the process of feather replacement in some songbirds. Around September, his plumage starts to change color and so does his beak! And he starts to look quite similar to a female – facts, not explained by my rudimentary birds guide on the fridge.

Will I still keep referring to it for bird identification? Absolutely. At least until I have ticked off all the birds on it! :)

Article ©2021 Gyaneshwari Dave

Feature Image: Peggy Dyar on Pixabay

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