Goldfinch on green

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The world of birds is filled with colorful species.

There’s the brilliant red Northern Cardinal and the blood red Scarlet Tanager, the rich blue Indigo Bunting, the deep blue Eastern Bluebird and the multi-hued Blue Jay, and the many bright oranges, greens, blues, reds and yellows of the various warblers.

But one of my favorites to photograph is the American Goldfinch (the subject of my photo of the week) during the few months each summer when the male sports its distinctive yellow breeding plumage. That’s what I refer to as “goldfinch season,” one of the three times each year when wildlife photography in Central Ohio is less than routine. 

There’s spring and fall, when migration increases the variety of birds in the area. And there’s goldfinch season, primarily July and August, when the male American Goldfinch sports its bright yellow breeding plumage and is active in area fields.

I photographed this male goldfinch in late July 2006 as it perched on a plant stem above a field in Slate Run Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio. The background is a blur of natural colors because I was closer to the bird than the bird was to the background plants.

The males’ bright yellow breeding plumage and black "cap" show up after the spring molt (I typically start seeing some bright-yellow males in June). But during the remainder of the year there is little distinctive about the goldfinch. Outside of the summer breeding season the male is an olive color and loses the black cap. Females remain a dull yellow-brown all year, although some will brighten slightly during the summer months. The wing and tail feathers remain black on the male year-round. The female has dark brown wing and tail feathers.

Goldfinch breed later in the year than most other birds. Courtship begins in late July and I typically start seeing juvenile goldfinch in the fields in late September. The immature goldfinch has a dull brown back and pale yellow underside. The white markings on the wings of the adult are replaced with a buff color on the juvenile.

Although American Goldfinch are plentiful in the area during summer and fall, they are still difficult to photograph. The birds blend with colors in the fields each season, which makes them difficult to see. And when one bird is startled and flies off, it’s joined by hundreds of others. So it takes quite a bit of patience to photograph goldfinch.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Date/time: July 29, 2006, 10:06 a.m.  
Location: 39°45’32.38” N 82°51’57.33” W (Show in Google Maps)  
Camera: Canon EOS 20D  
Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter: 1/1000th second
ISO: 800