goldfinsh and canaries

Sunday, 10 October 2010


The European Goldfinch or Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) is a small passerine bird in the finchfamily.
The goldfinch breeds across EuropeNorth Africa, and western and central Asia, in open, partially wooded lowlands. It is resident in the milder west of its range, but migrates from colder regions. It will also make local movements, even in the west, to escape bad weather. It has been introduced to many areas of the world.

The average Goldfinch is 12–13 cm long with a wingspan of 21–25 cm and a weight of 14 to 19 grams. The sexes are broadly similar, with a red face, black and white head, warm brown upperparts, white underparts with buff flanks and breast patches, and black and yellow wings. On closer inspection male Goldfinches can often be distinguished by a larger, darker red mask that extends just behind the eye. In females, the red face does not reach the eye. The ivory-coloured bill is long and pointed, and the tail is forked. Goldfinches in breeding condition have a white bill, with a greyish or blackish mark at the tip for the rest of the year. Juveniles have a plain head and a greyer back but are unmistakable due to the yellow wing stripe. Birds in central Asia (canicepsgroup) have a plain grey head behind the red face, lacking the black and white head pattern of European and western Asian birds


The species is divided into two major groups, each comprising several races. The two groups intergrade at their boundary, so the caniceps group is not recognised as a distinct species despite its readily distinguishable plumage.
Carduelis carduelis carduelis group.
  • Carduelis carduelis balcanica. Southeastern Europe.
  • Carduelis carduelis brevirostris. Crimea, north Caucasus.
  • Carduelis carduelis britannica. British Isles.
  • Carduelis carduelis carduelis. Most of European mainland, Scandinavia.
  • Carduelis carduelis loudoni. South Caucasus, Iran.
  • Carduelis carduelis major. Western Siberia.
  • Carduelis carduelis niediecki. Southwest Asia, northeast Africa.
  • Carduelis carduelis parva. Atlantic Macaronesic Islands (Canary I.Madeira), Iberia[citation needed] , northwest Africa.
  • Carduelis carduelis tschusii. Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily.
Carduelis carduelis caniceps group.
  • Carduelis carduelis caniceps. Southern central Asia.
  • Carduelis carduelis paropanisi. Afghanistan to western Himalaya and Tien Shan.
  • Carduelis carduelis subulata. South-central Siberia.
Linnaeus classified the bird as Fringilla carduelis.


Feeding on thistles - note thistledown in bill

A goldfinch nest and eggs.
The goldfinch's preferred food is small seeds such as those from thistles (the Latin name is from Carduus, a genus of thistles) and teasels, but insects are also taken when feeding young. It also regularly visits bird feeders in winter. They nest in the outer twigs of tall leafy trees, or even in bamboo, laying four to six eggswhich hatch in 11–14 days.
In the winter goldfinches group together to form flocks of up to forty birds, occasionally more.
The song is a pleasant silvery twittering. The call is a melodic tickeLIT, and the song is a pleasant tinkling medley of trills and twitters, but always including the trisyllabic call phrase or a teLLIT-teLLIT-teLLIT.
In earlier times, the Goldfinch was kept as a cagebird for its song. Escapes from captivity and deliberate releases have colonised southeastern Australia and New Zealand.

Two on a garden birdfeeder in the UK
Goldfinches are attracted to back gardens in Europe and North America by birdfeeders containingniger (commercially described as nyjer) seed. This seed of an annual from South Asia is small, and high in oils. Special polycarbonate feeders with small oval slits at which the Goldfinches feed are sometimes used.

Relationships with humans

Captive Carduelis carduelis caniceps
Goldfinches are commonly kept and bred in captivity around the world because of their distinctive appearance and pleasant song. The Goldfinch males are sometimes crossed with Canary females with the intention to produce male mules with beautiful singing voices, that often capture the best singing attributes of both breeds.

Madonna of the Goldfinch by Raphael, (c. 1505-1506)
Because of the thistle seeds it eats, in Christian symbolism the Goldfinch is associated with the Passion and Christ's Crown of Thorns. The Goldfinch, appearing in pictures of the Madonna and the Christ Child, represents the foreknowledge Jesus and Mary had of the Crucifixion. Examples include the Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted (c. 1505-1506) by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael, in which John the Baptist offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future. In Barocci's Holy Family a goldfinch is held in the hand of John the Baptist who holds it high out of reach of an interested cat. In Cima da Conegliano's Madonna and Child, a goldfinch flutters in the hand of the Christ Child. It is also an emblem of endurance, fruitfulness, and persistence. Because it symbolizes the Passion, the goldfinch is considered a "saviour" bird and may be pictured with the common fly (which represents sin and disease).[4] The Goldfinch is also associated with Saint Jerome and appears in some of his depictions.[4]
Antonio Vivaldi composed a Concerto in D major for Flute "Il Gardellino" (RV 428, Op. 10 No. 3), where the singing of the Goldfinch is imitated by a flute.


  1. ^ Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic concise ed. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  2. ^ Clement, P., Harris, A., & Davis, J. (1993). Finches & Sparrows. Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-8017-2.
  3. ^ Svensson, L. (1992). Identification Guide to European Passerines. ISBN 91-630-1118-2.
  4. a b Werness, Hope B. (2007). Animal Symbolism in World Art. Continuum. ISBN 0826419135.


The Canary (Serinus canaria), also called the Island CanaryAtlantic Canary or Common Canary, is a small passerine bird belonging to the genus Serinus in the finch family, Fringillidae. It is native to the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira. Wild birds are mostly yellow-green, with brownish streaking on the back. The species is common in captivity and a number of colour varieties have been bred.
This bird is the natural symbol of the Canary Islands, together with the Canary Island Date Palm.[2]


It is approximately 12.5 cm long, with a wingspan of 20–23 cm and a weight of 15–20 g.[3] The male has a largely yellow-green head and underparts with a yellower forehead, face andsupercilium.[4] The lower belly and undertail-coverts are whitish and there are some dark streaks on the sides. The upperparts are grey-green with dark streaks and the rump is dull yellow.[5] The female is similar to the male but duller with a greyer head and breast and less yellow underparts.Juvenile birds are largely brown with dark streaks.
It is about 10% larger, longer and less contrasted than its relative the serin, and has more grey and brown in its plumage and relatively shorter wings.[3]
The song is a silvery twittering similar to the songs of the serin and citril finch.


'GENUS - Serinus (serins), 'SPECIES' - caneria (canary) Classified by Linnaeus in 1758 in his Systema Naturae. Linnaeus originally classified the canary as a subspecies of the European serin and assigned them to the genus 'Fringilla'. Decades later, Cuvier reclassified them into the genus Serinus and there they have remained. The canary's closest relative is the European serin, and the two can produce on average 25% fertile hybrids if crossed.[6]


The bird is named after the Canary Islands, not the other way around. The islands' name is derived from the Latin name canariae insulae("islands of dogs") used by Arnobius, referring to the large dogs kept by the inhabitants of the islands.[7] A legend of the islands, however, states that it was the conquistadors who named the islands after a fierce tribe inhabiting the largest island of the group, known as the 'Canarii'. The colour canary yellow is in turn named after the yellow domestic canary, produced by a mutation which suppressed the melanins of the original dull-greenish wild canary colour.

[edit]Distribution and habitat

It is endemic to the Canary Islands, Azores and Madeira in the region known as Macaronesia in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. In the Canary Islands, it is common on TenerifeLa GomeraLa Palma and El Hierro, but more local on Gran Canaria, and rare on Lanzarote andFuerteventura, where it has only recently begun breeding.[5][8] It is common in Madeira including Porto Santo and the Desertas Islands, and has been recorded on the Salvage Islands. In the Azores, it is common on all islands.[5] The population has been estimated at 80,000-90,000 pairs in the Canary Islands, 30,000-60,000 pairs in the Azores and 4,000-5,000 pairs in Madeira.[3]
It occurs in a wide variety of habitats from pine and laurel forests to sand dunes. It is most common in semiopen areas with small trees such as orchards and copses. It frequently occurs in man-made habitats such as parks and gardens. It is found from sea-level up to at least 760 m in Madeira, 1100 m in the Azores and to above 1500 m in the Canary Islands.[3]
It has become established on Midway Atoll in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, where it was first introduced in 1911. It was also introduced to neighbouring Kure Atoll, but failed to become established.[9] Birds were introduced to Bermuda in 1930 and quickly started breeding, but they began to decline in the 1940s after scale insects devastated the population of Bermuda cedar, and by the 1960s they had died out.[10] The species also occurs in Puerto Rico, but is not yet established there.[11]



It is a gregarious bird which often nests in groups with each pair defending a small territory. The cup-shaped nest is built 1–6 m above the ground in a tree or bush, most commonly at 3–4 m.[5] It is well-hidden amongst leaves, often at the end of a branch or in a fork. It is made of twigs, grass, moss and other plant material and lined with soft material including hair and feathers.[3]
The eggs are laid between January and July in the Canary Islands, from March to June with a peak of April and May in Madeira and from March to July with a peak of May and June in the Azores. They are pale blue or blue-green with violet or reddish markings concentrated at the broad end. A clutch contains 3 to 4 or occasionally 5 eggs and 2-3 broods are raised each year. The eggs are incubated for 13–14 days and the young birds leave the nest after 14–21 days, most commonly after 15–17 days.[3]


It typically feeds in flocks, foraging on the ground or amongst low vegetation. It mainly feeds on seeds such as those of weeds, grasses andfigs. It also feeds on other plant material and small insects.[3] It has also been found that canaries need gravity to swallow, thus leading to death from dehydration in zero gravity conditions such as space.[12]

[edit]Relationship with humans

Domestic canary
This species is often kept as a pet; see Domestic Canary for details. Selective breeding has produced many varieties, differing in colour and shape. Yellow birds are particularly common, while red birds have been produced by interbreeding with the red siskins. Canaries were formerly used by miners to warn of dangerous gases ("canary in a coal mine"). The bird is also widely used in scientific research. Canaries are often depicted in the media with Tweety Bird being a well-known example.

[edit]See also

[edit]External links


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Serinus canaria. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesIUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern.
  2. ^ Ley 7/1991, de 30 de abril, de símbolos de la naturaleza para las Islas Canarias - in spanish
  3. a b c d e f g h Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic concise ed. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  4. a b Clement, P., Harris, A., & and Davis, J. (1993). Finches and Sparrows. Helm ISBN 0-7136-8017-2.
  5. a b c d Tony Clarke, Chris Orgill & Tony Dudley (2006) Field Guide to the Birds of the Atlantic Islands, Christopher Helm, London.
  6. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, A.; Álvarez-Tejado, M.; Ruíz-del-Valle, V.; Garcĺa-de-la-Torre, C.; Varela, P.; Recio, M. J.; Ferre, S. & Martinez-Laso, J. (1999) "Rapid Radiation of Canaries (Genus Serinus)", Molecular Biology and Evolution, 16(1): 2-11.
  7. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  8. ^ Clarke, Tony & Collins, David (1996). A Birdwatchers' Guide to the Canary Islands. Prion, Huntingdon. ISBN 1-871104-06-9.
  9. ^ Pratt, H. Douglas; Bruner, Philip L. & Berrett, Delwyn G. (1987). A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific, Princeton University Press, Chichester.
  10. ^ Amos, Eric J. R. (1991). A guide to the Birds of Bermuda.
  11. ^ American Ornithologists Union (1998). Checklist of North American Birds, 7th ed.
  12. ^;id=2828;comm=0

The goldfinch is one of Britain’s favourite and most attractive birds. They were once a popular pet due to their colourful plumage and enchanting singing, but now you may spot this little bird swinging on branches or twittering away in your garden.
Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 21-25.5cm
Conservation Status: Green
Description: Goldfinches are one of our prettiest birds and easily distinguished by their bright colour scheme and characteristic markings. They have a distinctive red face with a white patch behind the eye and a black crown and nape. They have a yellow wing patch, black tails and a long pointed bill. Female GoldfinchBoth sexes look similar but juveniles have a grey-brown spotted plumage and lack the face markings of the adult bird which they acquire in autumn.
Nesting:Goldfinches nest in orchards, parks, gardens, villages and anywhere there are tall deciduous trees. They construct their cup shaped nests high in trees and bushes using stems, moss and plant wool and sometimes even decorate the outside of their nests with flowers! They produce 2 broods of 4-6 reddish patterned eggs which they incubate for 12-13 days.
Feeding: Outside of breeding season goldfinches form nomadic flocks, called ‘charms’ and these charms are often spotted feeding in fields and on road verges. They love seeds, buds, insects, dandelions, burdock and thistles in particular, and use their slender, tweezer like bills for extracting seeds from plants and flowers. Juvenile GoldfinchThey will feed at bird tables in your garden but prefer swinging acrobatically on hanging seed feeders.

Male Goldfinch

Foods to attract Goldfinches


Canary food:

The food requirements of canaries are very simple. The prime requisite is a supply of canary seed to which is added a small quantity of rape seed and a little hemp seed. Persons having only a few birds usually buy this seed ready mixed from dealers.

The seed should be clean, well matured, and not old. If canaries do not seem to thrive it is well to examine the seed supply and crack open a few of the seeds to make certain that empty husks alone are not being fed. Too much hemp seed should be avoided, as it is very fattening.

In addition to this staple diet, lettuce, chickweed, or a bit of apple should be placed between the wires of the cage frequently. Bread that has been moistened in scalded milk, given cold, is also beneficial at times. If supplies of moist food are not kept strictly fresh and clean, bacterial diseases may result. In feeding moist foods. special dishes with holders that slip in through the wires of the cage are recommended. These are sometimes known as food holders or slides. Soft foods must not be made too wet. In the case of bread, enough liquid to soften the food, but not to run or to render it a paste, is sufficient. Perhaps once a week egg food may be given. This is prepared by mincing an entire hard-boiled egg and adding to it an equal quantity of bread or unsalted cracker crumbs. Care should be taken to use this egg food only when fresh.

Cuttle bone should always be available to the canary, and at times it is well to give prepared foods that may be secured from dealers. During the breeding season egg food can be given daily as soon as the birds are paired. It may be discontinued or given at intervals of three or four days when the female is incubating. The yolk of hard-boiled egg only may be given for the first day after the young hatch. Bread crumbs are added to this gradually, until on the third day egg food as ordinarily prepared is supplied. The usual seed supply should always be present, no matter what other food is given. Attempt should be made to regulate the supply of egg food or other soft food so that all is eaten without waste. The actual quantity will vary with individual birds.

When the young are four or five days old green food may be fed, but egg food must be given until they are fully grown and able to crack canary seed for themselves. Meal worms occasionally are good for birds that are not thriving. For delicate birds, rape seed soaked in water over night and carefully drained until dry is beneficial. When the old birds are caring for well-grown young, feeding cracked hemp seed will lighten their labor.



The delicate Goldfinch has beauty and charm in abundance.
This small finch is strikingly colourful with its mixture of red, white and black on the head, golden brown body and bright yellow wing bars.
Looking more closely, the lores and crown are black, the chin and forehead are red and the cheeks are white. The body is predominantly golden or tawny brown, but the belly and rump are white. The wings are mostly black with a large striking yellow band. The bill varies from pinkish to pale grey, and the legs are flash coloured.

Goldinch (Rear)GoldinchJuvenile Goldfinch

The sexes are similar except that the male's red face extends slightly behind the eye.
Juveniles are generally a dull brown with darker streaking on the body, and lack the red, black and white markings on the head.


Choose from Quicktime and mp3.SongCall
Quicktime mp3Quicktime mp3

 A pleasant rambling twitter or tinkling best describes the most common call of the Goldfinch.

The delightful song is a composition of this call and other rattling notes and is sometimes accompanied by the "pivoting display" in which the male drops its wings slightly and pivots from side to side.
Goldfinches used to be commonly kept as caged birds because of their colourful plumage and enchanting singing.


Goldfinches feed on various tree seeds, such as alder and birch, and on thistle, teasel and dandelion seeds, which it can obtain owing to its thin bill and light weight.
Niger seed and teasels may attract them in gardens, especially if there are no fields nearby with thistles and dandelions, but they will also feed on sunflower hearts.


The cup-shaped nest is built by the female with moss, grass and lichen, and lined with wool and plant down. The nest is usually in a tree towards the end of a branch or in a bush, and often in large gardens and orchards, but also in open woodland and hedgerows.
The smooth, glossy eggs are pale blue with reddish markings, and about 18 mm by 13 mm. Incubation is by the female only. The young are fed by both parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding StartsNumber of ClutchesNumber of EggsIncubation (days)Fledge (days)
late April2-33-710-1413-18


Some of our breeding birds migrate to the south-western Europe, e.g. France and Spain. Interestingly, many more of these birds are females than males, and birds that migrate one year will not necessarily migrate in others. The autumn population is increased by the passage of European birds down eastern Britain.
They make the most use of our gardens at the same time in late spring every year - between returning from their wintering grounds and the start of breeding, and at a time when natural food resources are at their lowest. More interestingly, this finch is increasingly using garden bird feeders, this may be because natural resources are in steady decline or more gardens are offering niger seed and sunflower hearts, which are both high energy foods that Goldfinches seem to prefer.


The Goldfinches have more or less recovered from a serious decline in the 1970s and 80s that was possibly caused by increased use of herbicides, but changing agricultural practices still threaten this bird. Consequently, they are subject to a Medium BTO Alert.

Introduction to the Pet Canary
  • Species: Serinus canaria
  • Actually a member of the finch family, native to the Canary Islands
  • The wild canary is greenish yellow over most of their body with yellow underparts. The domestic canary comes in an array of bright colors.
  • Canaries can live up to 10 years.
  • Males canaries sing better than females, although the canary may not sing as much during a molt.
  • Do not require a great deal of attention and are suitable for beginning pet bird owners.
  • Canaries are not social birds so will a single pet canary will be happy.

Pet Canary Cages
  • Get the largest cage possible, that allows for room for flight (a pet canary should never have his or her wings clipped and should be able to fly in the cage for exercise).
  • "Flight" type cages are the best (home built or commercial) since they are designed to provide room to move. Remember that a long cage is better than a tall narrow one (the height is not all that important). Try to get a cage at least 24 inches long.
  • Watch the spacing between bars - no more than 1/2 inch.
  • Wire cages are best, wood or bamboo cages are too difficult to keep clean.
  • Perches: wood perches of varied diameter work best (3/8 to 3/4 inches). Some canary keepers alter smooth round perches by scraping them with a saw blade or utility knife, just enough make the surface slightly irregular (easier to grip and the variety may make the perches more comfortable for the canary's feet). Do not use sandpaper perch covers.
  • Temperature: canaries are pretty hardy and can be kept at room temperature. Keep the cage away from draughts, air conditioners and windows that receive direct sunlight (the cage and canary can get overheated).
  • Light: cover the cage at night, at the time the sun goes down (unless you live in an area with extremely long nights or days such as the far north). Canaries need their rest and will do best if given a light/dark cycle that approximates natural changes. Keeping them up late with artificial light is not healthy for them.
  • Toys: provide toys, but place them in the cage in such a way as they do not obstruct flight space. Your canary might enjoy swings, mirrors, bells, and hanging wooden or acrylic toys.
  • Fresh water should be available at all times.
  • A shallow dish of water or a special bath bought at the pet store should be provided at least 3-4 times a week for bathing.
Feeding Your Pet Canary
  • A good quality seed mixture suitable for canaries can be the mainstay of their diet.
  • Pelleted diets suitable for a canary can be offered as well - these are not as palatable as seeds but many owners keep a dish of pellets in the cage along with a dish of seeds.
  • Fresh foods and greens should also be offered. Good choices include apples, oranges, bananas, green peppers, canned corn, fresh corn on the cob, cooked broccoli, raw spinach, raw dandelions, raw collard greens, raw Swiss chard, pears, peaches, strawberries, cucumbers, squash, etc. Bits of hard boiled egg can also be offered occasionally.
  • As seeds are eaten the hulls may be left in the dish, so at a quick glance the seed dish may look full when in fact it is just hulls. Blow the hulls off the seed dish at least daily and replenish the seeds as necessary.


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