Goldfinch

Irish Name: Lasair choille
Scientific name: Carduelis carduelis
Bird Family: Finches
green
Conservation status

Status

Resident. Some additional birds may arrive from Continent in winter. One of Ireland's top-20 most widespread garden birds.

Identification

Smaller than a Chaffinch, this brightly-coloured finch has become a familiar sight at garden nut feeders in recent years. Striking black and yellow wings usually catch the eye first, but the scarlet red "face" and black and white head markings are equally striking, set off against a rather plain brown back and whitish underside. The tail is black with white spots and the rump white. Very active, has a bounding flight and can occur in large flocks.

Voice

Song a liquidy, rather quiet string of twitters, not unlike a Swallow. Anxiety note a questioning "queue", rising towards end.

Diet

Mostly seeds - especially fine seeds of grasses and thistles. Will readily use peanut feeders

Breeding

Breeds throughout Ireland - in hedgerows, orchards, parks and gardens. Delicate nest of moss, hairs and feathers in fork, quite high in hedge or tree.

Wintering

Widespread

Monitored by

Countryside Bird Survey & Garden Bird Survey.

Blog posts about this bird

Garden Birds

Irish Garden Birds 2020/21 - Changing Garden Bird Numbers over the last 20 years

We're in the final week of this years Irish Garden Bird Survey! Annual surveys like this that are really vital to flag any problematic declines in some of our favourite species, and also to help us understand why certain species are increasing! We thought we'd take a look back at a few of the changes we've seen over the course of the survey, to remind you how important your counts are and how much we can learn from your data!   

Please make sure to send your garden bird counts in as soon as possible when the survey finishes - either online, via email, or via post

  The graphs below are based on the mean number of each species in Irish Gardens on a weekly basis during the Irish Garden Bird Survey. With that in mind, the graphs are a product of 1) changing bird numbers, 2) changes in the number of gardens a species is found in and 3) changes to the number of weeks that a species is found in gardens. The graphs are intuitive though, because as bird numbers increase they’re found in more gardens and in more weeks, and similarly as other species decline then they occur in fewer gardens and fewer weeks during the survey!  

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is kindly sponsored by Ballymaloe.

   

Goldfinch

Goldfinch have undoubtedly shown the biggest increase in Irish gardens in recent years. In the mid-1990’s they were in around 30% of gardens, ranking around 20-25th place each year, but they are now seen in over 85% of gardens each winter (top 10), with total numbers consistently increasing too. Previously they would only enter gardens to avail of fine seeds on weeds and flowers, but as people put out more and more palatable seeds (nyjer, sunflower hearts) the Goldfinches switched to feeders and have since firmly established themselves as a garden bird.  Some have speculated that the recent decline of Greenfinches might have benefited Goldfinches to some extent as they face less competition for food.  

Jay

The Jay is actually a member of the crow family, and it’s one of the few birds for which we have a distinct Irish subspecies. Their size and colour make them unmistakable, and like all crow species they’re fascinating to watch as they go about their business. They’re more of an ecological specialist than our other crows and are most strongly associated with broadleaf woodland (Oak in particular). Their numbers appear to be increasing in Ireland in recent years. Like the other crow species, they’re an intelligent bird and if they find a food source they’re going to return to it, so it’s no surprise that they’re taking advantage of the food in more and more (circa 10%) of Irish gardens. They won’t be able for your feeders but leave a handful of peanuts out early in the morning or late in the evening to get a glimpse!  

Siskin

The trend for Siskins in Irish gardens is variable to say the least! They’re a small conifer woodland-specialist finch and really only come to gardens when their favourite tree seeds have run out late in the winter. In some years they don’t really visit gardens at all, or if they do it’s well into the spring, and these are the years where the Sitka Spruce seed crop (amongst others) has been particularly good and keeps them going into the new year. They mainly visit gardens in late January and February, often in large flocks, and make good use of both peanut and seed feeders. Because they associate so closely with woodland, they’re more likely to turn up in rural and suburban gardens than urban ones.    

Long-tailed Tit

Two things are obvious from the graph below. The first is that, on average, more Long-tailed Tits have been using Irish gardens in the last 10 years than they did in the late 1990’s. The second is that there’s a lot of variation in the trend for Long-tailed Tits – a lot of ups, a lot of downs, and just when you think their numbers have stabilised for a couple of years there’s another spike or fall in numbers! If we were to look at trends for species such as Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Wren we’d see something similar. These birds are all tiny in size, they weigh less than 10g total, and they’re all predominantly insectivorous. All of that means that they’re the most susceptible of any bird species when cold weather hits – the increases are from them retreating to gardens in search of food during cold weather spells, and the decreases that tend to follow are due to a drop off in numbers that didn’t survive the previous winter. A few mild winters later and their numbers are back to normal, and then another cold winter hits and the cycle starts again! As long as they don’t meet too many successive cold years they’re able to cope with this sort of short-term fluctuation, and their breeding numbers have increased a bit in the last 25 years in a similar way to their winter numbers through the Irish Garden Bird Survey.  

Greenfinch

This is a species that used to occur in around 90% of gardens each winter. Last winter it was 58% of gardens, the lowest levels ever seen in the survey. The reason is trichomoniasis – infection by a parasite that lodges in the throat of the bird and always results in death of the infected individual. This parasite isn’t anything new – it has long been known to occur in pigeons and birds of prey, but around 12 years ago the parasite ‘jumped’ to finch populations and Greenfinch were particularly hard hit. In Ireland the UK we’ve lost millions of Greenfinches to this parasite, and their numbers continue to fall. Into the future, it’s likely that Greenfinch numbers will undergo a boom-bust type pattern at a local level, where numbers in a part of the country increase over a couple of years, as they increase the parasite spreads more, then the numbers decrease again and the cycle starts again. The one thing you can do to help stop the spread is to wash your birdfeeders and water dishes regularly!

To learn more about trichomoniasis and sick finches, click here.

   

Linnet

This finch is very much considered a farmland bird. In the early days of the Irish Garden Bird Survey they were in less than 5% of gardens but more recently it has risen to around 10% and almost up to 12%. That increase hasn’t been uniform but has actually occurred more so in urban and suburban gardens compared to rural ones. The Bird Atlas showed some variation in their distribution in Ireland in winter and that they’ve lost some ground in the west but remained largely stable in east, and we know from the summer Countryside Bird Survey that they’re total numbers are doing pretty ok. It may be that the higher temperatures and ‘new’ feeding opportunities in built-up areas, couple with less competition from the declining Greenfinches, is working to the benefit of our Linnet population. Somewhat surprisingly given the similarity of our bird communities, Linnets are never really found in gardens in the UK.  

Song Thrush

Most people would recognise a ‘thrush’, and the one you’re more likely to see is the Song Thrush (compared to the less common Mistle Thrush). This is a species that has definitely declined in gardens over the years, though there is some fluctuation in their population trend. The good and bad spells can be linked to winter weather conditions. Years with heavy snow and extended frosty periods make it very difficult for Song Thrushes to forage for worms, slugs and snails and their numbers take a huge hit after a cold winter, requiring a few mild winters to stabilise again.  

Buzzard

There are plenty of negative stories when it comes to declines and loss of species, and the struggles of conservation, but this is a very positive one. Having been extinct here for the best part of 100 years, Buzzards naturally recolonised without the need for a reintroduction project, and slowly spread from the north and the east coast and are now back breeding in every county in Ireland. There won’t be much in your garden for them to eat, though you might be lucky enough to see one soaring overhead, or if you’re really lucky they might perch on a field gate or a telephone pole and inspect their surroundings!    

The Irish Garden Bird Survey finishes on Sunday 28th Feb 2021. You can submit your results online via this link, or send a photo/scan of your form to gardenbirds@birdwatchireland.ie .

You can also post your form to us - the address is at the bottom of your form.

   

This winter we're running a series of blogs like this one, filled with facts and figures about your favourite garden birds, click here for more.

We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe  for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey.

 

Click below to download your count form for this year's Irish Garden Bird Survey.

 

Garden Birds

Irish Garden Birds 2020 - Collective Nouns for Wild Birds

Group nouns aren’t something we tend to give much thought to. When it comes to large numbers of birds, the word ‘flock’ is a suitable catch-all term. A flock of crows, a flock of finches, a flock of geese – you know what it means. Lots of a similar type of bird together.

  As useful a term as it might be, the word ‘flock’ can never capture the mesmerising detail, the almost ineffable wonder that seeing a huge number of certain bird species conjures up when you see or hear them. Whether it’s a large number of Goldfinch with their wings shimmering in the low autumn sunlight as they rise from a stubble field, the deep guttural contact calls of a family of Ravens as they appear out of nowhere over a hill, or the unmistakeable outline of a drawn-out ‘V’ of geese overhead as they chatter upon arrive from their polar breeding grounds, none of that magic is adequately captured by the word ‘flock’. Language is a powerful thing, and I’m sure we’d all agree that we need to do justice to the heart-pounding, soul-enriching sights and sounds of large numbers of some of our most unique birds. Thankfully, some rather enterprising individuals back in the 15th century decided to rectify that!  

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is kindly sponsored by Ballymaloe. Click below to learn about taking part this winter.

  Most of the collective nouns below were captured in manuscripts and books dating back to Britain in the 1400s. While these phrases likely had older and more widespread origins than those books, the fact that they were written down at this time means we can trace them back at least that far. See below for some of my favourite group nouns for garden birds we have here in Ireland. These aren’t the only collective nouns out there, and some species or groups have more than one collective noun. Get in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter and let us know what your favourite one is, or if there’s one you like that we’ve left out! I’ve used the book ‘An Unkindness of Ravens – A book of collective nouns’ by Chloe Rhodes as my source for the below – I’d highly recommend seeking out a copy if this is something you find interesting!        

The Irish Garden Bird Survey is running right now and taking part couldn't be easier! Click here for full details about the survey as well as as advice on caring for your birds through the winter.

This winter we're running a series of blogs like this one, filled with facts and figures about your favourite garden birds, click here for more.

We are hugely grateful to Ballymaloe for their sponsorship and support of the Irish Garden Bird Survey.

 

Click below to download your count form for this year's Irish Garden Bird Survey.

 

Similar Species

Siskin

Irish Name:
Siscín
Scientific name:
Carduelis spinus
Bird Family:
Finches