Image by Natural England, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Friends volunteer, popular guide and bird expert Trevor Gunton introduces the next in this series of informative articles.

Fact File

  • Latin name: Carduelis Carduelis
  • UK breeding population: 1.65 million pairs
  • 16th most numerous breeding bird in the UK
  • Most goldfinch noted on a collection of garden feeders in Little Paxton: 28 together.  Can you beat that?
  • Status: common summer resident, with c80% of the UK population leaving Britain to winter in Southern Europe

In the Yorkshire Dales, country folk call the goldfinch King Harry and, on examination of literature, I found no fewer than 70 regional or historical names for the goldfinch.  These include “Thistlefinch”, “The Sheriff’s Man”, “Nicker Nocker” and, amazingly, “The Lady with Twelve Flounces”!  I wonder just what the background to these names are?  Do you know any Cambridgeshire or local names?

Socially and culturally the goldfinch is very closely associated with man.  In Victorian Britain, the goldfinch fuelled the bird catching and cage bird trade.  I have found out that in the Worthing area of Sussex alone, 132,000 goldfinch per annum were trapped, netted or snared by full-time bird catchers.  Many goldfinches were used to hybridise with canaries.

In the UK, this trade was banned in 1881, but of course huge numbers of finches of all kinds are still taken from the wild each year in many countries in Southern Europe.  On the Iberian Peninsula, it may be the commonest species during the winter months, as most of the Northern European population moves south to spend the colder months sunning themselves around the shores of the Mediterranean where there is abundant food.

I have found it very interesting to discover that the goldfinch has been successfully introduced in many areas of Australia, including Tasmania, and in New Zealand.  In the latter, it has been targeted as a pest species and named as a threat to commercial strawberry production. There have also been less successful introductions in other countries, such as Argentina and Bermuda.  Early attempts to introduce the goldfinch in the USA failed.

Goldfinch by Airwolfhound, CC BY NC 2.0

Getting back to our local goldfinches, in the last 50 years the population has increased considerably.  Three possible reasons have been cited:

  1. Lack of competition from the reducing numbers of chaffinch and greenfinch in our gardens.
  2. Could it be that many garden owners are now feeding bird seed such as Niger?  Has this factor actually changed the distribution of the goldfinch?
  3. Has more uncultivated land around the Pits increased the food supply for goldfinch?

Do any of our readers have a view on this?

The number of breeding pairs on the reserve remains fairly stable at 30/40 pairs, but I have no information about any pairs breeding successfully in the village itself.  Have you?

By the 1880s we were in danger of losing this charming bird (collective name – charm) from the British countryside forever.  It has undertaken a remarkable comeback to claim its place as one of our most loved garden birds.

Enjoy your garden birds this Autumn and look out for King Harry on your feeders!

Leave a Reply