Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017


One of the benefits of winter is the lack of leaves, which reveals the hidden beauty of birds and branches. 

I find the white barring and delicate edging on the wings of the American Goldfinch very appealing. 

By the way, do you happen to see any hints regarding the gender of this bird?

On Thursday, I photographed this flock bathing in pools of sunshine and water near the newly opened Loop Trail, in the Washington Park Arboretum.

I felt rather lucky, when they moved to a less distracting location.

Bathing included tail flicking, wing splashing and swiftly-turning, head-down facial rotations. 

Still photography does not display movement, although, it can document the range of motion. This photo indicates a potential head rotation of more than 200 degrees. I suspect we might break our necks if we attempted to clean our faces with a similar side-to-side, head-thrashing maneuver.

A moment later, the finch assumed a rather nonchalant, business-as-normal attitude.

The clumping of the wet feathers reminds me of a dog after a bath. 

The finch generally seem to take turns bathing. I am not sure if this is a way to avoid catching a wing in the face or if the standing birds are keeping watch for predators. I guess, it could be some of both.

For a moment, the attraction of the water on a sunny day is just too much, and both birds give in to the urge to bath.

Among our local finches, the bright white patch of the underwing covert is unique to the American Goldfinch.

This summer photo from Port Townsend, also displays a white 'armpit'. This photo provides a visual introduction to another unique characteristic of the American Goldfinch. They are the only local finches which molt twice a year, which is why this summer male looks so different from winter males.

My understanding is that the dark spots on this winter bird's forehead may be the last of its summer feathers to be replaced with its subtle winter plumage. If so, then the tiny markings, just above the eye, indicate this bird is male.

Its golden, summer color has been nearly replaced and its bill is turning dark as well.

Female goldfinches lack black on their heads, in both summer and winter.

This is especially obvious when compared to the summer, or breeding, plumage of the male birds. Could it be that the extra effort to produce two plumages delays goldfinch reproduction? Unlike many other birds, American Goldfinch wait until June or even July to nest. All About Birds implies the delay is related to the timing and production of thistle and milkweed seeds. It is amazing how each species is uniquely adapted to fit into its particular intersection in the web of life.

In winter, I find the gender of American Goldfinches to be nearly impossible to determine.

Although, I wonder if these might be female birds searching for calcium or some other mineral which they will need to produce healthy eggs come Spring.

Another unique, and possibly rather appropriate, characteristic of our state bird is that they are vegans. In the summer they love the seeds of thistles, and in the winter I often see them in tops of local deciduous trees extracting alder or birch seeds, depending on the type of tree. 

Any insects or creatures which they consume, are thought to be unintentionally caught in the crossfire.

Given their no-holds-barred...

...voracious appetite for thistle seeds, it is quite understandable how accidental insect consumption might happen.

I used to think of thistles as useless weeds, but after watching the beauty of the goldfinch feeding, I am beginning to see the prickly plants in a whole new light.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with local, native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to plant native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. My intention is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Can you identify the the bird in the background, e.g. the one bird in the photo which is not a goldfinch? Is it native to Union Bay?


Scroll down for the answers


This is one of our native Dark-eyed Juncos. Since the head and hood are black, instead of grey, it is a male of the species. 


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net



  1. Excellent, Larry!

    1. Thank you! I hope you have a very birdy holiday! :-)

  2. Replies
    1. Alan,
      Thank you for following along. I am glad you enjoyed the post!