GOLDFINCH (Carduelis carduelis)
Chardonneret élégantThis is arguably the most beautiful member of the finch family - when seen in strong sunlight it can positively shimmer with its distinctive red face and streak of golden yellow in the wing - which becomes a most distinctive flash when in flight and gives rise to its English vernacular name. The Goldfinch has a very slender beak and it favours the small seeds of compound flowers like teasel and thistle (see Arlette's photos below) - and it is from the latter that it seems to get its French vernacular name since "chardon" is a thistle.
In Switzerland it is commonest in the lowlands especially around river banks, fallow fields and other "rough" ground where its favorite foods grow well. It is very sociable and usually found in loose flocks which can get quite large especially in winter. To me it always seems to be a bit of a wanderer, a flock will land and then a few minutes later take off to who knows where. To maintain contact the birds call constantly to each other - a sort of a rapid "towhit-a-whit" and often the first evidence of them being around are these twitterings as they keep together.
Here is a rather large flock in a larch about 40 m from where I was standing:
At one time in Europe these were popular cage birds because of their singing abilities which are somewhat reminiscent of a canary. The song is a complex series of notes and trills which at first is confusing but which eventually takes on some recognisable patterns. Here is a nice sequence of song in a high alpine meadow in August with an abundance of hover-flies buzzing around as well as the cow bells echoing off a nearby cliff:
If you listen carefully this bird completes each phrase with a distinctive downward buzzing trill. This can be seen clearly if we look at just one phrase (lasting only 2.2 seconds !) as a sonogram:
From this two second short phrase you can begin to appreciate the full complexity of the full song when the phrases are repeated many times over. To better understand what is going on, here is the same sonogram but with the speed slowed to about one-third of normal to give your eyes and ears a chance to keep up ! It will sound strange as slowing it down also lowers the pitch, but you can now see the final "buzz" quite clearly:
I have only heard Goldfinch make one other noise and this was when two males were competing over something, they kept flying up in the air pecking at each other making angry little churring noises: