American Goldfinches are one of the jewels that frequent our bird feeders in Northwest Arkansas. With their bright yellow color and black wings, they are easy to identify and make an impression on everyone who sees them. Being year-round residents, they are also one of the most reliable species to come to our feeders.
Even so, there are times when I hear, "What happened to all of my Goldfinches? They suddenly stopped coming to my feeder!"
If this happens to you, there are a few things to look for:
1) How old is your seed? Nyjer seed is prone to dampness, and because of this, will cake and get moldy in wet weather. In fact, I've seen Nyjer clinging to the inside of my tube feeder even in dry weather if the season promotes heavy dews. The issue here is two fold. First, the seed will become unpalatable (even dangerous to the birds) if it is caked and moldy. Second, caked seed cannot be extracted from the small openings of Finch feeders. So you can have a perfectly filled finch feeder with no finches, simply because they can't get to the seed!
The best way to check for both of these situations is to periodically take your partially full finch feeder and turn it upside down to see if the seed is still loose. (Do this, of course, while holding the top and bottom to prevent the seed from spilling out!) If you see large chunks of seed falling to the other end, or you notice a lot of the seed sticks to the bottom of the feeder, its probably time to discard that seed and start with a fresh batch. Better still would be to clean your feeder and get rid of the gunk that will often build up in Finch feeders.
If you know your seed is loose and your feeder is clean, then try the next thing:
2) Look at your Nyjer seed and see what color it is. If you see a nice dark-chocolate brown color in all of the seed kernels, then your seed is good quality Nyjer. But if you see a bunch of seed kernels that look lighter in color like light colored milk chocolate or even tan, then your seed has been over heated by the producer and is poor quality. Nyjer is considered to be a noxious weed in the United States, so all Nyjer must be heat-treated to kill the germ plasm. Some seed producers are more fastidious about this heat treatment than others are, so the quality of seed on the market varies. Finches do not like burnt Nyjer. They toss it aside or avoid it altogether. Thus, the key tip here is to be selective in what you are buying, and you can do this by only purchasing seed packaged in clear plastic bags, so you can see the quality inside.
If your feeder is clean and your seed is fresh and high quality, then...
3) Ask yourself what time of year it is? Goldfinches feed their nestlings almost exclusively on seed. Because of this, their nesting time coincides with the weed seed crop of late summer (July and August), which is much later than most other songbirds. During this part of the year, Goldfinches are busy..., well....getting busy, so they tend not to visit our feeders as often as they do the rest of the year. But rest assured, they will be back in September in full force when they bring their fledglings with them!
If you have all of the above covered, then lastly:
4) Ask yourself if are confident that you can identify a Goldfinch at all times of the year in all plumage types. Goldfinches are one of the few songbirds birds that completely molt body feathers twice per year. In the early Spring, they lose their olive brown, mustard colored feathers to be replaced by their diagnostic bright yellow feathers. This is mostly noted in males, but females, too, undergo a spring molt and become brighter during the summer months. Then after breeding is finished in August, they lose they bright yellow coloration and return to a more drab, cryptically colored plumage. The thing that catches people off guard is that this change can seem to happen over night. It doesn't of course, but with an influx of fledgling birds (which are also brownish mustard color), the number of bright yellow Goldfinches can seem to decline in a snap. But if you look a little closer, you may find that the Goldfinches have been at our feeders all along!