They are costing me an arm and a leg, and various bits in between

No, not the children, but the three dozen or so goldfinches that dazzle daily around the bird feeders hanging from a bramley apple tree in my Cotswold garden

by Matthew Oates, the Times 30 December 2017

They are mostly too active to count, but after they had satiated themselves on sunflower hearts and nyger seed during the snowfall, and had become becalmed on the branches of the apple tree, I managed to count 48. Beat that, if you can afford it. The photograph above, taken from my study window, shows one suffering from a surfeit of sunflower hearts that day.

goldfinch on feeder

The main flock, or charm, to use the delightful collective noun for goldfinches, commutes here daily from wild-bird feeding plots sown on a wildlife-friendly farm half a mile away, attracted by our bird feeders and teasel stands. My fear is that they will smash the place up if their feeders run dry.

This is a good news species, at a time when most of our songbirds are in perilous decline. Evidence suggests that the practice of providing sunflower hearts and nyger seed, in winter and spring, is genuinely helping them, in town and country. A recent survey by the British Trust for Ornithology found that goldfinches are now using 70 per cent more gardens than in the mid-1990s, though it is likely that milder winters are discouraging them from migrating to France, where formerly many wintered.

It must be confessed that the small fortune I spend on 25kg sacks at a seed merchant doesn’t just help the goldfinches, and their friends and relations, through the winter — it helps me. I revel in the flurries of beauty they provide. I need the wonder, hope and companionship they offer, psychologically and spiritually.

Our attitude to this bird has changed since the days when they were sold willy-nilly in brown paper bags, to die as caged songbirds. At least three pairs nested in the thick hedges surrounding our three quarters of an acre garden this year.

Read the full Nature Notebook by Matthew Oates on the Times here


Related content