About five years ago, late in the summer, I became entranced by the stunning goldfinches.

It was during my annual trip to the Isle of Mull, when a small flock of goldfinches swooping over teasels caught my eye. Their exotic appearance left me awestruck and I could not take my eyes off them.

Photographing the birds was a bit tricky – with every step I took, the goldfinches would fly further away, still snacking on the tasty seeds. Some teasels were still in bloom and showing off their delightful pink flowers, but the plant heads that had dried out were an easy feast for the goldfinches gouging out the seeds.

That summer, I came back with fewer photos of the goldfinches than I had hoped, but the trip inspired me to start looking for goldfinches in East Lothian.

The first photo of a goldfinch that I was happy with was taken at the seaside near Prestonpans. Like my previous experience, I was looking at a small flock; however, this time the birds were not as skittish.

I took my time in approaching them and eventually I framed a lovely goldfinch hanging upside down on a blooming thistle. The second I took the photo, a tiny thread of cotton fell off the plant and flew past the bird’s eye. It reflected the light beautifully and made the goldfinch look like a Hollywood star with a glamorous shine in its eye!

Goldfinches are small birds with a distinctive red face, a black cap, a black mask over their eyes and a peach-grey chest. Their wings are dark with a striking yellow patch. Should you happen to spot them in flight, the bright yellow patch on the wings will turn golden in the sunlight.

The beaks of goldfinches are short but powerful – they are perfectly adapted to accessing seeds from between the spikes of plants that are difficult to reach for many other bird species.

Females and males almost look alike, apart from the fact that males have slightly longer beaks and can reach the seeds without having to bend the spikes out of the way. Juveniles are paler and have grey faces.

They live throughout the UK and occupy almost any habitat, aside from the most mountainous parts of Scotland.

Goldfinches are famous for being sociable birds that are constantly on the move, always looking for a feeding opportunity. You never see one bird alone, especially during the winter, when goldfinches roam about in flocks – called ‘charms’ – of up to 100 individuals. It is likely that the ‘charm’ finds its roots in an Old English word which was related to the sounds they produce. 

If you would like to attract goldfinches to your garden then you may wish to consider filling up a feeder with sunflower hearts or planting teasel or thistle (dried teasel may also be used as a great table decoration!). Other great plants for goldfinches are lavender and dandelions, which are a haven to bees and butterflies as well!

It is also vital to provide them with fresh water – being predominantly seed-eating birds, goldfinches need to drink more than most other species. They also enjoy bathing regularly, so placing a bird bath in the garden may pay off and be a great opportunity to photograph these birds in action.

Speak to you next month!

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