Who Puts the Gold in Goldfinch?

Goldfinch in summer color.
Every spring flocks of goldfinches arrive on our farm. You probably wouldn't recognize them because they are not gold. The photo at the left is what the male bird looks like in summer plumage, but when they arrive, these birds are bland, gray and not very interesting.

I usually start my day with a soak in the hot tub, just as the sun is coming up. In March, around the first days of Spring, I watch these little birds in the nearby red oak tree, eating the flowers and pollen of the red oak. Sometimes there are dozens, even hundreds, busy eating the oak blossoms.

The red oak flowers are golden yellow and last for only about a week.

I have a theory. The red oak blossoms are bright yellow and the goldfinches, still in their ugly gray winter color, are all over this tree every day while it's in bloom; they need the yellow pollen. Every day they eat the yellow flowers and you can watch the changes in their feathers, going from gray to mild yellow, then brighter, until the goldfinch is in full peacock mode, just as the oak blossoms have finished blooming.
Not much yellow yet.

Almost no color today.
It makes sense to me that goldfinches need oak flowers to change their colors. After all, flamingos require red shrimp in order to keep their feathers bright pink. It's fun to watch these scrappy little birds as they leave their winter colors and become fully summer-plummed. Next the males will begin to show off for the females, they'll pair off for the season. They'll choose nesting sites and begin the cycle all over again.
Water stands in the pathways. We received 5 inches over 3 days.
We've had days of needed rain. Yesterday, on the first day of spring, the rains quit and the sun came out. The late afternoon light was a pleasant surprise.
In the background the sunlight on the hills looks like yellow blossoms.
That far, far hill in the background is across the lake from us.
We're on the Long Creek arm of Table Rock Lake (Long Creek Herb Farm is named for both the location, and my family name). What you are seeing, above, is the sunlight as it reflects on the hills across the Lake from us. The light was amazing, like a painting, but one you could feel and smell and taste.
Part of the garden in the foreground. The distant hills were alive with color and sunlight.
Those yellow hills are across the Lake from us. We live on the east side of a substantial hill and the sunlight misses us late in the afternoon but continues to shine on the distant hills. The trees, mostly oak, hickory, elm and maple, are just leafing out and show yellow in the afternoon light.

To see a few more of the first day of spring photos, go here. Happy spring everyone!


Andi Rivarola said...

Beautiful birds, even if they are not so colorful in the beginning. You're lucky to have some of many around to cheer you up. Great pictures, Jim.

Leah said...

Loving your birds eye view.

Birds, Bees, Berries, and Blooms said...

That last picture is awsome! Is that your yard! If so I love it. That old barn is so cool. Thanks for the tour

JoyceP said...

How beautiful everything looks already this Spring. What a difference from last year's drought. Happy planting, Jim!