Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
(State Bird of Iowa, New Jersey, and Washington)
CARDUELIS TRISTIS, Linn.
PLATE CLXXXI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
This species merely passes over the State of Louisiana in the beginning of
January, and at that season is seen there for only a few days, alighting on the
highest tops of trees near water-courses, in small groups of eight or ten, males
and females together. They feed at that period on the opening buds of maples,
and others that are equally tender and juicy. In the month of November they are
again seen moving southwards, and for a few days only.
A few breed in Kentucky and the State of Ohio, but the Middle Districts are
their principal places of resort during summer, although they extend their
migrations to a high latitude. They arrive in the State of New York about the
middle of April; and as they become very abundant in that State during the
summer, I shall describe their habits as observed there.
The flight of the American Goldfinch is exactly similar to that of the
European bird of the same name, being performed in deep curved lines,
alternately rising and falling, after each propelling motion of the wings. It
scarcely ever describes one of these curves without uttering two or three notes
whilst ascending, such as its European relative uses on similar occasions. In
this manner, its flight is prolonged to considerable distances, and it
frequently moves in a circling direction before alighting. Their migration is
performed during the day. They seldom alight on the ground, unless to procure
water, in which they wash with great liveliness and pleasure, after which they
pick up some particles of gravel or sand. So fond of each other's company are
they, that a party of them passing on the wing will alter its course at the
calling of a single one perched on a tree. This call is uttered with much
emphasis: the bird prolongs its usual note, without much alteration, and as the
party approaches, erects its body, and moves it to the right and left, as if
turning on a pivot, apparently pleased at shewing the beauty of its plumage and
the elegance of its manners. No sooner has the flock, previously on wing,
alighted, than the whole party plume themselves, and then perform a little sweet
concert. So much does the song of our Goldfinch resemble that of the European
species, that whilst in France and England, I have frequently thought, and with
pleasure thought, that they were the notes of our own bird which I heard. In
America again, the song of the Goldfinch recalled to my remembrance its
transatlantic kinsman, and brought with it too a grateful feeling for the many
acts of hospitality and kindness which I have experienced in the "old country."
The nest also is perfectly similar to that of the European bird, being
externally composed of various lichens fastened together by saliva, and lined
with the softest substances. It is small and extremely handsome, and is
generally fixed on a branch of the Lombardy poplar, being sometimes secured to
one side of a twig only. I have also found it in elder bushes, a few feet above
the ground, as well as in other trees. The female deposits from four to six
eggs, which are white, tinged with bluish, and marked at the larger end with
reddish-brown spots. They raise only one brood in a season. The young follow
the parents for a long time, are fed from the mouth, as Canaries are, and are
gradually taught to manage this themselves. When it happens that the female is
disturbed while on her nest, she glides off to a neighbouring tree, and calls
for her mate, pivoting herself on her feet, as above described. The male
approaches, passes and repasses on the wing at a respectful distance from the
intruder, in deeper curves than usual, uttering its ordinary note, and when the
unwelcome visitant has departed, flies with joy to his nest, accompanied by the
female, who presently resumes her occupation.
The food of the American Goldfinch consists chiefly of seeds of the hemp,
the sun-flower, the lettuce, and various species of thistle. Now and then,
during winter, it eats the fruit of the elder.
In ascending along the shores of the Mohawk river, in the month of August,
I have met more of these pretty birds in the course of a day's walk than
anywhere else; and whenever a thistle was to be seen along either bank of the
New York canal, it was ornamented with one or more Goldfinches. They tear up
the down and withered petals of the ripening flowers with ease, leaning
downwards upon them, eat off the seed, and allow the down to float in the air.
The remarkable plumage of the male, as well as its song, are at this season very
agreeable; and so familiar are these birds, that they suffer you to approach
within a few yards, before they leave the plant on which they are seated. For a
considerable space along the Genessee river, the shores of Lake Erie, Lake
Ontario, and even Lake Superior, I have always seen many of them in the latter
part of summer. They have then a decided preference for the vicinity of water.
It is an extremely hardy bird, and often remains the whole winter in the
Middle Districts, although never in great numbers. When deprived of liberty, it
will live to a great age in a room or cage. I have known two instances in which
a bird of this species had been confined for upwards of ten years. They were
procured in the market of New York when in mature plumage, and had been caught
in trap-cages. One of them having undergone the severe training, more
frequently inflicted in Europe than America, and known in France by the name of
galerien, would draw water for its drink from a glass, it having a little chain
attached to a narrow belt of soft leather fastened round its body, and another
equally light chain fastened to a little bucket, kept by its weight in the
water, until the little fellow raised it up with its bill, placed a foot upon
it, and pulled again at the chain until it reached the desired fluid and drank,
when, on letting go, the bucket immediately fell into the glass below. In the
same manner, it was obliged to draw towards its bill a little chariot filled
with seeds; and in this distressing occupation was doomed to toil through a life
of solitary grief, separated from its companions, wantoning on the wildflowers,
and procuring their food in the manner in which nature had taught them. After
being caught in trap-cages, they feed as if quite contented; but if it has been
in spring that they have lost their liberty, and they have thus been deprived of
the pleasures anticipated from the previous connexion of a mate, they linger for
a few days and die. It is more difficult to procure a mule brood between our
species and the Canary, than between the latter and the European Goldfinch,
although I have known many instances in which the attempt was made with complete
The young males do not appear in full plumage until the following spring.
The old ones lose their beauty in winter, and assume the duller tints of the
female. In fact, at that season, young and old of both sexes resemble each
There is a trait of sagacity in this bird which is quite remarkable, and
worthy of the notice of such naturalists as are fond of contrasting instinct
with reason. When a Goldfinch alights on a twig imbued with bird-lime expressly
for the purpose of securing it, it no sooner discovers the nature of the
treacherous substance, than it throws itself backwards, with closed wings, and
hangs in this position until the bird-lime has run out in the form of a slender
thread considerably below the twig, when feeling a certain degree of security,
it beats its wings and flies off, with a resolution, doubtless, never to alight
in such a place again; as I have observed Goldfinches that had escaped from me
in this manner, when about to alight on any twig, whether smeared with bird-lime
or not, flutter over it, as if to assure themselves of its being safe for them
to perch upon it.
This interesting species is found on the shores of the Columbia river. It
is mentioned by Dr. RICHARDSON as visiting the Fur Countries, where it arrives
at a very late period, as it retires in September, after a stay of less than
three months. The eggs described by that most zealous naturalist agree in every
particular with some now before me, which I collected myself. They measure a
trifle more than five and a half eighths in length, by four and a half eighths
in breadth, and are very obtuse at one end and sharp at the other. My friend
Dr. BACHMAN informs me, that "although this bird is not uncommon in the maritime
districts of South Carolina during winter, it has not been observed to breed
nearer than one hundred miles from Charleston." Dr. T. M. BREWER states, that
"it remains through the year at Boston, breeds in large numbers, and is seen
during winter in great flocks, in dull plumage, constantly flitting about."
Abundant in the Middle and Western Districts during summer. Accidental in
the Southern States during winter. Columbia river and Fur Countries. Abundant.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, Fringilla tristis, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 20.
FRINGILLA TRISTIS, Bonap. Syn., p. 111.
CARDUELIS AMERICANA (Edwards), American Goldfinch, Swains. & Rich. F. Bor.
Amer., vol. ii. p. 268.
YELLOW-BIRD or AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 507.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, Fringilla tristis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 172;vol. v. p. 510.
Bill rather slender, second and third quills longest. Male rich
lemon-yellow, fading behind into yellowish-white; upper part of head, wings, and
tail black; smaller coverts yellow, quills margined, and secondary coverts
tipped with yellowish-white; inner webs of tail-feathers in their terminal half
white. Female brownish-olive above, without black on the head; fore neck and
breast greyish-yellow, the rest of the lower parts greyish-white. Young like
the female, as is the male in winter.
Male, 4 1/2, 8.
THE COMMON THISTLE.
CNICUS LANCEOLATUS, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. iii. p. 1666. Pursch, Flora
Amer., vol. ii, p. 506. Smith, Engl. Bot., vol. iii.
p. 388.--SYNGENESIA POLYGAMIA AEQUALIS, Linn.--CINAROCEPHALAE, Juss.
This well known species of thistle, common in the temperate and colder
parts of both continents, it is unnecessary to describe.