Don’t worry about deadheading your perennials after they flower – allow them to go to seed and provide succor to goldfinches and other birds.

September 18, 2013 | | Environment

A face full of thistle down

A face full of thistle down

As summer turns to autumn most birds fall silent, aside from uttering occasional tweets and twitters to stay in touch with each other. Gone are the glorious arias of spring. Goldfinches, though, buck the trend and are at their most vocal in late summer.

Goldfinches breed late, often not nesting until August or even September. This is when the adults can find seeds in abundance. They feed a liquid mixture of these seeds to their young. Late summer is also when the thistle matures.

Joy for a goldfinch is a field of ripe thistle. Thistle down provides soft bedding for their nestlings and thistle seed is their staff of life.

When the young fledge, families of these lovely finches cast themselves into the autumnal breezes and with their characteristic roller coaster flight scan the countryside for the seed heads of late blooming flowers – thistle of course, but also many other flowers in the asteraceae family, including several garden staples.

The various coneflowers are favourites, as are sunflowers. As I write this, the green-headed coneflowers in my backyard have had their seeds largely picked clean by goldfinches.

Please don’t cut your perennials back after they flower – allow them to go to seed and provide succor to goldfinches and other birds. Their reward will be full bellies; yours their cheerful babble.

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  • The splendid yellow of male goldfinches fades in autumn. Casual birders may think that all of the goldfinches have departed for warmer climes. This isn’t so. Goldfinches are common winter birds and are sustained, in part, by sunflower and nyger seed supplied at backyard feeding stations.

    To everything there is a season and this is the season of the goldfinch. Their lively presence buoys the spirits when the wind whispers rumours of winter.

    a face full of thistle down goldfinch female feeding on nyger goldfinch in spring goldfinch male in spring goldfinch on green-headed coneflower goldfinches at nyger feeder male goldfinch eating thistle seed male goldfinch molting in spring male goldfinch on thistle
    Goldfinch on green-headed coneflower

    About the Author More by Don Scallen

    Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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