Skip to main content

Goldfinches


There are a lot of goldfinches in and around Greytown. Indeed, I think they could be the most numerous of birds around here, nothwithstanding sparrows have had something of a comeback this summer. Soon the finches will be flocking for the winter and “charms” of over a hundred goldfinches twittering about the district will be quite common. With their bright red faces and gold wing bars they flutter merrily from plant to plant, often hanging upside down to extract seeds.

The natural range of the goldfinch is Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Western Asia. Their commonest European name of thistlefinch has been gained because they are particularly fond of the seeds of thistles, particularly the sow thistle.

They were introduced into New Zealand in the 1860s along with other European birds and are probably now more numerous here than in Europe. They were also introduced into Argentina, Bermuda and Australia.
The goldfinch has figured very large in European folklore and the earliest English literature. The cook in Chaucer’s Canterbury tales was described as being “as merry as a goldfinch in the woods” — gaillard he was as a goldfynch in the shawe.

Because of their liking for thistles, goldfinches were adopted by Renaissance artists to symbolise the Passion of Christ. In Baroccio’s ‘Holy Family’ a goldfinch is held in the hand of St John who holds it high out of reach of an interested cat. In Cima’s ‘Madonna and Child’, a goldfinch flutters in the hand of the Christ Child.

Recently on the NZ Birding news group a birder from the UK was asking birders here if they had noticed any evolutionary changes to the birds introduced into NZ from Europe, considering that these birds have now been here for about 150 years.

It is the classic Darwinian scenario, following the story of the finches on the Galapagos Islands which were so instrumental in formulating his theory of evolution. A very small number of birds, carrying just a portion of the species genetic potential will over time change and radiate to fill the ecological niches which we may offer. Isolated from their parent birds, unlike Australian introduced birds, these birds will in time become truly our own and probably quite different from their European counterparts.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Of Aphis and Ants, the end of the anthropocene

Marta had been awoken as usual by their antennae softly stroking her on the inner wrist. They seemed to wait until they were sure she was awake before crawling up her arm. They stroked her arm again just inside the elbow. She suspected they were administering a local anaesthetic.  She waited with the usual sense of dread for the tiny pin pricks as they probed. There were always just three of them.  Were they the same three ants every day? She couldn't tell. They were on the large size for ants, but ants they were, although their proboscides was more mosquito like than  that of any ant.  It was over in a few minutes. They waddled off with the bags inside their legs full of her blood. They disappeared under the door.  There was no keeping them out. They could fire off acid to dissolve any lock, any door, and leave humans a pulpy heap if they resisted or tried to fight back.
They always made Marta think of the ants on the rose bushes she observed as a child, herding and milking aphids…

A Murder of Rooks

From Southland to Northland, Regional Councils around the country are once again putting out the call for sightings of rooks, Corvis frugilegus, in their efforts to exterminate them.
The rook is a minor agricultural pest, on a par with the yellowhammer, so how did this bird become a target for extermination rather than control? How did this bird become an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act?
The rook is a black, hoarse–voiced bird about the size of a magpie which was brought to New Zealand from Britain between 1862 and 1874 to help control agricultural pests. Unlike many other European birds introduced at the same time, rooks spread very slowly at first. Even as late as 1970, they were largely confined to parts of the Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, southern Wairarapa and Canterbury.
In the 1971 rooks were declared an agricultural pest in the Hawke’s Bay, largely because of the damage done to emerging crops.  Something like 35,000 thousand were shot, probably about half the population. Co…

Elegy for the Tui

Sit on your nest above the shining water, The leaves electric, the sky cerulean, And sing your song which has no ending. Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae

Swell your throat with notes too high to hear, Too full of the love which casts out fear, Too great for wrong and rapine to exist. Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae

Fly high, wings folded, dive in ecstasy,  Be your pugnacious, mellifluous self,
Full of the joys of life, sweet nectar, Prosthermadera novaeseelandiae