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Goldfinches put on yellow coat as the season moves into spring

Goldfinches are becoming more yellow as the days grow longer and warmer. Submitted photo

As we get further into March, we search for signs of the coming spring.

The vernal equinox is March 20, about two weeks away. We see changes happening long before and after this date.

Sometimes we look hard to find a spring sign. Restless with cabin fever, we might go out driving in quest of something that looks more spring-like than what we see at home. Searching the roadsides, we discover a bouquet of pussy willows that we take home to make us feel better about this month. But sometimes the signs of the new season are right in front of us.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of the times now is the longer daylight: approximately 11.5 hours. Also, the shift to daylight savings time (this weekend) makes us all take note of the longer evenings.

But there are plenty more things going on right here in the yard with us. I have been watching the huge numbers of finches that have gathered at the bird feeders all winter. During this colder-than-normal season, their companionship has been invaluable. I watched the dynamics of this group throughout the season. A large flock of goldfinches last December was replaced by a movement of redpolls. Their numbers rose as word spread among these tiny hungry birds where food was available and they continued to show up. During the waning days of February, I counted 200 finches here at once!

Probably more than 90 percent were common redpolls, but scattered among them were their rare cousin (the hoary redpolls) as well as striped pine siskins and a few remaining goldfinches.

As I watched them in the falling snow, I noticed some changes in their appearance. The redpoll males had more red on their heads, the pine siskins were frequently giving their wheezy calls and, among the goldfinches, I saw that some are now quite yellow.

I was tipped off to this alteration when someone asked recently what were the yellow birds at their birdfeeder.

Goldfinches can be in our yards, often near the house, throughout the year. In summer, these "wild canaries" wear plumages of bright yellow with black wings and tails.

As we move into autumn, they shed their attire for the drab olive-green. This coat is worn during the winter, but now, in response to the longer days, some of the winter feathers are replaced by more yellow.

As is true with most songbirds, males are more colorful than females. So, when we now look out at the feeder, we may see a male goldfinch wearing

yellow head feathers next to the less-yellow female. Starting from the head and moving across the body, the new and brighter feathers emerge. Later in spring, the "summer form" will appear.

The dynamic changes of the feeder I observed in winter will continue now as we approach spring. All wintering birds will grow new feathers, spend more time singing and get restless for their departure.

Some new ones, such as purple finches, may appear as well.

March is a great time to watch the feeders and see these changes of the coming season.

Retired teacher Larry Weber can be contacted c/o