European goldfinch

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from European Goldfinch)
Jump to: navigation, search
Gowdie redirects here; not to be confused with Goldie (disambiguation).
European goldfinch
In Tarn, France
Male bird recorded in Gloucestershire, England
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Fringillidae
Genus: Carduelis
Species: C. carduelis
Binomial name
Carduelis carduelis
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Carduelis carduelis map.png
Carduelis carduelis carduelis
1 summer 2 all year
Carduelis carduelis caniceps
3 summer 4 all year
C. c. britannica in the UK
Male C. c. caniceps, in Jispa, Himachal Pradesh

The European goldfinch or goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), is a small passerine bird in the finch family that is native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia. It has been introduced to other areas including Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay.

The goldfinch has a red face and a black-and-white head. The back and flanks are buff or chestnut brown. The black wings have a broad yellow bar. The tail is black and the rump is white. The female is very similar to the male but has a slightly smaller red area on the face.

The goldfinch is often depicted in Italian renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child.


The goldfinch was described and illustrated by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner in his Historiae animalium of 1555.[2] In 1758 Linnaeus included the species in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae under its current binomial name, Carduelis carduelis.[3][4] Carduelis is the classical Latin word for a goldfinch.[5] Modern molecular genetic studies have shown that the European goldfinch is most closely related to the citril finch, (Carduelis citrinella) and the Corsican finch, (Carduelis corsicana).[6]

The English word 'goldfinch' was used in the second half of the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer in his unfinished The Cook's Tale: "Gaillard he was as goldfynch in the shawe (Gaily dressed he was as is a goldfinch in the woods)".[7]


The subspecies are divided into two major groups. These intergrade at their boundary so the groups are not recognised as distinct species despite their readily distinguishable plumage. Subspecies in the carduelis group occupy the western part of the range and have black crowns; subspecies in the caniceps group occupy the eastern part of the range and have grey heads.[8][9]

carduelis group
  • C. c. balcanica Sachtleben, 1919 – southeastern European
  • C. c. brevirostris Zarudny, 1890 – Crimea, north Caucasus
  • C. c. britannica (Hartert, 1903) – British Isles
  • C. c. carduelis (Linnaeus, 1758) – most of European mainland, Scandinavia
  • C. c. colchica Koudashev, 1915 – Crimea and northern Caucasus
  • C. c. frigoris Wolters, 1953 – western Siberia
  • C. c. niediecki Reichenow, 1907 – southwest Asia, northeast Africa
  • C. c. parva Tschusi, 1901 – Atlantic Macaronesic Islands (Canary I., Madeira), Iberia, northwest Africa.
  • C. c. tschusii Arrigoni degli Oddi, 1902 – Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily
  • C. c. volgensis Buturlin, 1906 – southern Ukraine, southwestern Russia and northwestern Kazakhstan
caniceps group
  • C. c. caniceps Vigors, 1831 – southern central Asia.
  • C. c. paropanisi Kollibay, 1910 – Afghanistan to western Himalaya and Tien Shan.
  • C. c. subulata (Gloger, 1833) – south-central Siberia.
  • C. c. ultima Koelz, 1949 – southern Iran


Two C. c. caniceps in Tabo, Himachal Pradesh

The average goldfinch is 12–13 cm long with a wingspan of 21–25 cm and a weight of 14 to 19 grams. The sexes are broadly similar, with a red face, black and white head, warm brown upperparts, white underparts with buff flanks and breast patches, and black and yellow wings.

On closer inspection male goldfinches can often be distinguished by a larger, darker red mask that extends just behind the eye. In females, the red face does not extend past the eye. The ivory-coloured bill is long and pointed, and the tail is forked. Goldfinches in breeding condition have a white bill, with a greyish or blackish mark at the tip for the rest of the year. Juveniles have a plain head and a greyer back but are unmistakable due to the yellow wing stripe. Birds in central Asia (caniceps group) have a plain grey head behind the red face, lacking the black and white head pattern of European and western Asian birds.[10][11]

The song is a pleasant silvery twittering. The call is a melodic tickeLIT, and the song is a pleasant tinkling medley of trills and twitters, but always including the trisyllabic call phrase or a teLLIT-teLLIT-teLLIT.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The goldfinch is native to Europe, North Africa, and western and central Asia. It is found in open, partially wooded lowlands and is a resident in the milder west of its range, but migrates from colder regions. It will also make local movements, even in the west, to escape bad weather. It has been introduced to many areas of the world.[12] It was introduced to Canada, United States, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Chile, the Falkland Islands, Uruguay, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand,[13] in the 19th century, and their populations quickly increased and their range expanded greatly. They now occur from Brisbane to the Eyre Peninsula in Australia, and throughout New Zealand.[14]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

A nest and eggs.


The nest is built entirely by the female and is generally completed within a week. The male accompanies the female but does not contribute.[15] The nest is neat and compact and is generally located several meters above the ground, hidden by leaves in the twigs at the end of a swaying branch.[16] It is constructed of mosses and lichens and lined with plant down such as that from thistles. It is attached to the twigs of the tree with spider silk. A deep cup prevents the loss of eggs in windy weather.[17] Beginning within a couple of day after the completion of the nest, the eggs are laid in early morning at daily intervals.[15] The clutch is typically 4-6 eggs which are whitish with reddish-brown speckles.[16] They have a smooth surface and are slightly glossy.[15] The average size is 17.3 mm × 13.0 mm (0.68 in × 0.51 in) with a calculated weight of 1.53 g (0.054 oz).[15] The eggs are incubated for 11–13 days by the female who is fed by the male. The chicks are fed by both parents. Initially they receive a mixture of seeds and insects but as they grow the proportion of insect material decreases.[18] For the first 7–9 days the young are brooded by the female. The nestlings fledge 13–18 days after hatching. The young birds are fed by both parents for a further 7–9 days. The parents typically raise two brood each year and occasionally three.[15]


The goldfinch's preferred food is small seeds such as those from thistles (the Latin name is from Carduus, a genus of thistles) and teasels, but insects are also taken when feeding young. It also regularly visits bird feeders in winter. In the winter goldfinches group together to form flocks of up to forty, occasionally more. Goldfinches are attracted to back gardens in Europe and North America by birdfeeders containing niger (commercially described as nyjer) seed. This seed of an annual from South Asia is small, and high in oils. Special polycarbonate feeders with small oval slits at which the goldfinches feed are sometimes used.

Relationships with humans[edit]

Goldfinches are commonly kept and bred in captivity around the world because of their distinctive appearance and pleasant song. In Britain during the 19th century many thousands of goldfinches were trapped each year to be sold as cage-birds. One of the earliest campaigns of the Society for the Protection of Birds was directed against this trade.[19] The goldfinch males are sometimes crossed with Canary females with the intention to produce male mules with beautiful singing voices, that often capture the best singing attributes of both breeds.

Christian symbolism[edit]

Because of the thistle seeds it eats, in Christian symbolism the goldfinch is associated with Christ's Passion and his crown of thorns. The goldfinch, appearing in pictures of the Madonna and Christ child, represents the foreknowledge Jesus and Mary had of the Crucifixion. Examples include the Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch, painted by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael in about 1505–6, in which John the Baptist offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future. In Barocci's Holy Family a goldfinch is held in the hand of John the Baptist who holds it high out of reach of an interested cat. In Cima da Conegliano's Madonna and Child, a goldfinch flutters in the hand of the Christ child. It is also an emblem of endurance, fruitfulness, and persistence. Because it symbolizes the Passion, the goldfinch is considered a "saviour" bird and may be pictured with the common fly (which represents sin and disease).[20] The goldfinch is also associated with Saint Jerome and appears in some depictions of him.[20]

Depictions in art[edit]

Antonio Vivaldi composed a Concerto in D major for Flute "Il Gardellino" (RV 428, Op. 10 No. 3), where the singing of the goldfinch is imitated by a flute.

Goldfinches, with their "wanton freak" and "yellow flutterings", are among the many natural "luxuries" that delight the speaker of John Keats's poem 'I stood tip-toe upon a little hill...' (1816).[21]

In the poem The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh, the goldfinch is one of the rare glimpses of beauty in the life of an elderly Irish farmer:

The goldfinches on the railway paling were worth looking at
A man might imagine then
Himself in Brazil and these birds the birds of paradise

Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[22][23] A turning point in the plot occurs when the narrator, Theo, sees his mother's favourite painting, Carel Fabritius's The Goldfinch, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Carduelis carduelis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Gesner, Conrad (1555). Historiæ animalium liber III qui est de auium natura. Adiecti sunt ab initio indices alphabetici decem super nominibus auium in totidem linguis diuersis: & ante illos enumeratio auium eo ordiné quo in hoc volumine continentur (in Latin). Zurich: Froschauer. pp. 235–237. 
  3. ^ Paynter, Raymond A. Jnr., ed. (1968). Check-list of birds of the world, Volume 14. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. pp. 247–250. 
  4. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Volume 1 (in Latin) (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 180. 
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4. 
  6. ^ Zuccon, Dario; Prŷs-Jones, Robert; Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Ericson, Per G.P. (2012). "The phylogenetic relationships and generic limits of finches (Fringillidae)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 62 (2): 581–596. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.10.002. 
  7. ^ "The Cook's Prologue and Tale: An Interlinear Translation (line 4367)". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Finches, euphonias". World Bird List Version 5.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  9. ^ Clement, P. "European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)". In del Hoyo, J; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 25 July 2015. (subscription required)
  10. ^ Clement, P., Harris, A., & Davis, J. (1993). Finches & Sparrows. Christopher Helm. ISBN 0-7136-8017-2.
  11. ^ Svensson, L. (1992). Identification Guide to European Passerines. ISBN 91-630-1118-2.
  12. ^ Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic concise ed. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  13. ^ Long, John L. (1981). Introduced Birds of the World. Agricultural Protection Board of Western Australia. pp. 21–493
  14. ^ "European Goldfinch". Birdlife Australia. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Cramp & Perrins 1994, pp. 582-583.
  16. ^ a b Newton 1972, p. 37.
  17. ^ Newton 1972, p. 175.
  18. ^ Newton 1972, p. 178.
  19. ^ Newton 1972, pp. 36-37.
  20. ^ a b Werness, Hope B. (2007). Animal Symbolism in World Art. Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-1913-5. 
  21. ^ "2. I Stood tip-toe upon a little hill. Keats, John. 1884. The Poetical Works of John Keats". Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  22. ^ Flood, Alison (13 February 2013). "Donna Tartt to publish first novel for 11 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  23. ^ The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation


  • Cramp, Stanley; Perrins, C.M., eds. (1994). Handbook of birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa: Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 8: Crows to Finches. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854679-3. 
  • Newton, Ian (1972). Finches. The New Naturalist, Volume 55. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-213065-3. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Friedmann, Herbert (1946). The Symbolic Goldfinch: its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. Washington DC: Pantheon Books. OCLC 154129908. 

External links[edit]