One of the signs that spring is truly on its way is when male goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) begin to turn yellow. Here in July, the males are in their full glory with bright yellow body and black wings and cap. The females stay a drab yellowish/brownish color (No, no, honey, that color looks great on you!). Most songbirds begin the whole breeding thing fairly early in the spring. Robins, chickadees, phoebes will begin to set up their breeding territories and build nests in April. Not the goldfinch: its breeding season is roughly from July until September. Whats up with that, you might ask. Laziness? Procrastination?
No. The goldfinch, being a thoughtful and loving (okay, this might be a tad anthropomorphic) parent, wanting only the softest and most absorbent nesting material for its little darlings, waits until the seed of the thistle plant is ripe. The female makes a tightly-woven nest made of small roots and plant fibers, lined with plant down, often thistle seed down. In addition, this is the time that some seeds begin to ripen, which they feed to their young. The nest is placed in a small shrub and secured to a branch with spider silk. The nest is woven so tightly that it can hold water. One website discusses a situation where young birds have drowned in the nest after a significant rain event.