by Brin Best, Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society,

A SERIES of recent observations has enabled me to learn more about the goldfinch, arguably Britain’s most beautiful small bird with its red face and yellow flash in the wing.

My sightings began with a pair feeding for almost half an hour on teasel seed-heads in our Otley garden. It’s always very satisfying to see goldfinches on our teasels, as we leave them throughout the autumn and winter specifically for small finches.

Sure enough, every year a small group or pair of goldfinches finds the teasels, as if our garden forms part of their mental map of feeding stations in our neighbourhood to be visited during the colder months.

One of my bird books suggests that male goldfinches – with their slightly longer beaks – are more adept at removing the thin, recessed teasel seeds than the females of the species.

Another interesting fact that I learnt from my research is that, during the first half of the twentieth century, the goldfinch was a scarce bird in some parts of England where it is commonly seen today, with sizeable flocks rarely being seen.

In more recent times it is thought that the stocking of garden bird tables with small seeds suitable for goldfinches – especially black niger seeds – may have helped the species’ survival during the winter and allowed this dainty finch to start breeding earlier in the year.

A week or so after my garden encounter with goldfinches, I came across an unexpectedly large flock of these cheery little birds in some tall poplar trees just a short walk from Leeds railway station.

As I approached the loose flock of at least 60 birds for a closer look, the air became filled with their lovely, liquid, jingling songs. It seemed that a few males had stimulated others to start singing and the result was the loudest goldfinch chorus that I’ve ever heard. Pure delight!

As the sun started to set on the city the reason for the gathering became clear. The ‘charm’ of goldfinches descended in little groups to a row of evergreen holm oak trees bordering a car park and disappeared into the dense foliage to roost.

Amid the bright lights and noisy surroundings of the city, the goldfinches had found a sheltered haven in which to spend the winter nights.