Wednesday, January 21, 2009

European Goldfinch: established in the U.S.?

In the fall of 2002, Ford Motor Company planted sunflowers on a 20-acre lot they owned at Hubbard and the Southfield Freeway (M-39) service drive, near their world headquarters. Ford has continued to plant sunflowers, sorghum, and/or a wildflower mix on up to 10 properties scattered across Dearborn (I've posted a map of current locations here).

The fields have always attracted a lot of birds -- I wrote about the numbers seen on this year's Christmas Bird Count. The very first winter the original field hosted an unusual bird: a European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), a bird not native to North America. European Goldfinches are common in the pet trade, and it's not too unusual to hear about sightings of escaped or released pets. Unlike members of the parrot family, European Goldfinches are very hardy and can survive northern winters. The sighting occurred during a time when I had been hearing more and more reports of European Goldfinch sightings, especially in the Chicago area. Curious, I posted a page on the RRBO web site requesting sightings from the upper Midwest (a current version of the page is here). I also kept my eyes on the various Internet birding lists and regional publications.

That there were a lot of European Goldfinches out there readily became apparent. I compiled over 400 reports, of which 298 were from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. There was a clear concentration in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, a pattern of radiation from the "epicenter" that was more pronounced north than south, and a smattering of reports over the rest of the four states.

It is believed that the bulk of these European Goldfinches -- as well as a handful of other European cage bird species that were reported in the same areas -- originated with a bird importer in the greater Chicago area. From a number of independent reports I received, this importer had apparently deliberately released these species on more than one occasion over time. Believe it or not, as long as the birds are legally imported, there is no federal law prohibiting their release, even if they are not native.

Since 2003, there have been reports of nesting European Goldfinches in northern Illinois. They may also be nesting in southern Wisconsin. Great Tits (Parus major), another one of the species involved in the alleged releases, have also nested in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois! European Goldfinches nest earlier in the year than American Goldfinches and appear to be ecologically benign, although non-native species frequently end up having unanticipated impacts on ecosystems. Whether the breeding population will grow and persist is not known. In the early part of the 20th century, there were a couple of established colonies in New York, founded by deliberate releases. They eventually died out. However, the proliferation of non-native plant species -- many of which are the natural foods of European Goldfinch -- may prove to be a boon for the species this time around.

I don't believe the majority of the Michigan sightings (or the many Ontario reports I've gotten) of European Goldfinches are attributable to same source. The geographic and chronological patterns do not seem to fit. Some are likely just escaped pets. Many others may be deliberately released birds. Some pockets of reports came from areas with higher populations of people that practice eastern religions, which sometimes advocate setting birds free to accrue merit in the afterlife. Employees at my own local pet store, which often carry European Goldfinches for sale, reported to me that these and other cage birds are sometimes purchased by people of various ethnic backgrounds with the intention of releasing them. I presume this is the source of the Dearborn European Goldfinch.

I ended up writing a detailed account of the reports I received, including background on the ecology and history of European Goldfinches in the U.S. and additional information on their future, in a paper that was just published in North American Birds; you can click on the link to download a PDF copy:

Craves, J. A. 2008. Current status of European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) in the western Great Lakes region. North American Birds 62:2-5.

UPDATE, JULY 2013: Please send in nesting reports! I will be pulling as many as possible together later this year.


List of updates on this post:
  • June 2009: Nesting European Goldfinch in Illinois.
  • July 2009: Nesting European Goldfinch in Wisconsin.

Photo of European Goldfinch in France by Daniel (ParaScubaSailor) at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

54 comments:

John said...

It's interesting to read this because a discussion started about a European Goldfinch sighting within the last week on the NJ listserv. I don't know if anyone has concluded whether the individual is wild or a pet yet.

Julie Craves said...

I did correspond with the guy who is hosting this bird. From the photo he had of the band, I'd say it's a captive bred, and not imported, bird.

Rodney said...

Hi Julie

I live in the UK and have taken an interest in the distribution of European birds throughout the world and your researchis particularly interesting. I wondered if you have any update on the Great Tit given its large clutches and sometimes double broods.

Rod Harrsion

Julie Craves said...

Rod, I have not heard any recent breeding reports of Great Tit from the places where they had been found. This has been a particularly harsh winter in this area, and I'm curious to follow-up in a few months to see if they persisted.

Anonymous said...

Saw a European Goldfinch on our thistle feeder. Didn't know what it was at the time. Took picture of it (not very good) and four bird books later found out what it was. We live on Long Island, NY.

Anonymous said...

I LIVE IN NJ ANND HAVE BEEN SEEING ONE AT MY FEEDER ALL DAY WITH AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES

Julie Craves said...

There have been frequent reports of European Goldfinches on the east coast, primarily in New York and New Jersey, for many years. There are many dealers, importers, and breeders in these areas and most sightings are likely escaped birds. I have no evidence of breeding populations there, and they are not related to the Midwestern bird source.

Rod Harrison said...

Hi Julie
Over here in UK a cold winter was followed by a warm Spring and we have a great tit feeding young in a box next door and a pair of European goldfinches nestin accross the way. I wondered if there was any breding news if teh Trans-Atlantic cousins?

Rod

Julie Craves said...

I have not heard of any recent positive nestings, but I would expect that they may be right in the midst of their cycle right now and not have fledged any young yet. I would be more likely to hear from people later in the season when families show up at feeders (a lot of people take their feeders down in summer, reducing the chances of seeing young birds with their parents).

Anonymous said...

European Goldfinch in Vancouver, WA, USA. I am excited to find this BLOG so I can share my sighting. I took multiple photographs of a European Goldfinch today eating at my bird feeder. I had just cleaned it and filled it with sunflower seeds. The bird was beautiful and I did not know what it was. My daughter had seen it in a book and brought the book to me. It showed that they are not native to the US. I hope it stays.

Barry Webster said...

For two weeks now I have been watching a European occupying American Goldfinches to my Nyjer feeder. I live outside Markdale Ontario, just below Georgian Bay. I assume it is female as its red face is not over the eyes. What a lovely bird.

Julie Craves said...

Barry - There is something going on in your part of Ontario as well. I get a lot of reports from that area (as well as Toronto, which I address in my article). I'll be interested if this species starts to nest in that region.

Luanne said...

I live 30 miles north of IL boarder in WI and saw this bird at feed with Am.Goldfinches. Cornell U. confirmed my identity of this bird. First time I have ever seen this bird!

Anonymous said...

Bob from Prescott. I just had an European Goldfinch at feeder today. It was among some finches and juncos.

Nick said...

Hello,
I'm writing from Italy, where this bird is sedentary, doesn't need to migrate.
Here prefers to stay in forest of firs or pines.
Where did you seen European Goldfinches there? In what part of US? What about "flora" ?
Best Regards,
Nick

Julie Craves said...

Nick, take a look at the PDF of the paper, it gives details of where these birds have been reported most frequently, but as is noted in the post, it is in the western Great Lakes region of the U.S., especially Illinois and Wisconsin.

Nick said...

Hello Julie,
thank you for informations, I don't know to whom ask that, is there legal breeding (in aviary) European Goldfinches?
Best regards,
Nick

Pyro said...

I live in Louisiana, have been birding for about 45 years. Just saw (and photographed) a European Goldfinch at my feeder, this past weekend.

JB said...

Just saw 2 yesterday and photographed! my photo even made the local news!

LucyLobo said...

Hi Just had one at my feeder this morning took a few pictures I cant wait for it to come back It sure is a pretty bird

Rod Harrison said...

Hi Julie
I have kept an eye on your blogs and aother reports and it seems from the many reports that the Eurasian Goldfinch (with a number of suspecies represented) is now quite well establised in the Great Lakes Region and also Ontario. I suppose it is not surprising given that they are mainly central and east european subsepecies so will be well adapted to the mid-west climate conditions. It is also of interest the number of annual records of the chaffinch (Whitefish Point for example) and this species looks like it is establishing itself. Interesting to see how much excitement they are causing birders over there.
Yorkshire, England

Julie Craves said...

Rod, certainly European Goldfinch are becoming established as breeding species. Great Tit and Blue Tit have nested, but I don't have recent reports. Chaffinch is or has likely nested in the UP of Michigan, but a nest has not yet been confirmed. If you visit, you know where to go to feel like you're at home!

George said...

Just saw a European Goldfinch on two occasions today on my thistle sock feeder in Springfield, NJ amongst a horde of American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. The second time, took some photos with camera handheld and by the time I got the tripod connected it had gone. Really good looking bird!

Cathy said...

Just spotted a European Goldfinch at my feeder in the WI/IL border. Have never seen one before!

Julie Craves said...

Cathy -- if you could send me your city and county, I'll add it to my database of sightings. There's contact info at our web site:
http://www.rrbo.org/contact/

REMC1-Jim said...

Siting made our daily paper. Here is the Link.

http://yourdailyglobe.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=42025

Located in Bessemer, MI. Gogebic Co.
Far Western U.P.
Found your site while researching it.

Julie Craves said...

Thanks for that link...I'll add it my records.

Jennifer said...

European Goldfinch spotted in Oradell, NJ during Audubon's Great Backyard Bird Count.

http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/gallery/2011-photo-album

johnlmcdo said...

I have seen a European Goldfinch at one of my feeders in Glastonbury, CT several times during the past three weeks (again this morning). We have dozens of American Goldfinches at our three feeders every day but in over 30 years of watching birds I never have seen a European Goldfinch. I reported it to our CT Audubon Society. It's beauty is comparable to the Rose Breasted Grosbeak.
John

johnlmcdo said...

I again saw the European Goldfinch at one of my feeders (with lots of American Goldfinches) around 9 AM on March 21, 2011 in Glastonbury, CT. I managed to take many pictures of it with a zoom lens and several were excellent shots showing its beautiful colors.

Philip said...

Finally identified a bird I photographed this morning as a European Goldfinch and found your site. He was visiting Queens New York City along with 8 American Goldfinch.

RhymesWithClergy said...

We sighted a pair of European goldfinces at our feeder on the south side of Sturtevant, Wis., near 90th St. and Braun Road, on June 12 and 13, 2011. (Five photos posted on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eagleburp/5831075120/in/photostream/ )

John said...

Hi this is John Younan and I live in Niles, IL, which is about 15 miles away from Chicago. I have been breeding European and Siberian Goldfinches for over 8 years. A lot of birds have escaped from me over the years. The pair of goldfinches on the feeder in Sturtevant, WI is about 50 miles north of where I live. Those two birds were Siberian Goldfinches. In my area I have not seen any European or Siberian Goldfinch activities in the wild.

Nicole L. said...

I just saw two European Goldfinches on my thistle feeder this morning, I'm in Racine, WI - Caledonia to be exact. I took a couple of photos without knowing what they were and found them in my bird book. I wish there was a way to tell if this pair was someone's pet or if they are wild...

Julie Craves said...

Nicole, your goldfinches are probably not recent releases/escapees, but part of the reproducing population in the Racine area. Take a look at this post:
http://net-results.blogspot.com/2009/07/more-european-goldfinches.html

I'll add your sighting to my database. Keep me posted if you continue to see them or additional birds.

Nicole L. said...

Okay Julie, will do. Do you want me to send the pictures that I took?

Julie Craves said...

Nicole, if you'd like to send one to my email next week, please feel free: jac DOT rrbo AT gmail DOT com

Allan said...

I have a European Goldfinch on one of my black oil sunflower seed feeders right now. I am in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles.

Rod Harrison said...

Hi Julie
Notice on eBird.org that Jerry DeBoer recorded a flock of 30 at Racine on 4th December 2011. Must be largest siting yet.

Rod Harrison

Julie Craves said...

Rod -- thanks for the heads-up. I try to check eBird periodically, and you've inspired me to put together an updated post. I'll try to get it out today or tomorrow!

nicoleb said...

Call me crazy but I believe there was a European Goldfinch in the tree in my backyard a couple of days ago. I was going crazy trying to figure out what it was. It sang like a goldfinch, was the size of a goldfinch, and had a distinctive red face and buffy underparts. A day later I spotted American Goldfinches in the same tree. I live in Laramie Wyoming!

Denis Dzurinko said...

The European Goldfinch is a beautiful bird. We just had a sighting in Southampton NJ yesterday, Jan 25th 2013. We snapped a picture of it on our feeder however with the excited rushing, its a little out of focus but surely clear enough for a positive identification. It was among the American Goldfinches, Junco's and Pine Siskins on our nyjar feeder. This was a life bird for us here in the Pinelands of Burlington County NJ.

Jonathan said...

Just saw one here today in Wisconsin

Paul Berge said...

We continue to see the occasional Euro Goldfinch here in Sturtevant (as many as three at a time this spring). In June, 2013, a juvenile came to our feeder repeatedly for about a week or so. See this photo et seq.

Julie Craves said...

Thanks so much, Paul! I'm going to be pulling together an update after my field season of all the nesting reports I've been getting.

Keep them coming!

E. Stone said...

Jan.4,2014. Burlington, Wi.
OMG, again lucky me I have a European Finch at my sunflower & suet feeders! I'd never seen these little beauties till last winter I had one for a couple days. It does a birder good to see something new every once in awhile but it has been brutally cold here, and will continue to be so for a few more days, I hope he can make it thru this bitter cold.
Glad I found this site, too!

Julie Craves said...

If I may ask, it looks like Burlington is in both Racine and Walworth counties. Which county are you in? Either way, you are in the hotspot of the Great Lakes for these birds. Thanks for the report.

E. Stone said...

Hi Julie,
Burlington is in Racine Co.
I'm glad to hear we are in a great spot for seeing European Finches. I'll be sure to keep my eyes peeled and the binoculars close this spring/summer maybe we will get real lucky and have a nesting pair. Thank-you for the info.!

AmyDquilter said...

Had a European goldfinch in my yard at my feeder for three days last week! I live in northeastern Illinois, about 30 miles north of Chicago. He/she was beautiful!

Julie Craves said...

Amy -- would you mind letting me know your city and county so I can add it to my records?

violetpie said...

I just had four European Goldfinches at my feeder...I am right in back of Batten Airport in Caledonia, WI. I have had single birds make brief appearances the past few years, but this was a surprise to see four...just beautiful!

Julie Craves said...

Terrific! Racine County is one of the epicenters. Please let me know if you see evidence of nesting. I'd love photos or details of a nest site.

Marcia Wensing said...

We saw a flock (+/-20 birds) moving around Holy Cross Cemetery, about 2 miles north of Batten Air Field in Caledonia, WI (Racine County)yesterday, 3-10-2014. I read that teasel is a preferred food. Teasel is an invasive species and the populations are growing in this area. I think the two events have some correlation.

Julie Craves said...

Marcia, yes indeed, I mentioned the role of non-native plants in the diets of introduced European Goldfinch, and specifically mentioned teasel in my published article. I don't think the goldfinch need or follow teasel but having a familiar food source to exploit can't hurt!