Sunday, April 13, 2008

Molting Goldfinches

Spring brings a dramatic burst of song and color. With migratory songbirds the change is dramatic. Birds that we last saw in the drab olive and brown of fall suddenly return in a dazzling palette of red, orange, yellow, and blue.

For resident birds that stayed through the winter, such as American goldfinches, the change is more gradual. Birds molt only a few feathers at once, so it takes some time to shift plumages. In the meantime, we see birds in all stages of molt. Some, like the male below, appear to be mostly in breeding plumage.

This male (on the left) is a bit more patchy.

The bird on the right in the image above appears to be a female in the midst of transition. The female below (also on the right) seems to be mostly in winter plumage.

The male in this photograph also appears to retain some of his winter plumage. The changing plumages make for a great deal of variety, especially if you try to figure out each bird's sex. The return of the goldfinches' bright yellow is a promise of more bright colors to come when warblers and orioles arrive.