The second most common question we are hearing right now is: What are those little yellow birds? This one’s easy. Lesser goldfinches are bright yellow with a greenish, dark back and wings. You’ll see them mobbing your thistle feeder (their favorite food) and at your birdbath. Because most of their diet is seed, goldfinches tend to hang out near water.
If you have branching sunflower, purple coneflower, cosmos, zinnias or just about any seed producing plant, you’ll see lesser goldfinches clinging on them this time of year, harvesting the seed. Fresh thistle is key to consistent goldfinch activity at your thistle feeder. If they have stopped coming to your feeder, empty the feeder and fill it with fresh seed. This happened at our feeder a couple of weeks ago. My goldfinches disappeared. I thought my thistle was fresh, but it must not have been fresh enough. The summer heat can spoil and dry out nyjer/thistle quickly. I refilled my feeder with extra nyjer that I kept outside in a storage can, but that was no better. Once I brought fresh seed home from the store, the finches returned.
Don’t buy large bags of nyjer unless you go through it quickly. Purchasing only as much as you can use in a few weeks is best this time of year. If you keep your seed in a very cool place, it’ll last longer. I like stainless steel mesh feeders or thistle socks best. Lesser goldfinches love these feeders but not all birds cling as well, so the feeder’s design helps discourage many other birds.
Bushtits are another little bird that are mobbing feeders right now. We’re hearing that flocks of bushtits are consuming seed cylinders and suet. These tiny grey birds with the relatively long tail are year-round residents, but the end of nesting season means their population is exploding.
The end of summer often means grimy feeders. For the health of birds, give feeders a good cleaning now and then. I soak mine in a large bucket or large plastic bin filled with sudsy water and scrub them out with a long-handled feeder brush. Just like crusty cooking pans, soaking helps. If your feeder disassembles, this will make a thorough cleaning easier.
By the way, the number one question we hear this time of year is when do the hummingbirds leave? We’ll see hummers through October. We still have lots, but numbers will start to shrink sometime in September. Feeding hummingbirds does not keep them from migrating but rather helps stragglers make the long trip south. Fresh nectar (change two to three times per week) is key to consistent activity and healthier for birds.
Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard and Birdhouses of the World. Anne has been writing her For the Birds column for the Santa Fe New Mexican for ten years.