Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Charming Goldfinch

The Goldfinch is an abundant resident bird whose numbers are largely augmented in the region of the Strait of Gibraltar during migration and in the winter. Its beauty and colour matches, in my opinion, that of many tropical passerines.

Goldfinches are the second most numerous passerine migrant crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Only the Swallow is more abundant. The migration is most pronounced in the autumn when tens of thousands arrive in late October and early November, many crossing south to spend the winter months in Morocco. 

But many remain on the northern shore of the Strait where they are a dominant component of the bird community of pastures where they feed largely on the seeds of thistles. Here their density averages around 7 birds per hectare, giving a clear indication that the region is a main wintering area.

Most of the wintering Goldfinches come from western Europe, principally France, the British Isles, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland but a small contingent comes from further east. These are birds from Russia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia. 

Their long bills are specialised for probing into thistle heads from which they can extract the most difficult of seeds, inaccessible to most other finches (above and below).
Come March, these birds will join others coming from Morocco to return back to their breeding grounds, leaving the local breeding birds behind. The phenomenon of the Goldfinch migration and wintering in the Strait of Gibraltar is another of those hidden secrets that this rich land reveals to those who venture into the fields of places like La Janda...

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