Goldfinches or le Chardonneret élégant and other birds

In the winter we have seen large flocks of chaffinches and of goldfinches and small flocks of starlings. The hard weather also brought some groups of lapwings. I think that our neighbour l'agriculteur considers them all vermin. My wife and I visited his family to extend Christmas greetings. Over the ratafia he asked if we knew how to prepare oiseaux for eating. He then leaned back and opening the buffet door brought out two starlings, a blackbird and a thrush. I feel that he was teasing les anglais , but still I am not absolutely certain. Assuring me that each would make fifteen more if left alive to ravage his crops he said that he would give them to the cats. I would not argue with him that the blackbirds and thrushes probably ate more insects and snails than his grain.

He would be certainly mistaken in the case of the 'elegant little thistle bird' as the French has it, alias the goldfinch. With their brilliant red, white and black heads and yellow striped wings, they well deserve the epithet - elegant. The winter flocks may well include individuals from the north, caught up in the same migrations which brought us the lapwings. Their main food is the seeds of plants of the dandelion family, which includes the thistles. Our roadsides have been plagued in the summer with the weed called the canadian fleabane, but the goldfinches are enjoying the harvest of the fluffy hairy seeds, and in consequence the agriculteur has some fewer seeds floating onto his market garden. How do they cope with the hairs on the seeds in their throats? Nearby from the trees hang the feathery seedy tassels of the old man's beard. They never seem to touch these.

The large flocks of chaffinches which often include a few hawfinches, often number a hundred or more and they are more likely to devour the grain and the maize seed. But the farmers leave plenty lying on the fields after the harvest. When these birds have their young chicks, the parents invariably bring them high protein food like caterpillars. A set of five nestlings could easily consume fifteen thousand insects in a few weeks. This is also true of the starling, blackbird and thrush. You can well argue that to let them have the gleanings of winter is a wise investment, for their insect predation of summer will help to protect the crops!

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